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Greg Uzelac

"My most enthralling class was Islamic Law and Mysticism"

By in large I thoroughly enjoyed every single class I took to achieve my degree. However, my most enthralling class was Islamic Law and Mysticism.

How did you become interested in Asian Studies?

I knew before I was even accepted into Northwestern that I wanted to study South Asian language, history, and anthropology. When I first toured NU and read up on the Asian Studies (formerly AMES) program, I knew immediately I had found the right university for me. I have always been attracted to the rich past of the Asian Subcontinent and its diverse peoples, but I furthermore hope to pursue a filmmaking career in India and so double majoring in AMES alongside Radio, TV, and Film in the School of Communications made my academic path at NU the perfect training course.

How did your interest develop while at Northwestern?

At first I was less focused as to which parts of South Asian civilization I wanted to focus on. India by itself is as diverse and rich with history as an entire continent! While I still am interested in the region as a whole, my time learning Hindi and attention I paid to Islam in the region inevitably strengthened my interest in Northern India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. That being said, a majority of my later work focused on Indians in Diaspora, a personal interest of mine that I was able to expand on with the help of the amazing faculty in the AMES, Asian American Studies, and Hindi departments.

What were your favorite courses and who were your favorite professors?

That’s a tough one. By in large I thoroughly enjoyed every single class I took to achieve my degree. However, my most enthralling class was Islamic Law and Mysticism. Carl Petry is a phenomenal lecturer with a plethora of fantastically enthralling anecdotes and historical knowledge. I recommend that every student at NU take a class with him once in their college career no matter what they study.

I must also give praise to Hindi professor, Rami Nair. I was privileged enough to work with Professor Nair almost four years in a row in Hindi study, concluding with her serving as advisor to my Senior Year Independent study that I eventually presented in the Undergraduate Research Expo. She is a wonderful and incredibly intelligent person. I previously studied three other languages before arriving at NU, and I can say with confidence that Professor Nair is one of the most talented language educators I have ever encountered.

Did you study abroad? How did the experience affect you?

I did not study abroad due to a certificate program I participated in in the School of Communications, but I did go to Hyderabad with NU for my senior year spring break. It was an outstanding experience that materialized everything I had been studying for four years.

How has your ASP coursework affected your career and/or your life in general?

I always saw my time at NU and in both the Film and AMES departments as training for my career aspirations in the Indian film industry – especially in terms of language. Indirectly though, my analytical writing and research experience definitely strengthened my qualifications for working in research roles in larger companies. By in large, Asia is where a lot of business has headed and continues to head so simply gaining insight into the region can make you a stronger candidate for a lot of positions.

What are you up to these days?

I am currently an intern in the copywriting and new business departments of an international advertising agency while simultaneously working on my writing career. I am currently revising my two papers written during my senior year with hopes of publishing them in academic journals that focus on South Asian studies. As soon as a decent position opens up in film or advertising in India, however, I’m on the next plane out there!

What might you say to an undergrad regarding the value of Asian Studies courses?

Asian Studies is a small, but very intimate department of dedicated scholars and passionate students. I loved the smallness of the community of full majors and always considered AMES my primary major despite having to transfer to School of Comm. for my film major. I believed so strongly in the work I was doing and the things I was learning. It may not seem clear what you will do with the knowledge you gain in AMES right off the bat, but after four years and a firm grasp on the society of your focus area, it becomes very clear. My rehearsed response though is often that there is a lot of potential in Asian markets and gaining insight into the region and learning a language from it will give you a leg up against competition in numerous industries. Also it sounds VERY scholarly.

Any particular memories that stand out to you?

One of the most meaningful experiences related to my studies in AMES happened over the summer after my Freshman year. I had only been studying Hindi seriously for the one year, but I had already learned a fair amount. I was in Barcelona, Spain on holiday and after a night out I needed to get money in order to grab a cab home. It was early morning and I was naïve to the fact that Barcelona is one of Europe’s most thief-friendly cities.

I also was unaware that there is a significant Pakistani population there. I took money out from a nearby ATM only to be corralled by a group of locals I had met earlier to return to the fun. Feeling uneasy, but not wanting to make much of a fuss for fear of exacerbating the situation, I turned to a group of Pakistanis – toy sellers, rose peddlers – who were sitting nearby and took a risk. I asked them in Urdu, a language almost identical to Hindi, whether they believed these men wished to rob me. They said yes and protected me. We spent the next hour talking in English, Hindi, and Urdu about their lives in Pakistan and Spain. It was the summer in which Pakistan had been hit by the devastating 2010 floods and a major match-fixing Cricket scandal so there was a lot to talk about. When I finally headed home I realized I had just had a once-in-a-lifetime experience that could have gone very sour without my studies at NU, but also the yearning for learning from others and their cultures that led me to AMES in the first place.

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