Jakob Lengacher; IPO Alumni Success Story
As Jakob Lengacher ’15 tells it, he enrolled at UMass Amherst to pursue a degree in physics and took a Chinese language class for fun. When he failed his first physics exam but aced assignments in Chinese, Lengacher realized he was in the wrong major. He is now a Fulbright scholar at Heilonjiang University in Harbin, China, where he spent his junior year abroad. “It was phenomenal, in a word. I wouldn’t have been able to speak Chinese nearly so well if I hadn’t done a year there.”
After changing his major to Chinese, Lengacher spent a year abroad to develop his Chinese language skills. A member of Commonwealth Honors College, he won a prestigious Boren Scholarship. The Boren Scholarship funds undergraduates studying less commonly taught languages and who wish to pursue a career in national security. Lengacher, who was initially drawn to physics because of his dedication to nuclear nonproliferation, says he was a great fit for the federal program.
Lengacher’s Fulbright Scholarship is an extension of his undergraduate study-abroad experiences. His research studies the Shanghai Corporation Organization, an intergovernmental international organization formed in 2001 to promote peace among the People’s Republic of China, the Russian Federation, and other neighboring countries. Lengacher’s project examines the organization’s role in the development of renewable energy and environmental policy. Lengacher emphasizes the importance of people-to-people contact for diplomacy. As he sees it, “research is just half of the Fulbright. The cultural exchange is as important if not more so.”
Beyond improving his Chinese, Lengacher credits his study-abroad experience with his current achievements and personal development. He says that study abroad gave him validation for his choice of major, helped him realize the professional applications of his degree, and built his self-confidence. And he has the accolades to prove it—a year after his graduation, he was recognized by Yale University’s China Hands magazine in its 2016 list of 25 Under 25: Leaders in U.S. China Relations.