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Susana Hancock '07 is studying at Oxford for her Ph.D. in linguistics

Looking at the college resume of Susana Hancock ’07, it’s not surprising that she was considered for what is widely recognized as the oldest and best known award for international study.

Before becoming a Rhodes Scholar finalist in November, Hancock was a Winthrop Scholar, Connecticut College’s highest academic honor. A Linguistics and Slavic Studies major, she was also awarded the Slavic Studies Award for Consistent Excellence in 2007 and the Best Translation of Slavic Fiction Award in 2006 and 2007.

“Throughout my whole college experience I was really encouraged to pursue my interests,” she said. “It’s become a mindset for the outer world.”

Hancock wasn’t interested in linguistics before college and instead wanted to study astrophysics and studio art.

“The greatest aspect of Conn for me is that I was really exposed to different avenues and ideas,” she said.

After graduating from the College, Hancock studied at Universitetet i Tromsø in Norway where, in addition to her work at the Center for Advanced Study in Theoretical Linguistics and the Institute for Social Anthropology, she headed the northern Norway chapter of Amnesty International and played cello in the regional Norwegian orchestra.

Hancock is never afraid of a challenge and always willing to learn something new. She’s fluent in four languages - Russian, Czech, Icelandic and Norwegian – and also knows some French.

Outside of the world of academia, her knowledge is widespread, too. She can fly planes, sail, figure skate, make her own maple syrup, and handle alligators, a skill she learned while volunteering at the Mystic Aquarium as an undergraduate.

While her list of hobbies and academic interests may seem daunting, Hancock, who once took 10 classes during a semester, couldn’t see life any other way.

“I need to feel that I’m balanced and sometimes that means doing more to get that personal satisfaction,” she said.

Staying true to character, you might say that Hancock was a little preoccupied when she found out she was a Rhodes Scholar finalist Nov. 4. Not only was she paying close attention to election night coverage, she was also playing cello in a symphony orchestra concert.

“The next day though, my step became a little bouncy,” she said. “All of a sudden I needed a suit and an evening gown for the interview process. It was very exciting.”

Later that month, Hancock was interviewed in Boston by a seven-person panel, which included six Rhodes Scholars.

“Waiting to be interviewed was a little bit stressful, but I felt calm beforehand,” she said.

During her interview, Hancock said that the interviewers challenged her to defend the relevancy of linguistics and history in a modern day world.

“Many of the questions were meant to show how you think and whether you’re able to support your ideas,” she said.

Hancock was grateful for the help of professors like Eugene Gallagher, the Rosemary Park Professor of Religious Studies, who helped her prepare for the interview. Others, including Heidi Henderson, Andrea Lanoux, Eva Eckert and Jason Duckles, wrote recommendation letters.

“They helped with my confidence and enjoyment of the process,” Hancock said.

Though she didn’t wind up earning a Rhodes Scholarship this year, Hancock is continuing to pursue her academic interests. She currently lives in Maine and is applying to graduate schools, planning to earn her Ph.D. in linguistics.

Eventually, she plans on applying her studies to international journalism. Through writing, she hopes to improve communication throughout the world and learn about others’ points of view.

“When I learn something, I want to share it,” she said. “I want to use linguistics as a tool to really understand people.”

January 12, 2009