Student Stories

Summers abroad immerse students in language study

Yovovich Fund supports summer research and language study in Europe

Each year, 10 Yovovich Scholars take their research and language studies into their own hands by designing an independent summer experience in Europe. Established in 2016 by Paul (AB’74, MBA’75) and Mary (AB’74, MBA’78) Yovovich, the Yovovich Family Fund for Research and Language Study in Europe provides grants that support talented UChicago College students conducting summer research or pursuing intermediate or advanced language study in Europe. The grants are offered through the College’s Summer International Travel Grant program.

The Yovoviches are leaders in the University of Chicago community, having served in numerous capacities over the years to advance the University’s work. Paul has served as a trustee of the University since 2005 and of the Medical Center since 2012. Mary has been a member of the University of Chicago Women’s Board since 2006. They have both served on the College Advisory Council and their class reunion committees and have been dedicated supporters of various areas across campus for more than 40 years.

“Our family believes deeply in the importance of access to a global education,” said Paul Yovovich. “Mary and I were moved to create this fund in honor of my parents to support students doing meaningful work abroad. We are thrilled to see the achievements of the Yovovich Scholars and the impact these impressive individuals have on campus and around the world.”

This summer’s cohort of Yovovich Scholars left footprints as far as Ukraine and Iceland as they immersed themselves in the local language, customs, and culture. Upon their return to campus, they brought with them what they learned and experienced abroad, including new knowledge and a zest for more travel. 

Abigail Hunter, Iceland

Fourth-year linguistics major Abigail Hunter remembers being fascinated with Iceland in high school, partly because of her love of the Icelandic avant-rock band sigur rós. Once at UChicago, Hunter spent her third year at the College abroad as an exchange student at University College London. Fulfilling her desire to go to Iceland, she used her Yovovich grant to take a summer course in the remote peninsular town of Ísafjörður, where she took six hours of Icelandic language study a day.

Hunter’s practical immersion in Icelandic has proven instrumental in formulating a topic for her BA thesis, which examines sluicing, a linguistic phenomenon in which parts of sentences are not spoken but the meaning is still conveyed.

“Languages like Icelandic and German that have a case system can be really helpful when studying sluicing because the cases reveal a lot about the hidden structure,” she said. “I plan to use my knowledge of Icelandic to help with cross-linguistic analysis.”

Hunter found her experience in Iceland to be extremely enriching and rewarding, and her fascination with Iceland and its cultures has only been further bolstered.

“I learned so much about both the language and the culture. I even very briefly met the Prime Minister,” she said. “I can definitely say that [over time] my Icelandic has improved, and I’m eager to bring that knowledge into my BA paper.”

Laura Brawley, Norway

Getting paired with a Norwegian roommate during her first year of college provided the initial spark for fourth-year Laura Brawley’s interest in Norway. The public policy major has since declared Norwegian studies as a minor and this summer she used her Yovovich grant to study Norwegian language and politics at the University of Oslo in Norway for eight weeks.

“In the summer courses at the University of Oslo, many students come from all corners of the world to learn a variety of subjects,” said Brawley. “The benefits of diversity of thought were most clear in my international politics class. Not only did I study international relations theory through the traditional lens of American scholars, I also learned how international laws and policies affect people from a span of different countries, from Mexico to Azerbaijan, Ethiopia and Swaziland.”

Brawley said one of the most interesting aspects of her stay in Norway was witnessing the difference between the Western media’s depiction of a “perfect Norway” (noted to have the highest gross happiness and a well-functioning universal healthcare system) and the reality of the experience she had while living in the country.

Her time in Norway has emboldened her to apply to graduate programs abroad to study security studies, conflict resolution, and human rights. The University of Oslo is on her list.

“In the future, I hope to return to Norway and engage in research about the exportation of Norwegian values of human rights and peace studies to other regions of the world,” Brawley concluded.

Elma Hoffman, Ukraine

Elma Hoffman, a comparative literature major concentrating in Japanese and Russian language and literature, is no stranger to living abroad. In her senior year of high school, she lived in Rennes, France as part of the School Year Abroad program. As a Yovovich Scholar, the second-year student studied Russian for eight weeks in Kiev, Ukraine at the School of Russian and Asian Studies.

“As a comparative literature student, my acquisition of Russian plays a key role in developing a sincere and profound relationship with the Eastern European voices that guide my studies,” said Hoffman.

While in Kiev, she was impressed by the extent of the person-to-person networks, and over time, she made her own connections in the country.

“Whereas I started Russian due to an interest in its linguistic lineage, in living in Ukraine a world of enduring bonds opened,” she said. “Even months after the end of my experience, I call my host mother every week, I chat with friends studying in Kiev, and I’ve visited Moldova and Poland, forming relationships with people who came to call me family and using Russian all along the way.”

After her Russian language program ended, Hoffman went out on her own and spent 10 extra days in Kiev with her host family before traveling to Poland, where she has distant relatives. While there, she found herself performing with a music collective in a small village, where residents would gather with their various instruments. The experience contributed to her appreciation for the opportunity to learn through culture immersion.

Although Hoffman’s summer excursions extended far beyond her time as a Yovovich Scholar, the feeling of opportunity the funding secured for her lasted all through her journeys.

“I realize how lucky I have been to find that personal niche, to find that unbridled acceptance that all language learners strive to attain,” she said. 

The Summer International Travel Grant (SITG) program represents the College’s commitment to cross-cultural experience, research, and foreign language acquisition for undergraduates. Funding begins at $5,000, and each year the College awards approximately 100 grants to support these efforts. Grants are made possible by the College and generous donors. For more information, visit