Music and a major in international affairs have taken David Okun to surprising places around the world—from singing Gregorio Allegri’s Miserere in the Sistine Chapel in Italy to scrambling to the top of a waterfall in Costa Rica.
Kennesaw Mountain High School
BA International Affairs, BA Spanish, Minor in Religion, GLOBIS Certificate in Global Studies
University highlights, achievements and awards:
As a freshman I fueled my passion for music through involvement with the UGA Choral Association and the Collegium Musicum. I’ve been privileged to sing with Collegium every semester while at UGA. At the end of freshman year I was honored to be selected a member of the Dean William Tate Honor Society; to date the organization has meant the most to me at UGA.
I traveled to Italy during summer 2009 and performed with the UGA Chamber Choir in small towns as well as in Milan, Venice, Florence, Rome and Vatican City.
At the end of my sophomore year I was honored to receive the Candice T. Sherman Emerging Leader award presented by the Center for Student Organizations in recognition of my work with the UGA Choral Association.
With the support of the Honors Program’s Courts International Scholarship and the UGA Foundation Incentive Scholarship, I studied Latin American relations and Spanish in Costa Rica for six weeks during summer 2010. I lived on UGA’s satellite campus as well as with a beautiful home stay family in the Monteverde Cloud Forest. I also traveled to the capital, San José, sat in on the Inter American Court of Human Rights, whitewater rafted down Olympic-class rapids, zip-lined above the cloud forest, went horseback-riding along the slopes of Arenal Volcano (one of the 10 most active volcanoes in the world!) and swam in the open Pacific Ocean offshore while dolphin-watching.
Over spring semester 2011, I fulfilled a childhood dream by studying in Spain. Living in a renovated palace in the heart of medieval Valencia juxtaposed perfectly with my experience in Costa Rica, and taking courses under University of Valencia faculty was a unique and hallmark experience of my undergraduate career. It confirmed my love for the Spanish language, and I returned with a perfect lisp to boot! I sang with a Valencian chamber choir while abroad and volunteered with a local non-profit teaching English and technology. A surprise accomplishment of my time abroad, however, occurred right outside Gilbert Hall, when a Spanish instructor mistook me for a madrileño!
Back on campus, I am an honors teaching assistant, a position I’ve held for the past three fall semesters. I introduce first-year students to UGA, Athens and opportunities in Honors. I also lead the Honors Program Student Council to plan academic, social and service projects. Additionally, I cherish my memberships in Tate Society and the Omicron Delta Kappa Leadership Honor Society, have served as a past exec member of Blue Key Honor Society and was elected Phi Kappa Phi. I work with the Georgia Recruitment Team and serve as an ambassador for both the School of Public & International Affairs and the Honors Program.
I am fortunate to work as an office assistant in the Myers Community of University Housing. I work under Mrs. Anne Nielson, a caring and authentic woman who pours into Myers—someone with whom I’ve spent many mornings and afternoons sharing stories of world travel, receiving conventional wisdom, and attempting to mirror her commitment to customer service. It’s a great part-time job made even better through interactions with students, getting to know other professional staff and giving hall tours of the beautiful community!
Family Ties to UGA:
I’m the first in my family to come to UGA. But that “new breed” of Bulldog has certainly spread to my parents—every game day has my dad and me texting furiously back and forth or tailgating here in Athens.
I chose to attend UGA because...
…of the value HOPE provided, the quality of education, the availability of my degree program and opportunities for studying abroad and the comprehensiveness and support of the Honors Program.
My favorite things to do on campus are...
…lounge in the ridiculously comfortable Moore College leather sofas, pause in the Founders Garden, pass through Tate Plaza and poke my head into the CSO/CLS to say “hi” to friends.
When I have free time, I like...
…trying new restaurants in Athens with friends, reading my Kindle and taking naps.
The craziest thing I've done is...
…two things, actually.
(1) While studying at UGA’s satellite campus in San Luis de Monteverde, Costa Rica, among classes, hikes and zip-lining adventures through the Monteverde Cloud Forest, our group trekked three hours out to the San Luis waterfall, one of the country’s tallest, measuring in at 100 meters (330 ft). After frolicking in the natural stone pool at the base of the cascade, a friend and I went in search of a continuation of the path, for we couldn’t see the top of the waterfall from the base. Tapping into my hitherto unknown knack for adventure, we forged our own trail up the side of a 40-foot cliff. Breathless, I gazed upon a rushing, crashing surge. These adjectives—breathless, rushing and crashing—also described my state during and after tumbling off said cliff. I was fortunate to land on the path below as opposed to the rocks on the other side, rattled but otherwise okay.
(2) Following the conclusion of my study abroad in Spain last semester, I backpacked on my own for six weeks throughout Europe—memorably, this included literally sprinting across Rome to be one of the first in line at the Vatican for the Good Friday service, after a nun at the U.S. Visitors Office mentioned she had an extra ticket…but that fourth row seat, proximity to the Pope and TV coverage made it worth it!
My favorite place to study is...
…for an exam, anywhere with friends and classmates, but preferably in the MLC, pumping Jittery Joe’s Costa Rica blend through my veins. For papers, I’ll be in my room with notepads, books and ideas swirling around me.
My favorite professor is...
…Dr. Mitos Andaya, for her unwavering dedication to mentoring student leaders, breadth and scope of musical knowledge and sheer humility. She is a UGA Richard B. Russell Teaching Award recipient, has served on the executive boards of professional choral associations at the state and national level and has lived and taught in four continents—but you’d never know unless you combed her biography. As associate director of choral activities here at Georgia, she has been an incredible professor, mentor and friend from my very first day of college. Without her support and expectations, I would not have dared lead a class of peers and upperclassmen as a first-semester freshman, planned an international tour, honed interpersonal skills, been comfortable speaking at convocations or even ultimately developed the relationships and networks I cherish today.
If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with...
…I would share it with my Aunt Suzy. She had a way of making sure you were the only person who mattered anytime you talked to her; the focus was never on her, her experiences or her wisdom but rather on you, your expectations for yourself and how she could help. She was a true listener, devoted to her family and full of a faith I could only envy. Aunt Suzy lost her battle with cancer while I was in Spain last semester. I was fortunate to be able to fly home to be with my family, but there is so much I would love to share with her. I know she is so proud of her daughter, son, husband and her entire family. I hope to live up to her quiet and enduring legacy.
If I knew I could not fail, I would...
...become fluent in the remaining romance languages, Arabic, Mandarin, Latin, Greek (ancient and modern) and a few indigenous tongues. Communication in general enthralls me, and I believe that language influences how we perceive and interact with the world.
The one UGA experience I will always remember will be...
…singing Gregorio Allegri’s Miserere in the Sistine Chapel, surrounded by no one and nothing but ourselves, our parents and the masterworks of Botticelli and Michelangelo. At the end of our tour through Italy in summer 2009, the UGA Chamber Choir formed its own conclave, but instead of selecting a new pope, we performed a private recital full of significance for ourselves and for that magnificent space—Palestrina’s Tu Es Petrus, Barbireau’s Missa Virgo parens Christi and the Miserere itself, a haunting, echoing Renaissance polyphony which a 14-year-old Mozart transcribed after hearing it only once!