Andrew Bonney speaks Armenian, Arabic, Azerbaijani and Turkish. He is also fluent in the languages of leadership, love and loss.
At the young age of 17, Andrew Bonney stepped onto Brigham Young University campus as an enthusiastic freshman set on pursuing a medical degree after his first four years of school. Little did Bonney know how much his perspective and path would be altered over the next several years.
One of Bonney’s first transformative experiences as a freshman was participating in Model Arab League, a program designed to simulate leadership and diplomatic situations in the Middle East. “I was the youngest one on the team,” he recalls. “I could have easily felt pretty wiped out, but I just felt like the students and the professors were very inclusive of me. They were very encouraging of me, and I felt that so many times. I loved Model Arab League.”
Bonney was also exposed to Southern Caucasian cultures when he accepted a call to serve and live in Armenia for two years as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This unique experience further piqued his interest in international relations, communities and politics. Bonney said, “During my mission, there was a revolution in Armenia, and that was a pretty impactful experience to be there. Seeing the fervor amongst the people had a big impact on me.”
After returning from his mission and talking to his parents and cousins in the medical field, Bonney decided to focus on Middle Eastern Studies, with an emphasis in Turkic countries, instead of pursuing a medical degree.
Bonney’s studies have taken him to England, Turkey, Jordan, and Jerusalem where he studied Turkish and Arabic. He studied Azerbaijani at the prompting of a professor and started teaching the first Azerbaijani class at BYU while simultaneously maintaining his full-time studies. He started up Sigma Iota Rho, the Honor Society of International Relations at BYU, participated in Model UN and various other TA and RA roles with professors. He says his professors were a motivating force in his academic career.
“I felt like they believed in me. They showered me with opportunities. I’ve done a lot of cool things, but they told me about them and encouraged me. Without them I would be nowhere,” he says.
The relationships he built at BYU not only helped him academically but also bolstered him during personal trials. Upon returning home from the unrest in Armenia, Bonney faced personal turmoil when his brother and best friend passed away in 2019. Bonney remembers how quickly the BYU community rallied around him. Professors offered support academically and personally, taking time out of class to talk with him, and lend a helping hand.
“Seeing the way students and faculty responded was incredible,” says Bonney. “I had a friend in my Intro to Middle Eastern Studies class who didn’t really know me, but I told him about what happened with my brother, and he just came by and dropped off $100 worth of groceries. BYU has been so good to me.”
Bonney, who will graduate this April, is eager to start a fellowship at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, one of the biggest think tanks in Washington D.C., but he says the best thing that ever happened to him was meeting his wife at BYU.
“Because of what I’ve learned at BYU, I feel ready to make a difference,” he says. “Working with people, building consensus, finding common ground.” Bonney believes these skills — along with the examples of his professors — have prepared him to go forth to serve.