Spotlight on South Asia Studies Recent Graduates and Fulbright Scholars Kimberly Kolor and Alex Polyak

Students and faculty members of the South Asia Studies Department have for some time possessed an impressive record of securing scholarships and grants for research on South Asia related topics, from a range of grant-making bodies. To add to this track record, two of our very own recent graduates --Kimberly Kolor and Alex Polyak– beat stiff competition and obtained Fulbright scholarships for their own research projects in India and Sri Lanka. The Fulbright Scholar Program is a US Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs program, which awards grants to faculty, students and professionals to conduct research on a plethora of academic and professional topics.   Fulbright calls for proposals on an annual basis, and this year 22 scholarships were awarded to Penn undergraduates and graduate students, for research and English language teaching –and two of these were our Majors students.


With graduation now behind them, and the summer getting underway Kim and Alex are now looking ahead and planning their travels and research trips. They describe their academic interests and research projects, and discuss their plans for the future.  Alex says “I really wanted to return to India since interning there during the summer of 2013, and decided that this was an ideal opportunity. In all honesty, I look forward to the Fulbright year abroad in Delhi as it will allow me to pursue independent research while allowing me to explore India to the fullest.” He goes on to describe his project “I’ll be researching the development of the Indian middle class circa 1890-1940. In particular, I’ll be focusing on merchant families in Uttar Pradesh or what at the time were the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh. I feel strongly that if the development of the contemporary middle class is the preeminent issue shaping Indian socio-economic life and politics, then it is incredibly important, to say nothing of highly intriguing, to understand the historical formation of this middle class.” In contrast with Alex’s project, Kim’s research is based further south, in Sri Lanka and connects to some preliminary research, which she began while studying abroad in her junior year.  She explains, “I will be conducting ethnographic research on contemporary post-war society in Sri Lanka on a Fulbright Fellowship. I will be based in the Eastern Province and will be exploring everyday boundary politics with focus on rumors as well as the religious and ethnic politics of personal beautification.” She will also continue her language study in Tamil and Sinhala to help with reading and interpreting sources.”


Both Fulbright scholars are thinking ahead and intend to continue on to graduate studies once their research in the subcontinent this coming school year is completed. Kim plans to enroll in a graduate program in September 2016 or the following year --depending on when she is able to complete her Boren Scholarship year of service. The Boren Scholarships are a National Security Education Program with the main thrust of its focus on geographic areas, languages, and fields significant to U.S. national security.  She intends to pursue South Asia Studies and Anthropology with particular emphasis on religious and public spaces, religion and development, popular material culture, rumors, and gender interserctionalities in South India and Sri Lanka. Her ultimate goal is to become a professor and to teach and train other students in the study of South Asia. Last year, Alex applied to and deferred a master’s program in Economic History at the London School of Economics in the UK.  Once he begins his graduate degree, he hopes to hone the quantitative research skills that he currently lacks, and will study under Professor Tirthankar Roy, one of the acclaimed scholars of Indian economic history.


To learn more about what Kim’s and Alex’s experiences about the majoring in the department visit