Montana State University

Passions for music and Arabic culture results in Boren Scholarship for Bozeman student

May 29, 2012 -- By Carol Schmidt, MSU News Service

Gabe Lavin of Bozeman has received a Boren Scholarship that will enable him to study in Cairo, Egypt for a year. Lavin, an anthropology major at Montana State University, uses music to reach out and bridge gaps in cultures. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.   High-Res Available

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Tel: (406) 994-4571
A passion for music and its use as a tool to bridge cultural differences will take Montana State University student Gabe Lavin to Egypt for a year as a recipient of a prestigious Boren Scholarship.

Lavin, a senior from Bozeman majoring in anthropology, will attend Amideast in Cairo studying Arabic language and culture as one of 161 American recipients of the scholarship sponsored by the National Security Education Program. The Boren Scholarship, which will provide Lavin with $20,000 for his year abroad, is a federal initiative designed to build a broader and more qualified pool of U.S. citizens with foreign language and international skills.

Lavin is the second MSU student to receive a Boren award this spring. Matt Smith, of Helena, received a Boren Fellowship for graduate studies. Smith will study Swahili in Tanzania.

And while the lessons Lavin learns in the classroom are certain to enrich him, he believes the lessons he learns after hours playing with musicians in Egypt also will be essential to his education.

"Cairo is the center of music in the Arab world," said Lavin, who plays the oud, a Middle Eastern stringed instrument as well as several other instruments. "It is just saturated with music."

Lavin said he has seen music bridge gaps and transform relationships. Music was also the vehicle that transformed Lavin, and allowed him to literally broaden his world.

Lavin began his academic career at MSU as a music major.

"Except, I learned very quickly that I didn't want to major in music," said Lavin, who said he was surprised to learn that while he loved to practice music, he didn't want to study it. "It wasn't my thing."

A year-long MSU exchange to Al Akhawayn University in Morocco's Atlas Mountains changed his direction. Lavin said he picked Morocco because he wanted to study the oud, a pear-shaped instrument that is similar to the lute.

"Morocco set me upon a path that I was looking to be set on," said Lavin.

He said while at Al Akhawayn, he realized that music was a way to link people who had no common language other than music. During his time there he made friends who came from throughout Morocco. He learned to appreciate legendary Moroccan hospitality and the cultural diversity of the country where French, Arabic and Berber dialects are all spoken.

"Morocco was great." He said. "I couldn't get enough of it."

When Lavin returned to MSU, he began to study anthropology, which he views as a comprehensive way to understand human behavior. He also retained his interest in the oud and Arabic music, finding fellow aficionados among MSU's international students. Along with two other local Bozeman musicians, he formed the band Dub Sultan, which performs a contemporary Middle Eastern music that is a fusion of jazz, rock, reggae, rhythm and blues as well as Middle Eastern music. The band often collaborates with MSU international students who are musicians and performs with them.

"Because of my interest in music, I know most of the Middle Eastern students at MSU," Lavin said. "Music has given me the opportunity to form general relationships that would be hard to form otherwise."

Lavin has just finished his third year of Arabic language classes. Two of those years were taken at MSU through its distance-based Arabic language studies program. He will continue to study the language in Cairo.

"My goals are to continue to be a musician while I attend grad school, with an emphasis on Middle East studies," said Lavin, who hopes to find a career in diplomacy, possibly in the Foreign Service.

Lavin is the second MSU student to win a Boren Scholarships since 2010, when Lara Wabrek, an engineering major, won a Boren to study in Chile. That year Katy Hansen, an engineering graduate, earned a Boren Fellowship for graduate study. Hansen studied water management in Israel and the Middle East on her Boren Fellowship. Hansen later also won a Rhodes Scholarship.

"We have some great students here at MSU who have applied for the Boren Award," said Sally O'Neill, who coordinates the Boren Scholarship through the MSU Office of International Programs. "This is a very competitive award and we have done well. I encourage students to contact me even if they think they may not be qualified--because we can work together to get them ready"

To learn more about applying for a Boren Scholarship or Fellowship, contact O'Neill in the MSU Office of International Programs at (406) 994-7688, or email her at

Sally O\'Neill (406) 994-7688,