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Washington Semester Award Winner to Present Lecture on Syrian Refugees in America

November 3rd, 2016 by 
Alex Kochenburger '17

The Center for Interdisciplinary Studies at the College of the Holy Cross has selected Alexander Kochenburger ’17, an international studies major from Storrs, Conn., as the Washington Semester Away Program, Mauricio Vannicelli Award recipient. Kochenburger will present a lecture titled “Resettling Syrian Refugees in America: Regional Stability & Saving Lives” on Nov. 9 at 4 p.m. in Rehm Library. The event is free and open to the public.

During his semester in Washington D.C., Kochenburger interned for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs within the U.S. Department of State, which handles U.S. foreign policy and U.S. diplomatic relations with 18 countries and territories including Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, and regional policy issues which include Iraq, Middle East peace, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, and political and economic reform. Also within the department, Kochenburger worked in the Office of Press and Public Diplomacy, which conducts communications with international audiences, cultural programming, academic grants, educational exchanges, international visitor programs, and U.S. government efforts to confront ideological support for terrorism.

Kochenburger’s main duties included interacting with individuals from the Middle East – such as judges from Palestine, journalists from Lebanon, and dairy farmers from Gaza – who came to the United States, scheduling meetings with them and escorting them around the State Department building to meet with department officials. Kochenburger was also a part of the Syrian Cessation of Hostility Task Force in February 2016, after the 2016 ceasefire was implemented by the United States and Russia. While on the task force, he spent 12-hour shifts on Saturdays and Sundays recording any cited violations of the ceasefire agreement, which were called into the State Department from the ground in Syria or from the United Nations.

In addition to participating in an intensive Arabic language program in Morocco last summer through the competitive Critical Language Scholarship, Kochenburger said his experiences working in the State Department sharpened his Arabic, which he has been studying since his senior year of high school. Learning Arabic in high school, he says, sparked his interest in studying the Middle East while in college.

“When I arrived at Holy Cross, I decided that I wanted to study the Middle East in addition to Arabic,” Kochenburger says. “I applied for an internship at the State Department to incorporate both my interest in international relations and in the Middle East. Since I think I want to work for the U.S. government after graduation, the State Department was a perfect opportunity for me.”

During his presentation, Kochenburger will discuss his thesis, which centers around the United States’ work to resettle Syrian refugees in the country, with a specific focus on how resettling these refugees in the United States is important not only for humanitarian reasons, but for the stability of Jordan and Lebanon.

While on campus, Kochenburger volunteers as a greeter in liturgical ministries for the chaplains’ office. He has also participated in Student Programs for Urban Development (SPUD), and club and intramural sports. He is currently working on expanding the Arabic programs at Holy Cross, and applied for a Fulbright scholarship to study in Morocco, where he also studied abroad for six months his junior year.

The Vannicelli Prize is awarded each semester in honor of the late Holy Cross political science professor and Washington Semester director, Maurizio Vannicelli, for the best research paper produced in the Washington Semester program. The recipient of the award is given the opportunity to present a public lecture at the College on his or her thesis. In addition, the recipient receives a bound copy of the thesis and is presented the book award during commencement exercises.

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