News & Recipients

Boren Scholarship Recipient Amber Pirson Shares Her Experience in Thailand

Amber Pirson in Thailand

Amber Pirson smiles in front of Wat Arun, also known as the Temple of Dawn.

It’s 7 a.m., and Amber Pirson sits in the coffee shop on the first floor of her dorm in Bangkok, Thailand. After finishing up her homework or studying for a quiz, she catches a motorbike, a ride that costs about $1, to her 3-hour Thai language class in the city.

About a year and a half ago, these mornings were just a distant idea for the international studies and anthropology double major. With the desire to live and study in Thailand, Pirson visited the Office of National Scholars (ONS), where Mrs. Lauren Bartshe, Assistant Director of ONS, pointed her toward the Boren Scholarship.

“I think Boren was an excellent recommendation since language is one of the best ways to open doors with people of different cultures and try to understand local or national customs and social issues,” said Pirson.

With the support of the Boren Scholarship, Pirson was able to marry her interests in U.S. foreign policy and language, and undertake an internship at Winrock International in Bangkok, Thailand. Winrock International is a recognized leader in U.S. and international development, and its mission is to empower the disadvantaged, increase economic opportunity and sustain natural resources. There, she works on Winrock’s Asia Counter Trafficking in Persons (CTIP) Project. She gathers reports from other CTIP projects from Asia, collects research on the best practices from other organizations and advises companies based in Thailand on standards for recruitment and labor treatment.

Apart from her professional and academic endeavors, Pirson has also immersed herself in Thailand’s unique culture through her studies, travels and other experiences.

However, receiving the Boren Scholarship didn’t come easily. Since the application process is very reflective and intimidating, she recommends to future applicants to be patient and to be brave enough to be honest with themselves.

“Any national scholarship will force you to look at yourself and identify your core interests and why they exist within you,” said Pirson.

Amber and classmatesPirson and her classmates celebrate after completing the course Thai 1.

During this reflective process, ONS provided the creative space and the resources that would help her decide whether or not government work would fit her passions and how an education in Thailand would correspond with her career goals. Boren Scholars accept a Service Requirement to work for the federal government in the national security arena.

“It is quite difficult to plan five to seven years down the road, but that is the best and most difficult part of these application processes,” said Pirson.

Once she received the scholarship, Pirson was on a fast track toward days filled with Thai lessons and visits to various coffee shops around Bangkok.

Her favorite experience has been meeting students and alumni from the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) in Thailand. These Thai university students received a scholarship from the U.S. State Department to study in America for a month and then return to Thailand, bringing what they learned in the States back to the country.

Amber dragon imageThe dragon, which is present in many Chinese cultural celebrations, represents prosperity, good luck and good fortune. Pirson saw many, such as these, when she attended the Chinese New Year festival in Chinatown.

The biggest differences she noticed between living in the United States and Thailand involve transportation and the work culture. In Bangkok, more transportation options are available, as Pirson catches motorbikes or the university bus daily. The work culture is more relaxed, and people in her office at Winrock International all have different schedules that depend upon a self-evaluation of work efficiency.

Her biggest obstacle was the language gap but was able to overcome this challenge with Youtube videos, class lectures and having conversations with friends.

After her graduation in May 2020, Pirson plans to study law and social policy, paving her way toward a career in the U.S. Bureau of International and Labor Affairs.

“Boren has given me confidence in my own abilities and confirmed that I’m on the right career path,” said Pirson.


The Boren Scholarship provides funding for undergraduate students to study less common languages in underrepresented regions, such as Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Latin America and the Middle East. After graduation, Boren Awardees commit at least one year of service in the federal government.