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Bridging Heritage and History: A Conversation with Joslyn Felicijan

November 27, 2023

Joslyn Felicijan

During the summer of 2023, Joslyn Jasmine-Maria Felicijan went on a life-changing journey to Lithuania through the American Councils Overseas Professional and Intercultural Training (OPIT) program. She was able to participate in this program thanks to the Diversity and Inclusion Scholarship Fund, which has supported more than 150 exceptional students pursue study abroad programs with American Councils since 2016.

Joslyn always dreamt of exploring the world beyond her small town of Prosser, WA. Growing up with a mixed heritage, she developed an appreciation for diversity across the globe. Her curiosity about the intricate connections between cultures was started by her father's German lineage and her mother's Mexican heritage.

Raised in a multilingual household where English, Spanish, and German were spoken, Joslyn found herself hesitating to claim fluency in languages other than English. She told American Councils this hesitancy traces back to the xenophobia her grandparents endured, which cast a shadow of apprehension over her engagement with foreign languages.

Joslyn HeadshotHer mother first instilled in her the importance of education, emphasizing that it holds the key to unlocking opportunities. At the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, Joslyn studied history, anthropology, and politics, and spent a semester abroad at the University of Oxford that ignited her ambition to pursue a master’s degree in Modern European History at Clare College, University of Cambridge. Currently, she is pursuing her second master's degree in Global Cultures at the University of Bologna.

"Studying abroad continues to be vital for my academic, professional, and personal development for my future career goals and plans," shared Joslyn. "Every country I live in exposes me to entirely new worldviews and mindsets that enrich my perspective on my field and the mentalities I can adopt to become a more inclusive academic and professional."

Eager to diversify her academic portfolio, Joslyn wanted to complete research in Eastern Europe and gain hands-on experience within her area of expertise. Her decision was spurred by her former professor Dr. David Alan Rich, who recommended her to apply for the Overseas Professional and Intercultural Training (OPIT) program, an internship initiative offering U.S. students substantive overseas professional experience tailored to their field. Joslyn embraced this opportunity, appreciating OPIT's unique blend of professional experience, language immersion, and cultural exchange.

Like many other students, Joslyn faced financial challenges while pursuing higher education. However, she felt thankful when she learned about the American Council's Diversity and Inclusion Scholarship, which provided her with the necessary financial support to pursue her dreams. Reflecting on this scholarship, Joslyn expressed, "I was genuinely grateful to find such a scholarship, as it acknowledges the differential experiences individuals encounter based on factors beyond their control, such as the color of their skin or ethnic indicators in their name."

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Joslyn at a Lithuanian Joninės celebration

During her OPIT experience, Joslyn worked two internships at the Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History and the Vilnius University Center for Studies of the Culture and History of East European Jews. Her work at the Center involved assisting Dr. Jurgita Verbickiene in the "Recovering Memory" project, which aimed to grant honorary degrees to students and faculty who had been expelled during the Soviet and Nazi occupations. Her contributions to the Museum of the Identity and Culture of Lithuanian Jews were instrumental in its final developmental stages. Joslyn continued both internships remotely after leaving Lithuania.

Joslyn's time in Lithuania had a significant impact on both her personal and professional life. Her experiences at Vilnius University have challenged her perspective on history and research. Joslyn shared, "One of the most profound impacts of studying abroad has been the lessons I learned in Lithuania in historical and public history. A crucial element I was exposed to was the importance of humanizing historical narratives."

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Joslyn Attending a Speech by President Joe Biden at Vilnius University 

Joslyn’s OPIT experience helped her surmount her fear of speaking languages other than English. With guidance from her Lithuanian language teacher, she feels more confident than ever expressing herself in her family's languages and Lithuanian.

"The confidence and enthusiasm I now possess would not have been possible without the language training in Lithuania, generously supported by the Diversity and Inclusion Scholarship,” Joslyn said. "I now find myself more eager to practice Spanish and embrace my mixed heritage, thanks to my language-learning experience in Lithuania. “

After completing her degree at the University of Bologna, Joslyn envisions pursuing a Ph.D. in Modern European History, focusing on Holocaust memory and the gendered experiences of war. Her professional aspirations extend to pursuing a career either within academia or the foreign service, while appreciating the support she received from the Diversity and Inclusion Scholarship.

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Joslyn in Old Town Lithuania 

“On a practical level, I never could have afforded the OPIT program without the financial assistance provided by the scholarship,” Joslyn shared. “On a personal level, I was grateful to have the opportunity to share my experiences as a mixed-race woman navigating life abroad.”

The American Councils Diversity and Inclusion Scholarship ensures that transformational international opportunities are accessible to Americans from traditionally underserved and disadvantaged communities of the United States. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are core to the mission and vision of American Councils as an international organization that empowers individuals and institutions to address challenges in a diverse and interconnected world. Learn more about the American Councils Diversity and Inclusion Scholarship.