Boise teen turns love for the Middle East into career path

Jack Johnson has a love of language and culture for the Middle East. He thinks it’s important for people to understand the region before making a judgment.

“The Middle East has its problems undoubtedly, but there is no reason to detest the area without understanding it,” said the Riverstone International School senior.

His interest in the culture led him to live last summer in Tajikistan — a country bordered by Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and China.

For Jack, it was an experience of a lifetime. He received a State Department scholarship, which allowed him to study abroad for six weeks. The program, the National Security Language Initiative for Youth, is for high school students interested in studying a language.

“I was a little nervous because I didn’t know what to expect,” Jack said. “I had to disconnect from my life in America and settle in my new surroundings.”

During the program, Jack attended Tajiki language classes, played soccer with friends and spent time with his host family.

Jack Johnson, a Riverstone senior, gathers to take a photo with his host family in Tajikistan.

Jack has been captivated by Middle East language, music and customs since the age of 6. His father was deployed to Iraq when Jack was in the first grade and he’d tell Jack stories about his experience with Iraqi people.

“The stories my dad told inspired me,” Jack said.

While his father was in the military, Jack lived in Austria, Belgium and Germany. His international living and passion for other cultures is guiding his future. He plans to major in Middle Eastern studies and serve in the military.

“I love the idea of America and patriotism,” Jack said. “I also want to test myself with something hardcore and fast pace.”

Jack owns a 3.99 grade-point average and received an Army ROTC scholarship, he will attend Brown University, Johns Hopkins University or Tufts University. After his military service, he hopes to work for the Central Intelligence Agency or the State Department.

“I have never met a more informed person in my life,” said Israel Catz, Jack’s former history teacher. “If he was not so caring and earnestly open to everyone’s perspective, then his brilliance would be obnoxious. Instead, he has an energy that pulls his peers to him and makes others at ease.”

Before Jack graduates from Riverstone in May, he hopes to complete a refugee community service project he started through One Stone, a student-run service organization. The project teaches Borah High School refugee students how to compose music.

“I want to help kids and give them a way to make new friends and learn new skills that aren’t offered at school,” Jack said. “One legacy I would like to leave behind in Boise would be the refugee music program.”

Fun facts about Jack Johnson

  • Favorite drink? Tea
  • Favorite sport to watch? Soccer or rugby
  • What are the first three songs on your current music playlist? “Fake Empire” by the National, “Traveling Song” by the Avett Brothers and “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen
  • You just got a free plane ticket to go anywhere. Where are you going? Cartagena Colombia or Muscat, Oman
  • Three things you can’t live without? Family, my dog Harry and my banjo
  • Favorite emoji