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Meet Caroline Been: Our May Leading Woman

Name: Caroline Been

Major: BA in International Studies, BA in Russian

Hometown: Fayetteville, AR

What are your career/life goals?

Right now, my current career goal is to work with immigration in some capacity. My far-fetched goals are to either work for the State Department in the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration or for the UNHCR, which is the United Nations refugee agency. Most recently, I have gotten a lot of hands on experience with local refugee resettlement, and I would be happy to continue doing that. Over the past year, I have become frustrated with the negative rhetoric surrounding immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. I would like to pursue a career that either actively works to improve the lives of immigrants, or advocate for the just and humane treatment of those forced from home.

Why did you choose to study abroad in Russia?

I chose to go to Russia because I wanted a study abroad experience that would challenge me while providing me with an education that was relevant to my majors. I was studying in Moscow at the GRINT Center for Education and Culture on the campus of the Moscow University for the Humanities. My program was an intensive language study program paired with cultural excursions. Since I am a Russian major, I wanted to go to a Russian speaking country, and I chose the program in Moscow because I felt like I would be exposed to many aspects of Russian culture and history while also getting the experience of living in a very large, urban city.

How did studying abroad in Russia play into your future goals?

When I decided to study abroad in Russia, I based a lot of my decision off of the notion that I would make significant enough language gains to be able to use Russian in a professional setting either working for a government agency, or serving refugees fleeing conflict in Crimea or other Russian speaking regions. While I did make progress in my language acquisition, I think that the overall experience of being abroad and the perspective I gained will play into my future goals much more than the language skills. So much of the work I do now in refugee resettlement is focused on working with people to build a new life in a country that is completely foreign and not always easy to navigate. My time in Russia exposed me to the smallest fraction of discomfort, isolation, and loneliness that so many immigrants might feel when they come to America, which has motivated me to do what I can to make our communities more welcoming, inclusive, and accessible. My very limited perspective will hopefully allow me to empathize more fully with the immigrants and refugees I work with in the future.

How has this experience changed you?

My experience changed me in more ways than one. I became way more independent, and for the first time, I became confident enough to be open about when things weren’t going perfectly. Like so many other girls my age, I found myself getting so caught up in trying to make my life appear perfect through the carefully curated squares on my Instagram grid. This semester was by no means perfect, and I learned that it’s okay to show that side, too. I think that my experience abroad also helped me to redefine what it means to be successful, and it made me more comfortable with setting personal limits. During my semester abroad, I was awarded a nationally competitive scholarship that would have provided funding for me to spend the summer in Tblisi, Georgia doing another intensive language study program. This was an award that I had wanted since freshman year and was one of the things that I thought would make me “successful.” After a lot of thought and reassurance from my Theta sisters, I decided to decline the award. My semester in Russia taught me a lot about humility, and it made me strong enough to admit that there are just some things that I can’t handle, and that its okay to say no to those opportunities, regardless of how prestigious they are or how good they look on paper.

Tell us about why you chose your major?

I chose International Studies because I wanted to learn more about other cultures as well as foreign policy and international relations. I thought that International Studies was a bit of a broad major that would allow me to explore all of the facets of our world, and that has proven to be true. I’ve enjoyed classes about a variety of topics, ranging from classes about the Latinx experience in the Americas to Indigenous Religions. I chose to add on Russian after taking two years of Russian language classes, which sparked my interest in the culture as well as the history. Within the Russian major, I’ve been able to focus on the Russian language while also taking classes focusing on Russian literature, history, and politics.

What are you passionate about?

I’m passionate about a few things! I think that right now, I’m most passionate about recognizing the shared humanity in all of us, regardless of religion, political party, socio-economic background, etc. More specifically, I’m passionate about finding ways to welcome those who have been forcibly displaced while ensuring that they are seen, valued, and appreciated in their communities. I’m also passionate about investing in the relationships I’ve built in my little communities in my hometown and my college town. Spending the semester away from my friends and family made me realize pretty quickly how much I take them for granted, and it has made me more passionate about investing in those relationships and being more intentional with my words and actions. What does Theta mean to you?

To me, Theta means support, motivation, and comfort. From the very first time I entered Theta during recruitment, I felt not only validated in my aspirations and goals, but also supported and encouraged by girls who I barely knew at the time. Every girl in Theta is so accomplished in their respective fields and interests, and its motivating to be constantly surrounded by so many driven, intelligent, and talented girls. Theta has always been a place where I feel like I can be myself without worrying about what others think, and since day one I have always felt comfortable and welcome in 603.

Do you have a specific favorite Theta memory?

I have too many Theta memories to count, but aside from the obvious amazing memories like bid day, winning homecoming, or big little reveal, my most favorite memories are the small, everyday moments: like studying with Hailey (MC ‘16) in the formal library all the time or making late night runs to Jimmy Johns with my roommates. One of my funniest Theta memories was my sophomore year when Audrey (MC ‘16) and I became completely convinced that Emily (MC ‘16) had gone missing because she wasn’t answering our texts for 3 hours. We texted the entire in-house group message asking everyone to look for her and literally almost put out a missing person report for her, but she ended up being in the room right next to us the entire time.

What do you do in your free time?

In my free time I like to hang out with my friends, try new restaurants, watch movies, or explore new things to do around Columbia!

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