Andrew Svabik, a recent graduate in philosophy, politics and law with a minor in Japanese, has been awarded a Fulbright scholarship to become an English teaching assistant in Cambodia. The NAU Honors College and Model United Nations member has aligned his passion for international engagement with his desire to make a difference in the lives of others.
Svabik’s passion for making a positive difference and his variety of experiences at NAU led him to apply for the Fulbright Scholarship, a program renowned for fostering cultural exchange and understanding.
Most English teaching assistantship programs required a degree in either English or education, but Svabik had experience tutoring and being a peer mentor, and the requirements noted for Cambodia were less stringent on declared majors.
“I saw that teaching role and that was especially interesting to me. I just really wanted to go and make a difference,” Svabik said.
His decision also arose from his interest in the country’s history, culture and economics, which Svabik spent the last year researching. He sees Fulbright as a launchpad for his future career in international service and envisions working with various UN-affiliated agencies, leveraging the opportunities the Fulbright experience offers to expand his global network and gain firsthand knowledge of on-the-ground work.
“I want to encourage anyone to apply for a Fulbright or any sort of international scholarship because they are so attainable,” Svabik said. “I don’t have any English teaching experience, but I was still given this opportunity, so anyone, regardless of doubts or perceptions surrounding their qualifications, should go for it.”
Discovering a dream university
Svabik, who is from Goodyear, started his journey to NAU in high school when, as president of the math club and UN club member, he attended NAU’s High School Math Day. He also spent a week in McConnell Hall during his time with Arizona Boys State, a competitive summer leadership camp designed to educate students about the mechanics of the government, foster civic engagement and offer networking opportunities.
“I was acquainted with the different spaces on campus like The DüB and Old Main, and I really like the lush greenery and lively campus atmosphere; it was such a nice reprieve from the heat of Phoenix,” Svabik said. “I just fell in love with the campus. I just kept thinking, ‘I really want to go here.’”
He recalls feeling welcomed from day one at NAU and discovering many opportunities, including Model UN. One of his most cherished memories from his time at NAU was when he was selected as a delegate to a Model United Nations conference at McGill University in Montreal. Although unconventional for a first-year student to participate at such a level, Svabik embraced the challenge.
“It’s one the most prestigious and difficult conferences in North America—it was awesome. I was able to travel with upper-class students from the club, meet students from all over the world, do our Model UN competition and wander around Montreal,” Svabik said.
The experience not only elevated his confidence but also allowed him to travel, explore Montreal and get to know his clubmates better. He also was in Montreal when news of COVID-19 began to circulate, and upon returning to NAU, he recalls feelings as though the world went into chaos and travel experiences were taken off the table.
Navigating challenges and finding resilience
Because of the pandemic, two study abroad options fell through—a Fulbright summer study abroad in England was canceled in 2020, and the next year a program to Japan was canceled. Despite this setback, the change of plans opened doors to unexpected and rewarding experiences for Svabik.
“I would say that experience—not going was actually better than going, which is kind of antithetical to what you hear about study abroad,” Svabik said. “I picked up classes in the philosophy department and in the Honors College and that just broadened my horizons—historically, philosophically and all these different ways.”
During the summer of his junior year, he got to study abroad in the Sacred Valley at Cusco, Peru, where he worked with Indigenous children through a nonprofit organization and discovered his passion for service.
“We taught them about water conservation, water quality and how to test their water and took them on amazing, really challenging hikes to ancient Inca archaeological sites,” Svabik said.
As luck would have it, he roomed with a student from Japan. They became friends, and Svabik is visiting him this summer.
Svabik’s academic career also had its share of challenges, especially during his sophomore year, when personal issues, the uncertainties of the pandemic and difficult roommate situations caused him to feel isolated and overwhelmed. However, he navigated these obstacles with the support of family and friends and regained his focus on his studies, discovering the importance of building strong connections and finding a sense of community.
Svabik’s challenging second year aided him in his Honors peer mentoring position, where he supported first-year students in their transition into the university. A teaching assistant for HON 190, he guided first-year students through their academic journey, helping them acclimate to college life and find a sense of belonging. His role was personally rewarding, especially when he helped two students overcome significant challenges and find their footing at NAU.
Svabik’s dedication and compassion for his students manifested in personalized attention to ensure students were set up for success, and through his guidance and support, he witnessed the transformative power of being there for others. At an event thrown by mentors, he was overwhelmed that most attendees were students he had mentored through challenging times.
“I would say overall, the uncertainty and disappointment of my junior year led me to where I am now, especially that trip to Peru, which made me realize that I wanted to do service, and it wasn’t just about myself doing the service, it was more so about myself as a willing person to be able to provide for people,” Svabik said. “That’s what I’ve tried to keep in mind when applying to projects; that’s really where my heart’s at, is the best way to put it.”
The journey continues: Japan, Thailand, Cambodia and the future
Svabik also was chosen as the NAU delegate to the 11th Annual University Scholars Leaders Symposium in Bangkok next month. He’s excited to meet people from all over the world and engage in real-world diplomacy. This symposium will provide valuable networking and leadership-building opportunities and explore ways to get involved with the UN and other international organizations; he’s especially excited for the day they’ll be out planting mangroves.
“I think that in the future, more students need to know about this opportunity because there are so many students at NAU that would love that opportunity,” Svabik said. “There are so many other students at NAU that would be well deserving to go, and I think we could have more delegates go.”
Applying for the Fulbright
The application process was intense and time-consuming; Svabik dedicated several months to crafting essays and seeking guidance and recommendation letters from mentors. Working tirelessly on the application process while juggling classes and extracurriculars, he received support from family, friends and his girlfriend.
Svabik acknowledged the unwavering support of his family as a significant contributing factor to his success. His parents, grandparents and brother have been his greatest advocates, providing constant guidance and support.
“My family, they’ve always been behind me 100 percent and that’s really wonderful to have because not everyone has that, so they’re my strongest influence and source of encouragement,” Svabik said. “I’m very fortunate to have had such a family life like that.”
Cynthia Gerber | NAU Communications