It’s like a scene straight out of an action movie, but with an unexpected twist.

Addie Siebenthal, a senior at Missouri Southern, steps out of the Airbnb home where she has been staying in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. She knows the risks, but she’s hungry and wants to grab a bite to eat from a nearby restaurant.

As she reaches the corner, the driver of a passing car spies her and swerves in her direction.

The vehicle stops directly in her path, the occupants leaning out of the car.

And then, as she fears, they blast her with water and drive away.

It’s Vardavar, a water festival that began as a pagan tradition that is now celebrated as a national holiday. People gather at a fountain in the center of the city to splash water on one another, but in reality, one isn’t safe anywhere.

“You have to be careful because there will be people pouring water on you from the balcony, and men with huge water guns who will shoot at people on the sidewalks,” Siebenthal says. “Everyone is out having fun together. There was a guy with a bucket of water who tried to chase me down, but I got inside before he could throw it at me.”

She spent several weeks in Armenia this summer to work on a special project that examines the country’s history, conflicts, religion and culture, and it’s one that’s right in her wheelhouse.

Siebenthal, an international studies/political science major, has embraced a number of opportunities at Missouri Southern to study abroad and participate in internships that have kept her focused on her goal of becoming a foreign service officer.

“I really enjoy foreign affairs,” she says. “Reading about them in my free time has been a little hobby. I enjoy getting to know other cultures and analyzing the political field to the best of my ability.

“It’s really crucial to experience another culture. There’s a lot more to the world than our tiny region.”

Austria and Germany

Even before graduating from Joplin High School, Siebenthal says she knew she wanted to attend Missouri Southern.

It helped that she was already well acquainted with the campus. Her mother, Dr. Christine Bentley, is a faculty member in the Art Department and currently serves as director of the Spiva Gallery.

“I had always viewed Missouri Southern as a place where I could get to know my professors better, and I knew they had a great study abroad program,” she says.

During the second semester of her freshman year, she took the opportunity to study in Austria at the University of Salzburg.

“It’s a smaller city, and I was surprised how easy it was to get around and how friendly everyone was,” she says. “It pushed me to want to continue to study abroad in different regions of the world.”

Her second experience abroad came as a “random opportunity.”

“I had a former teacher at Joplin High School who messaged me one day,” she says. “They had a current exchange student whose family in Germany was looking for a live-in nanny.”

She spent the next year in Karlsruhe, Germany, caring for the family’s two children, ages 5 and 7, and continuing her studies online at MSSU.

“I only worked 30 hours a week, so I got to know the country on a more personal level,” she says.

Thailand and Morocco

During the first semester of her junior year, Siebenthal traveled to Bangkok, Thailand, to study at Thammasat University.

“Everyone was so friendly there. Up until that point, I had always imagined going off to grad school to study Middle Eastern and African affairs,” she says. “But my experience in Thailand pushed me to want to possibly study Southeast Asian affairs.”

The following semester was spent studying at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco, but the experience was cut short by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, however.

“We were on our spring break, and a lot of the exchange students were in Europe because flights were really cheap,” she says. “I had gone to Poland with a friend when a lot of countries began to talk about going into lockdown. The airport was completely crowded, but I was able to get on the last flight out of the country.”

Internships

During the Spring 2020 semester, she and another student did an internship with Dr. Nicole Shoaf, associate professor of political science at Missouri Southern. Together, they contacted Republican and Democrat state parties to see if they had drafted their agendas for the year.

Their work was part of an ongoing research project to assess what issues remain relevant and important to the state parties, and those that are no longer seen as relevant.

In December 2020, she was accepted into an internship program with the U.S. State Department.

“I started out in a small group where we were vetting articles about a machine learning algorithm, and how it could be useful within the State Department,” she says. “It could be used in embassies around the world to help with national security and help better vet people going through the visa process.

“It was structured like a bureaucracy. We started in small teams, and slowly added more people … students from around the U.S. None of us had been researching the same topic. It was very interesting.”

Getting to know Armenia

The weeks spent in Armenia – from early June until July 21 – came after the university accepted her McCaleb Initiative for Peace proposal.

Established through funding by Kenneth and Margaret McCaleb, the grants fund projects that examine the causes and consequences of war, as well as peacekeeping efforts. She will document her research this fall in a series of 12 articles written for The Chart, the campus newspaper.

“Each of them will focus on various topics, such as the history of the country, the Armenian genocide, Armenia during the Soviet area, and Christianity in Armenia … it’s seen as one of the first Christian nations and a lot of people believe Mount Ararat is where Noah’s ark landed,” she says. “They had a recent war in their country, so that will be highlighted, as well as other sections on their culture and who they are as a people.”

Siebenthal says that of all her overseas travels, her time in Armenia proved to be one of her best experiences.

“I met a few Armenians who were shocked when I told them what I was doing. They didn’t think anyone knew or cared about their country. They’ve gone through a lot. Their history is rich but filled with a lot of sorrow and loss. But they’ve grown through tragedy and it’s the friendliest country I’ve been to.”

‘Driven, but strategic’

Siebenthal’s experiences in the last few years have been “reassuring” when it comes to her goal of becoming a foreign service officer – serving as a U.S. diplomat abroad.

“It helped shape what I want to do and the region where I’d like to be stationed,” she says. “I’ve always been driven, but strategic. Even now, I’m looking at deadlines for different internships and fellowships … I never want to let something pass me by.

“Missouri Southern is a great university, especially when it comes to opportunities to study abroad,” she says. “It’s affordable and can change your life’s path. It can reset your priorities as far as what you truly want to pursue, and allow you to become more open-minded and well-informed.”

Shoaf, who has served as Siebenthal’s academic adviser, says her student’s focus and commitment both in and out of the classroom is laudable.

“You see students who have an inkling of (their career aspirations). Addie is confident in what she wants to do,” Shoaf says. “She’s not only sure of herself, but she’s put in the effort to make it happen now, and that’s rare.

“Studying abroad and doing internships when they’re not required, that takes extra effort beyond regular coursework. She has seen the value in those things and it will make all the difference. Her resume when she graduates is going to be a thing of beauty.”