When Bryce Barros passed through the sliding doors of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University in fall 2015, his entrance was seven years in the making.
“I knew I wanted to go to the Bush School since I was a freshman [in college],” Barros said. “I had a close friend that told me about the quality of the program and its affordability, and the institution that is Aggieland makes it a real bang for the buck.”
A Connecticut native, Barros attended Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont. There, he was a member of the Norwich University Corps of Cadets and began studying Mandarin Chinese after spending the better half of his childhood learning Japanese. Because the University did not offer a Japanese language program, Barros was faced with a change.
“Up to that point I was set on being a Japan Hand. I loved the Japanese language, culture, and people and had a very Japan-centric view,” Barros said. “I thought learning any other Asian language was beneath me.”
As his focused shifted, Barros received scholarships from the U.S. Department of Defense to study in China before receiving a Boren Scholarship to study in Taiwan, the Republic of China. Named for former Oklahoma Senator David L. Boren, the highly competitive Boren Scholarships are offered to undergraduate students to study language in regions of the world critical to US interests and security. He elected to study in Taiwan because of the island’s rich history and culture and because of opportunities presented by a Norwich exchange program with the Taiwan Army through the Republic of China Military Academy.
“I knew that no other American, not even active duty military personnel, would have the opportunity to be embedded with a foreign military so critical to shaping American foreign policy,” Barros said. “I knew that the opportunity would provide real hands-on exposure to diplomacy and military affairs that would set me apart from my peers. The experience was far more than I could have hoped for.”
Upon graduating from Norwich in 2012, Barros returned to Taiwan to further his expertise prior to entering the field of US foreign policy. He continued his study of Mandarin and Chinese culture and began freelancing for a magazine covering green energy development in the south region of Asia. Barros developed an affinity for the island nation, with its low cost of living and geographic location.
“I came to really like Taiwan. I call it the best kept secret of the Asia-Pacific. It’s cheap to live, the people are very nice, and it’s tropical. It’s a complete 180 degree experience from what I had in China,” Barros said. He also traveled to Southeast Asia extensively while living in Taipei, gaining a broader political and cultural knowledge of the region.
“In Taiwan, I got to see diplomacy up close and personal. [The] experience prepared me for work in the Foreign Service and larger defense community,” Barros said.
It was also in Taiwan that Barros met a group of Bush School students that re-introduced him to the Bush School. There, he met a recent A&M graduate who introduced him to current Bush School students and graduates who increased his understanding of the School’s curriculum and mission. From these testimonials, Barros made a decision to apply.
“I knew I didn’t want to go back to Connecticut, and I wanted to see more of this large country of ours,” Barros said. “As a Northeasterner, I have a natural aversion to anything not on the West and East Coasts. So I figured I’d go to Aggieland, make a bit of that Texan industrious spirit my own, and try the “Third Coast” on for a ride.
Upon enrolling at the Bush School in fall 2015, Barros quickly took to the School’s familial nature and emphasis on public service as well as feeling a connection between himself and the School’s namesake, George H. W. Bush.
“The Bush family is originally from my home county in Connecticut, Fairfield County,” said Barros. “That connection and their story as New Englanders that came to Texas to make something really resonates with me.”
Barros has credited the Bush School with developing his analytical abilities and critical thinking skills, a skill set he believes will be indispensable in his future career endeavors.
“The Bush School taught me how to cherish dispassionate analysis and cut the wheat from the chaff on various issues affecting us locally, nationally, and internationally,” Barros said.
Being one to fully immerse himself in his surroundings, Barros is involved in a range of activities at the Bush School and on the main campus of Texas A&M University. He works as a graduate research assistant and participates in the activities of the Bush School Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Last year, Barros took part in the Annual Student Conference on Latin Affairs (SCOLA) and, being conversational in Chinese, he performed a comedy routine in his second language at the Chinese Student and Scholar Association’s Chinese New Year Gala last February.
A condition of his Boren Scholarship requires Barros to work within the federal government for at least one year. As he looks toward graduation in May, he wants to fulfill this requirement either within Texas or back on his home coast.
“I hope to help advance American interests in whichever way I decide to fulfill my Boren Scholarship federal service requirement,” Barros said, adding “I truly miss the Northeast and cannot wait to get back home. But I will miss Texas as well and intend to wear cowboy boots wherever I go.”