Studying abroad in Jordan her junior year gave Clark University history major Adelaide Petrov-Yoo ’17 the chance to learn Arabic and better understand the roots of the Middle East conflict.
After returning to Clark in fall 2016, the New Yorker applied that knowledge to write her honors thesis focusing on the Soviet Union’s intervention in Afghanistan and how public opinion and media coverage in the U.S.S.R. contributed to its withdrawal of troops.
Her research was inspired by her father’s experience. He was drafted at age 18 to fight for the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
“My dad and his family lived in the U.S.S.R. and are Russian. He moved to Korea when he met my mother, who is Korean, and that’s where I was born,” Petrov-Yoo says. “His experiences got me interested in the Middle East and Russia in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, and current events turned my attention to the present-day situations in both regions.”
Digging up information on the topic was not easy, she says.
“I used the Goddard Library to look through years of translated Soviet newspapers, and used our access to transcripts of official top-level political meetings about Afghanistan,” Petrov-Yoo says. “Most other books don’t talk much about the role of public opinion in political decisions regarding Afghanistan, although it is important to see how the media and public opinion were able to play a role in pressuring the leadership.”
Petrov-Yoo’s study of the history of Afghanistan and Russia have given her context for what is happening currently in the world. She worked closely with her adviser, Douglas Little, professor of history.
“We both are interested in the Middle East and the Cold War. Over the course of my years at Clark, and while I wrote my thesis, we had many conversations,” she says. “Learning the history behind the present-day states has helped me understand what is going on, what avenues are open to fix problems, and what kinds of conflicts occurred to make the present-day situations the way they are now.”
Studying in Amman, Jordan, helped Petrov-Yoo understand better the daily conflicts faced by people in the Middle East. While there, she also interned at a non-governmental organization called Generations for Peace.
“I learned not just from my classes, but also from taxi drivers, my host family, friends and fellow travelers,” she says. “I now know about many Middle Eastern countries in a much more intimate way than when I had learned about them in a classroom. I have friends from Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and Libya who were able to tell me things about these countries you never hear in the news or read in a textbook.”
She even witnessed some of the devastation that had been described to her first hand.
“One of the craziest things I have ever seen was when I was traveling in Palestine,” Petrov-Yoo says. “I took a day trip out of Ramallah and saw an Israeli settlement in the city of Hebron where a present-day apartheid is happening in the form of forced segregation. I have learned about the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but this brought my historical knowledge right up to contemporary times.”
Starting this fall, Petrov-Yoo will pursue an advanced degree in Clark’s Fifth-Year Accelerated B.A./Master’s Program in history. She’s happy to remain for another year at a place full of people who have inspired her.
“The students I know at Clark are not content with the status quo,” she says, “and are always working proactively to change their communities for the better.
Once she graduates from the master’s program, she plans to apply for fellowships.
“If I don't get into any, or if I’m tired of research after two successive years of writing theses,” she says, “I want to teach English in Korea, where my family lives, or travel to Russia to improve my Russian and visit other family members.”
Above, Adelaide Petrov-Yoo ’17 rides a truck through the desert of Wadi Rum in Jordan.