Graduate Abby Naumann finds benefit in unlikely pairing of majors

by | May 20, 2019

Naumann combined a French and Japanese modern language degree with one in political science while also balancing two minors and four certificates.
Abby Naumann

May graduate Abby Naumann represented UMSL at the Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference in April. The experience was just one of the many opportunities available to her through the Office of International Studies and Programs. (Photo courtesy of Abby Naumann)

When people hear about Abby Naumann’s fields of study, they often respond with a slight snicker that’s dripping in curiosity.

The recent University of Missouri–St. Louis graduate paired French and Japanese with political science, which hardly seems humorous to her. But she does recognize that the two languages share little in common and would likely provoke a natural wonder about why she combined them.

When she further explains her complementary list of two minors and four certificates, people seem to formulate a better guess about Naumann’s future plans.

“You must want to work for a state department,” many presume. Naumann then responds with a sly chuckle of her own and says, “Not especially.”

The assumption isn’t too far off, though. Naumann does want to work in international relations – she would just prefer to do so with an intergovernmental or nongovernmental organization. This type of role, she believes, will help her focus on her main passions.

“With my interests being largely in human rights issues and international cooperation, I think it’s difficult to come at that from a state perspective,” she said. “You always have to deal with whoever’s in charge. It could be Barack Obama. It could be Donald Trump. What if you don’t agree with one of their policies? That’s really hard for career bureaucrats to have to deal with. I like the idea that if I worked non-governmentally, I would have the option of remaining less biased and more focused on my goals.”

With Saturday’s UMSL commencement behind her and a long list of academic accolades to her name, Naumann is one step closer to her dream job. She’s been accepted to a competitive graduate program in Geneva, Switzerland, where she’ll once again combine several fields of study for a degree in international affairs.

“It’s a super contemporary, progressive type of degree for the field,” said the Pierre Laclede Honors College graduate who served as a student marshal and minored in psychology and international relations. “It combines a lot of different fields like gender studies, economics, history, public policy and administration. I’m pretty excited about that.”

A road less traveled
While Naumann’s path seems pretty clear now, it hasn’t always been that way. She enrolled at UMSL determined to follow a standard and entirely different route.

The Illinois native simply wanted to help people, so she thought she should earn degrees in psychology and biology, enroll in medical school and then become a psychiatrist.

But a few general education courses at UMSL – a Japanese culture class that was stimulating and a chemistry course that was more challenging than she would have liked – helped change her direction.

“I really fell in love with language and culture,” said Naumann, who’s now traveled to 12 countries. “I came to the discovery that I could combine those two with political science to do international relations. I would still be helping people, it would just be an innovative and new course – a road less traveled.”

She fully embraced that path the next semester, enrolling in Japanese I, Chinese I and an advanced French class all at once. Naumann found the challenge she was searching for in the coursework and capitalized on numerous opportunities, including two study abroad experiences and certificates in East Asian studies and modern European studies.

Naumann first spent a summer doing an intensive language study along the French and German border. Then immediately after her European excursion, she caught a plane to Tokyo for a yearlong immersion in Japanese culture, language and politics at Waseda University.

“I think studying abroad has been the biggest key factor in my education,” she said. “When I applied to grad school, I listed being able to study abroad twice as some of my formative experiences. Studying politics in a country outside of the U.S. is just incomparable. My grad program said that’s exactly what they wanted. They didn’t just want the student who went to Harvard or Yale. They wanted to see that you had experience getting outside of your comfort zone.”

She credits UMSL for helping her gain that experience.

“UMSL supported me in a continuous way financially that I don’t think any other university would have done,” said Naumann, who received five university scholarships during her time at UMSL. “They opened all of these doors for me. And now I’m going to Switzerland and will be interning at the United Nations in a few years as part of the curriculum for my degree.”

Continuous opportunities
With UMSL’s assistance, Naumann has also traveled to domestic destinations – most recently to Annapolis, Maryland, for the Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference.

She served as UMSL’s handpicked representative, listened to presentations led by renowned journalists and Obama-administration strategists about the liberal world order and served as a panelist on a discussion about global strategy. 

Naumann was the lone female on the panel and was the only one with extensive knowledge in East Asian politics. The experience provided a confidence boost and reassurance that she paired the right fields of study.

“People think it’s funny to study a European romance language and Japanese because they are not related in the least,” she said. “But I think it’s been so important to study those languages and cultures, especially from an international relations perspective, because they are western and non-western. It’s provided a cultural fluency that’s been really helpful.”

Sara Bell

Sara Bell

Eye on UMSL: A day in the life
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