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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

Fulbright sends alumna to Afghan border

Hillary Evans '10 will is spending a year in Tajikistan

Nov. 3, 2011, by Jim Reilly

Hillary Evans '10 with Tajikistan Ambassador Abjujabbor Shirinov.
Hillary Evans '10 with Tajikistan Ambassador Abjujabbor Shirinov.
When Hillary Evans ’10 wanted to learn to speak Russian, she went to Russia. When she wanted to learn Chinese, she went to China. Now that she wants to learn Farsi, also known as Persian, she’s going to … Tajikistan?

“Well, I couldn’t go to Iran (formerly Persia), and it’s really hard to get into Afghanistan now,” Evans says. “Tajikistan seemed the way to go.” Tajiks speak a dialect of Farsi, and many also speak Russian, as Tajikistan is a former Soviet state. Evans’ goal is to go to Iran; she sees herself in a diplomatic or Foreign Service role someday. “I’m very interested in nuclear policy, and American/ Iranian relations,” she says. Tajikistan is about getting her foot in the door.

Evans, who majored in international relations with focus on international security and European diplomacy, is an analyst for a Washington, D.C.-based private contractor for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. She applied for a research grant through the Fulbright Program for U.S. Students during her senior year to study drug trafficking along the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border. “It was a strategic move on my part,” Evans says. “The U.S. presence in the region is not going to end anytime soon. This is going to be an important place.”

Established in 1946, the Fulbright Program is the flagship international exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, providing opportunities for students, scholars, teachers, artists, and scientists to study, teach, and conduct research abroad. Evans became interested in studying drug trafficking through her participation in the Maxwell School’s International Relations Semester in Washington, D.C. in the fall of 2009. “I met a Tajik group of senior law enforcement officials and border patrol supervisors in D.C.,” she says. “So, I had some exposure to the topic.”

After graduation, Evans moved to Washington, D.C., settled in, and started networking. She attended a dinner at the Open World Leadership center in May 2011, where she met members of the Tajik delegation and Ambassador Abdujabbor Shirinov. Her Fulbright grant was approved in April 2011. She quit her job in September and left for Tajikistan, where she is affiliated with the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crimes (UNODC). She isn’t interviewing drug kingpins or going on midnight raids with Tajik drug enforcement agents, though. “I’ll be working with numbers—arrests, drug seizures, cash seizures,” she says.

She’ll examine data from the past 10 years, hunting for correlations between Tajik policies, the arrival of American troops in Afghanistan, and other factors. She’ll be in Tajikistan 10 months, maybe longer. “I’m really hoping to make a trip to Kabul, if security restrictions allow,” Evans says. “If Fulbright won’t let me go, I’ll wait until after my grant year, then go.” She’s got a contact in the Afghan government, who she met while he was at SU on a Fulbright grant. “I met him in Starbucks on Marshall Street,” she says. “I found him again on Facebook.”