Four countries and two degrees later, college ends

By Karen A. Grava, CLAS Today

Justin Maher’s teeth are stained from his love of tea. And his soul is marked by his love of travel.

Maher, who earned a BA from CLAS in December 2010, double-majoring in honors history and Asian studies, with minors in Indian and international studies, will receive a BS degree from CLAS in May with an individualized major in multidisciplinary perspectives on health.

His coursework led him to China (twice), Armenia, India and Mexico – travel that probably exceeded the 7,000-mile length of the Silk Road he wrote his senior thesis about. He jokes that one box of tea purchased in India (Kashmiri Kehwa, green tea cinnamon and cardamom) traveled from India to the U.S. to China and back again.

“I was a pre-med student when I started college but I was inadequate at the lab bench,” he says. Coming to grips with that, he wandered to a pharmacy study abroad program that focused on Chinese medicine. That led him to a focus on medical anthropology.

But Maher, who is from East Lyme, has also studied art in India, history in Mexico, and archeology in Armenia.

“The variety made UConn great for me,” he says. “When I applied, I thought I knew what I wanted from a university. Looking back, I was wrong – several times over. From its sciences, to its humanities — and most of all, the unsung bridging of the two – the university’s sizeable variety allowed me to get out of college what I did not even know I wanted.”

UConn’s affordability allowed him to change directions a number of times and examine numerous topics and cultures. “At UConn, I could explore and now I’ve ended up with an education I am proud of, something I can use for life – wherever that leads.”

His travels have prepared him for nearly everything from being stared at for writing with the “wrong hand” (his left) to staying in a $5 a night hotel in a Muslim enclave in urban China to evade government residency-restrictions on foreigners while studying the Silk Road. There, he jokes, he was a “dirty infidel” — literally. The functionality of the electric shower was questionable so he relied on his teapot to get water warm for sponge baths.

While working on his senior honors thesis, he concluded that the Silk Road, the Trans-Eurasian overland trading network that has functioned since Roman times, fell into disuse because of early naval technology. Its revival is prevented by border politics.

“The technology to develop a road or lay rail lines has existed for over a century,” he says. “But for political reasons, it never materialized.”

The project was interesting, he says, because of the variety of disciplines the research involved. “I have the personality of a scientist,” he says. “If something exists, I want to investigate it – wherever it leads.”

After graduation, he hopes to learn about the import-export business from the owner of Eastern Arts, a store in the Crystal Mall where he works part time. “That would be a nice next step for me,” he says.

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