Self-proclaimed ‘Slacker’ student wows professors, wins prestigious Soros scholarship
After leaving post-Ceausescu Romania, Boroka Bo brings passion, commitment to work, study, service and fun
By Clay Evans
Ask Boroka Bo what she does for fun, and her brow furrows slightly.
“Well,” she says, pausing briefly. “I like running the Transylvanian Community Foundation,” she offers, along with her perpetual smile.
But she quickly moves on to a list of concerns about this organization she founded: What will happen with the foundation when she relocates from Boulder to the San Francisco Bay Area this summer? Will she be able to run it from there?
Told that running a foundation would, to many, seem more like work than fun, she explains its purpose: connecting American youth with volunteer opportunities in the region of Romania where she was raised.
“I have amazing people working with me,” says Bo, 31, an ethnic Hungarian whose family left post-Ceausescu Romania for the United States when she was 14.
By most people’s standards, Bo is pretty amazing herself. Since coming to Colorado, she’s earned a master’s degree in Chinese medicine and has worked for the Denver Public Schools system. She’s been janitor and has held jobs in posh Cherry Creek. Now, she not only runs the foundation, but also serves on the board at the University of Colorado’s Wardenburg Student Health Center — all while working toward her bachelor’s degree in sociology, with a focus on public health.
She speaks numerous European languages, and her senior honors thesis explores the way stigmatization has affected access to health care for Roma people — aka gypsies — across the continent, based on personal interviews.
“It is astounding to me that Boroka has managed all of this academic achievement and public service while simultaneously working 40 or more hours per week,” says CU Assistant Professor of Sociology Stefanie Mollborn, Bo’s faculty adviser.
Bo is finally leaving Colorado this summer after being awarded a prestigious Soros scholarship, which will allow her to pursue a Ph.D. in public health at the University of California, San Francisco.
In a recent letter of recommendation, Mollborn noted that Bo’s “life course has been extremely nontraditional.”
That’s putting it mildly.
After emigrating with her family to Michigan, Bo taught herself English by reading challenging books until the language began to click for her. She became an emancipated minor at 16 and entered college, even as she held jobs at factories, both union and non-union shops.
“There was a huge difference” in those two experiences, she says.
At the union shop she earned a living wage and had insurance. There was a nurse on site. At the non-union factory, assembly lines were divided along ethnic lines — white, Vietnamese, Bosnian; she worked with the latter. The pay was minimal and dangers were ever present, she says.
Working in the factories showed her the face of inequality in her adopted country.
“Talk about economic vulnerability; I have seen it,” she says.
Her experiences also contributed to her views on the American health-care system. On her Facebook page she has posted an item reading, “Universal Healthcare For All Citizens? Don’t Be Silly! That kind of thing is only for EVERY OTHER industrialized nation.”
Bo says her experience at CU has taught her how to relate to all kinds of people, from the staff who clean buildings to “a lot of incredible professors.”
“Being part of CU has been so interesting,” she says. “For the first time I know what it means to stand on the shoulders of giants.”
And, it turns out, work is not her only source of fun. She drops details here and there; you just have to spend time with her — and pay attention: She makes her own jewelry; loves snowboarding and is excited about honing her surfing skills in California; and she enjoys cruising through the mountains on her motorcycle, a little Honda Rebel she calls Fred.
Still, she isn’t quite sure she’s using her time as wisely and efficiently as she might.
“For the longest time I’ve thought I was a slacker,” Bo says.
Here’s betting she’s the only one.