Class of 2015
Dzerzhinsk, Russia/Liepaja Latvia
Olga Karpova leans against an elegantly curved steel rail on Abu Dhabi's corniche, her eyes scanning the city's elaborate skyline. For a moment she pauses while a warm breeze flutters the pages of her sketchbook. Then her gaze settles on the Investment Authority tower and her pencil confidently begins to flit back and forth across the page, rendering the structure's organic, scroll-like forms with a delicate authority.
"Here in Abu Dhabi, almost every building has its own personality," she muses. "I'd love to bring some of this diversity to the former Soviet cities, where modern construction tends to have a standard feel."
As Olga makes measurements in the air, the arcs, angles, and intersections of the tower and surrounding structures fall into place on the page and are slowly enveloped in an atmosphere of light and shadow.
Although she draws landscapes rather than people, she makes frequent notes on social habits, styles of dress, mannerisms and expressions. These observations reveal the focal point of Olga's mental activity: the landscape of humanity in all its forms.
"I don't plan to become a professional visual artist," she says, "I think my future medium will be communication—creating new intersections between people and institutions, between culture and government."
In this arena, Olga identifies with figures like Edi Rama, artist and mayor of Tirana, Albania, who had the once crumbling, gray city repainted in a myriad of brilliant hues.
"In politics, you're dealing with psychology, too, and you have to be able to change the way people see their environment." She pauses, gesturing at the skyline and up into the brilliant blue expanse with which it is framed. "Here, they have clearly taken this into account."
As she feels the warm Emirati sun blanket the corniche, Olga recalls, by contrast, her time in Anchorage, Alaska, where she studied on a scholarship from the Future Leaders Exchange Program. "Frankly, I had hoped to go somewhere warmer than Russia, but Anchorage turned out to be an urban city with a surprising number of opportunities."
In Alaska, Olga had taken full advantage of these opportunities, joining the debate team, with which she scored victories against native English speakers, and thinking creatively about how to bring aspects of life in the States—such as city-funded recycling programs and a culture of volunteerism—back to her home country. It was through an essay on these cross-cultural initiatives that she won a place in Civil Education Week in Washington DC, where she chatted with US senators and representatives and absorbed the political culture of the beltway.
"Every politician should be able to think creatively," she asserts. "In a globalized world, we are constantly faced with situations that don't have a standard resolution, so we have to be prepared to invent something new, abandon preconceptions, and face the concrete reality."
Despite a focus on academics, Olga hopes to remain active in the arts and is planning to join NYU Abu Dhabi's ballroom dancing club in order to share her expertise as a national gold medalist. "Dancing is something that has given me confidence expressing myself before large groups and an ability to read and convey subtle emotions," indispensable tools in politics as well.