“The people at Transylvania gave me incredible support to pursue whatever I was interested in. It gave me the confidence to feel like I can walk into any experience and figure out how to navigate my way.”
It started in political science professor Jeff Freyman's international politics class during her first year at Transylvania. "I was so naïve and blind," Becky Goncharoff '11 remembers. "I had never been confronted with the breadth of injustice experienced in the world."
Goncharoff was hooked on exploring world politics. "What I loved about political science at Transylvania was how the specific questions of the discipline were connected to the role of the public life in what it means to be human," she explains. "I didn't get away with just studying definitions of a nation-state, the internal workings of Congress, and the rise of China. I was confronted with who I am and the circumstances in which I live."
While studying abroad four times, Goncharoff discovered the value of empowering issues and voices around the world. Today, she helps a new generation of students realize that potential through her work in Thailand for an academic program focused on development and globalization. The social justice program strives to empower students by integrating them into grassroots campaigns with villagers, community organizers, and government organizations. Students confront and examine issues ranging from organic agriculture to mining to human rights.
As a facilitator, Goncharoff works directly with the student groups. Last semester, for example, she worked with four students writing a feature article on the effects of imprisonment on family members of Red Shirts arrested in the crackdown of 2010—the year she had been a scholar in the same program.
"We teach people to realize their power," she says. "The best part is I continue to learn all of these things alongside of them."
After Goncharoff and her fellow facilitators challenge students to reach their goals, develop skills, and realize the role they can play in the global community, the program culminates in a final display of their discoveries and conclusions. In this moment, she says, an "incredibly emotionally exhausting" experience becomes worth it.
"One of my most rewarding experiences was watching the final project presentations of last semester," Goncharoff recalls. "Seeing their growth gave me confidence that whatever path their life takes it will be intentional, and they will shape it themselves. It was a pretty powerful moment for me."
Goncharoff's path looks just as promising. After Thailand, she plans to complete an M.A. at the University of Chicago, examining the viability of democracy in Southeast Asia. Then, she hopes to pursue her Ph.D. in political science and enjoy the chance to "make a living out of asking questions with students."
Wherever her interest in global politics leads her, it's clear that she will never forget the lesson she learned as a first-year student in Freyman's class. It's the same lesson she displays on her days off in Thailand—when she reconnects with the woman who was her "homestay mother" two years before—that beneath every culture, every issue, and every policy, there exists a human face.
And Goncharoff is empowering students, and herself, to always give a voice to those faces.