Kosovo Research Leads to a Marshall Scholarship

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Andrew March impressed his professors as an “extraordinarily gifted student.”

For College senior Andrew March, the road to a Marshall Scholarship and an invitation to deliver a paper at a prestigious academic conference began when he was a tourist in the Balkans. It was the summer of 1996, before his freshman year at Penn, and though he viewed Kosovo then as little more than a transit stop to other destinations in Europe, he soon fell in with a group of Albanian students who took him around the region.
    “I knew very little about Albanians,” he says. “I knew [Kosovo] to be the poorest region in Europe, and I knew demographic things, but nothing really cultural. So I was absolutely overwhelmed, time after time, with their unexpected gestures of hospitality and cosmopolitanism.”
    It was in Kosovo that March learned first-hand about the life many Albanians had been living under the Serbs. Among the sites he witnessed was the University of Pristina, a fully functioning university taken underground by Albanians who refused to go along with Serb rule. He also experienced a run-in with the Serbian authorities. While taking a picture in a small town, the Serb police noticed that he was “a foreigner with a couple of Albanians.” Police and state security officers detained and interrogated him for several hours before taking him to the Albanian border and forcing him to leave the country.
    After he arrived at Penn in the fall of 1996, March began to realize that he wanted to go back and do research on the underground Albanian movement. Discovering that there were no specialists in the Balkans at Penn, he set off on his own. He spent the summer of 1997 doing fieldwork in Kosovo, and made brief trips in 1998 and 1999, during which time he witnessed the tensions between the Albanians and the Serbs boil over. The conflict would soon consume the entire region, and eventually bring in the United States and NATO forces. He was shaken when he found that many of the friends he had made in Kosovo had been killed—including a family that turned out to be the “organizing core” of the Kosovo Liberation Army. It was difficult, he admits, going “back to the house where I had stayed, walking around the ruins, the charred cows and the fresh graves.”
    Several advisors at Penn helped March with his research and provided him with help on the theoretical and thematic aspects of his studies. He cites history professor Beshara Doumani (now at the University of California-Berkeley), political-science assistant professor Rudra Sil and political-science department chair Ian Lustick as the advisors who helped him draft out his work.
    His research eventually led to a paper—“The ‘Republic of Kosova’ (1989-1998) and the Resolution of Ethno-Separatist Conflict: Rethinking ‘Sovereignty’ in the Post-Cold War Era”—which was sent, after some revisions, to different conferences by Sil. March, says Sil, is “an extraordinarily gifted student. He is not only a polyglot who is extremely well-informed and well-read, but he thinks very clearly about categories of analysis and about historical patterns. It was a pleasure to collaborate with him.”
    The paper was presented in February 1999 at the International Studies Association conference in Washington, D.C. Despite the unusual nature of an undergraduate presenting at an academic conference, March says it was a “great experience,” and not overly challenging after all the practice he had in discussing it around Penn. Sil confirmed that impression: “Most scholars thought extremely highly of Andrew’s fieldwork in Kosovo. They were most impressed by his ability to immerse himself in a foreign culture and gain the kind of access he did gain. In particular, his write-up of his experiences with the informal traditional justice system set up by Kosovar Albanians drew a lot of attention.”
    March is one of just 40 students to win a Marshall Scholarship. Funded by the British government, the scholarship provides a recipient with two years of graduate study in the United Kingdom.
    He plans to use it to study political philosophy and political sociology at the University of Oxford. After that, he intends to complete his doctorate and enter the academy.
    He has received numerous other awards in his young career, including the University Scholar Research Grant, the Nassau Undergraduate Research Grant and a Dean’s Scholarship; March has also been selected for the Golden Key Honor Society and Phi Beta Kappa. He is triple-majoring in political science, intellectual history and Asian and Middle Eastern studies with a concentration in the Islamic Near East. Along with his work in Kosovo, March has done research in other regions of the world marred by ethnic conflict, including Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Palestine.
    In addition to these accolades, March also stands out—perhaps even more markedly—as an undergraduate at Penn by being both a husband and a father. The combination of his studies and being a family man has taken away much of his free time, but he says it has provided him with “a whole set of responsibilities and perspectives and joys—I go from being a Penn undergraduate student with all these different things to a married guy that also goes to Penn. I always took my education seriously, but you don’t have the luxury of getting distracted.
    “Plus,” he adds, “my mother-in-law lives with us, so she’s a big help.”

Kevin Lee

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