Found in translation: Gilman scholar tackles the ultimate in study abroad

Next semester, Tatianna Verswyvel ’22 will study in Prague as a recipient of the U.S. State Department’s prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. She is one of two Transylvania students to receive the award this year — the other is Aissata Sackho ’21, who plans to study in France.

An international affairs major with minors in French and English, Verswyvel describes her academic focus as “more on the linguistic and cultural aspects of our increasingly interconnected world and its media forms.” She’s looking forward to continuing her multidisciplinary education abroad.    

A native of Venezuela who grew up in Monterrey, Mexico, before moving to Lexington in the eighth grade, Verswyvel could have opted for the ease of a Spanish-speaking country, but instead wanted the complete personal and academic challenge of studying abroad.

“I chose the Czech Republic,” she explains, “for my desire to engage in an experience that will pull the rug from underneath me both culturally and linguistically.”

Verswyvel took time to elaborate on what the opportunity means to her.

Why did you choose the Czech Republic, and what will you be studying there?

“The Czech Republic is my study abroad destination of choice for several reasons, both personal and academic. Firstly, Prague is the geographic embodiment and continuation of the major-minor pattern that I have chosen to pursue here at Transy. My combination of international affairs and English prepares [me] for a career in historical literature, journalism or literary translation. Prague, a city buried under layers of political, historical and literary treasures, is the ideal site for the exploration of these interests. As one of the oldest and most complex urban centers in Europe, Prague and Charles University (founded in 1348) offer a wide array of opportunities both in and beyond the classroom. With courses in literature, history, sociology, economics and politics all tailored to the geographical context, my studies in the Czech Republic are meant to complement the exposure that I am already receiving at Transy.

“Additionally, I wish to explore a field to which I was introduced via an essay on the translation of Franz Kafka’s ‘The Metamorphosis.’ Realizing the difference between introducing Gregor Samsa’s condition as a ‘gigantic beetle’ versus a ‘monstrous vermin,’ I understood the effects of translation on literary interpretation. It is in Prague that I will see Kafka’s supposedly untranslatable world come to life and hopefully sample this intricate field. It is also through an intensive study of the works of Czech authors Kafka and Kundera, that I plan to achieve a secondary academic goal: understanding and appreciating the post-communist society that thrives in the Czech Republic today. From Kafka, I wish to learn more about the suffocating conditions that blanket life under state socialism, and from Prague I wish to depart with a sense of hope for my struggling native country of Venezuela.” 

What do you most look forward to about this academic and personal adventure? 

“I look forward to the self-reliance and confidence that should result from being dropped in a completely foreign context and left to fend for myself rather than leaning on institutional frameworks and integration programs.

“Lastly, I am eager to represent the academic institution and the state that I call home with pride and an open mind — vital components in the development on intercultural discourse and understanding in today’s highly-polarized world.”