In her daily work, Emily Stranger prepares U.S. soldiers for missions in the Middle East, Central Asia, and many other areas of the world. As a regional expertise and cultural instructor at the United States Department of Defense, she offers soldiers cultural instruction in the regions they are focused on.
Stranger developed her regional expertise at the Indiana University Hamilton Lugar School. She completed her M.A. and is now a doctoral candidate in the Central Eurasian Studies program. She has studied Azerbaijani, Sorani Kurdish, Kyrgyz, Arabic, Persian, Uzbek, and Pahlavi/Middle Persian.
She now uses her expertise to present regional area overviews to soldiers in the 1st Special Forces Command in Fort Bragg, N.C., offering soldiers expertise in regional culture, history, and political and social issues.
“I get to teach my classes like grad level classes so it’s wonderful,” says Stranger. “I love working with the soldiers. I’ll send academic articles in advance of class to read for discussions. That’s the beauty of academia — students have the chance to really explore ideas and talk about things. There is a lot that academia can offer soldiers about understanding conflict issues in world regions.”
What Stranger loves about her career is combining instruction with language and area studies skills that she honed at IU. Indiana University is a national leader in area studies and languages, offering instruction in 80 languages — more than any other university in the country.
“The training I received at IU taught me how to synthesize information and find what is important when talking about a region,” says Stranger. “With my language skills, I can look at primary source material in Persian and Arabic, which is really helpful. The research I’ve done has also helped me build a network of expert academics that I can reach out to for different issues.”
What ultimately led Stranger to IU was her desire to see the world. She started her career as a middle and high school teacher in Columbus, Georgia, before moving to China, then Vietnam, to teach.
“When I was overseas, most people I met spoke multiple languages, so it made me want to learn a language, but I didn’t want to learn one of the languages commonly taught like Spanish or French,” she explains. “Meeting people from Central Eurasia and the Middle East influenced my interest in those regions, which then led me to the Central Eurasian Studies program at IU.”
To help fund her education at IU, Stranger has had the support of Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowships. FLAS Fellowships are awarded by the U.S. Department of Education Title VI program to support students in the study of languages deemed critical to the U.S. national security and economic competitiveness.
“With the cost of college tuition these days, FLAS fellowships open your eyes to the world,” says Stranger. “I’m so grateful to IU and the FLAS program for giving me the opportunity to study the languages and regions that have led me to this job that I really love. I wouldn’t be where I am if I wouldn’t have had those opportunities.”
Stranger says that experts in Central Eurasia and the Middle East are needed more than ever in the U.S. government.
“There are a lot of opportunities out there for people who have unique regional knowledge, especially in government,” says Stranger. “There are also a lot of jobs in international development. When I was applying to government jobs, I always got called back. If you specialize in one of these languages, you will get an interview. Your resume will not get lost in the pile.”
Stranger says her language and area studies proficiency has also been critical in allowing her to access primary sources.
“The thing that shocked me coming into academia is the number of resources in Persian that could add something important to the conversation about different topics that have never been translated into English,” she says. “For example, for my dissertation I’m writing about Iranian grand strategy and there are a lot of journals published by Iranian academics who are writing about these issues at length in Persian, but I rarely see references to these journals in anything I read.”
Stranger continues to advance in her career. She was recently selected to the inaugural 2022-2023 cohort of Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) Non-Resident Fellows. In this role, she will contribute to at least one JSOU research project, publish at least one JSOU-unique piece, and moderate a panel discussion.
“I anticipate using the Persian skills I learned at IU to help me navigate primary sources for these endeavors,” she says.
Stranger emphasizes her strong dedication to supporting the U.S. military.
“I feel like I’m doing something important which is important to me,” she says. “It is really an honor to work with men and women of the military.”
FLAS Fellowships are awarded by the U.S. Department of Education Title VI program to support undergraduate and graduate students in the study of languages deemed critical to the U.S. In 2022, Indiana University was awarded $17.7 million from the Title VI program – the highest total amount awarded to any university. Of the total, $8.6 million will be awarded directly to students through FLAS Fellowships. All Indiana University students are eligible to apply for FLAS funding (hls.iu.edu/flas) through January 30, 2023 for summer 2023 and the 2023-24 academic year.