By Adriana Ramirez, ’18
Ryan McEvoy, ’17, has spent almost as much time abroad as in a Richmond classroom during his four years. While some might consider his academic approach unorthodox, McEvoy is curious about international development and diplomacy. Traveling the globe is the best way to observe how different cultures interact.
These international experiences have also shaped an academic path that pulls from just as many cultural influences.
Take his Jewish studies minor, an unexpected addition for someone who was raised Catholic. It generated from a first-year trip to Poland through the Chaplaincy’s Pilgrimage program. “The trip was about questions of reconciliation and memory after the Holocaust and it changed not only my academics program or my interests outside of school, but it also shaped the direction of my future,” McEvoy said. He began to consider how people of different cultures and different faiths can find common ground.
There’s also his German major, which McEvoy had the chance to delve into during a language immersion program in Berlin the summer after his first year. While there, he also conducted research with the help of an A&S Summer Research Fellowship. “I was studying the way in which students understood their cultural environment after war,” he said.
He loved the research so much that he returned to Berlin the following summer to study the reactions of the German media after the September 11 attacks and how that attack affected American-German relations.
When McEvoy began looking for a semester study abroad program for his junior year, he wanted to find something completely out of his comfort zone. That desire led him to the Minnesota Studies in International Development (MSID) program in Bangalore, India. He learned Hindi and took courses in development theory.
He also interned with a local nonprofit dedicated to expanding children’s access to democratic politics. “I was doing research on housing policy in the Indian state of Karnataka, which allowed me to make a difference in a local community, and broaden the way I think about complicated issues like development,” he said.
But it was his time living with a Hindu family and experiencing their culture that had an especially lasting impact. “India was totally a new experience to me and it also really opened my eyes into looking at interfaith dialogue and multi-faith cooperation,” he said.
Now in his senior year, McEvoy’s thesis brings together four years of global experiences; majors in international studies, history, and German; and his Jewish studies minor. It’s also a reflection of his interests in Israeli, Indian, and American politics.
His thesis focuses on the reaction of American Jewish civil society to the formation of India shortly after the end of World War II. Using the Center for Jewish History’s archives, he is compiling responses from the American Jewish Committee (AJC), a Jewish advocacy group, to the creation of India as a vehicle for understanding the AJC's worldview. “I’m looking at transnational connections, how people talk across borders and cultures, and, at the same time, how they use their culture as a reference point for understanding the world,” he said.
As he reflects on his four years, McEvoy is grateful for the opportunity to define a unique path based on his interests. “I was never told what to do or how to do it, but the School of Arts and Sciences and my professors always supported my ideas,” he said.
McEvoy also feels his experiences abroad were formative in helping him achieve his academic goal of a greater understanding of the world and its cultures. "Having grown up in an era marked by religious division, some think that cooperation is impossible, but that hasn't been my experience,” he said. “I have gotten to meet so many people from different places and religions and it has amazed me how they have openly received me.”
“After my experiences abroad, I started to notice how in a variety of different settings, people were crossing religious lines to do good in the community,” McEvoy said. “I don’t think we’re locked in religious warfare.”