Tag Archives: Fulbright Alumni Ambassador

Service Meets Self-Interest: A Disabled Veteran Does Research Abroad

By Michael A. Verlezza, 2014-2015, Canada

Michael Verlezza, 2014-2015, Canada, participating in an annual tradition – The Fulbright Canada Orientation Hockey Game at Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo Credit: Rebecca Lawton)

Not long after 9/11, I enlisted in the United States Army. Eight years and two deployments later, my outlook on life grim, I opted to separate from the military. Rudderless, I enrolled at Bridgewater State University with the aim of completing an economics degree, and after some success, I was invited to an informational meeting with a member of Fulbright’s outreach team. Lured largely by the prospect of free pizza, I attended a meeting that would reset my life’s course.

As a freshman, I had taken a Canadian history course, and coupled with my complete lack of language skills, Canada seemed the strategic choice. Initially, I pitched a proposal that had me studying international exchange rates. I was assured that this was boring (even by economists’ standards) and told to go back to the drawing board. Not long after, the VA’s report outlining the frequency of veteran suicide was published. As a disabled veteran myself, I began to wonder what American tax dollars were getting us if they weren’t ensuring the safety and care of my fellow vets.

My Canadian history professor set me up with the Principal of the Royal Military College, and I put together a proposal whereby I would study federal spending on Canadian and American veterans. In addition, I proposed I augment my analytical skills (and thus my research) by taking a Master’s of Mathematics and Statistics from Queen’s University in Ontario.

Street Kid Takes Flight: From Dark Streets to Northern Lights

By Zane Thimmesch-Gill, 2008-2009, Canada

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Zane Thimmesch-Gill, 2008-2009, Canada, visiting Glacier National Park

I’m excited to announce that my debut book, Hiding in Plain Sight, was just nominated for a Lambda Literary Award. It follows a homeless female-to-male trans kid as he struggles to survive on the streets. The book is an important resource for adults trying to understand the inner lives of at-risk children, and an inspiring story for vulnerable youth who dream of escaping poverty and violence. It’s also a plain ole exciting adventure story. The book is available through Amazon, Goodreads, Kobo, Smashwords, and iTunes.

And I couldn’t have written it without the invaluable experience of the Fulbright Program.

As a young adult, I lived on the streets. After years of struggling with extreme poverty and violence, I managed to get through college and graduate school. Although it might sound weird, once I escaped the streets, I started to miss them; no matter where you come from there’s something comforting in the known.

Walking Across Russia, Walking Across Mississippi

By Hanna Miller, 2013-2014, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Russia

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Hanna Miller, 2013-2014, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Russia (right), surveying Russia through a telescope

Mississippi Heard began in Russia. On a month-long train ride across Russia during my Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA), I gathered video and audio recordings while fellow Fulbrighter Stephen Barton photographed the people and places we came across and met. We asked Russians about their perceptions of America and how they defined themselves within their own pre-existing stereotypes.

But, the train ride was just one side of the story. After hearing how Russians felt about my homeland, international (mis)perceptions, and their “true” identity, I was left wondering – what do people from my home think about this country I’ve lived in for the past 10 months?

Born and raised in the South, I grew up in a town of 2,000. When I lived in Naberezhnye Chelny, Tatarstan, Russia with a Fulbright ETA, my students often asked me what life was like in America. They had ideas I came from a land of wealth, privilege, and luxury. While I can’t deny the United States is toppling over with too much, it is fact I grew up in the poorest, fattest, least educated state: Mississippi.

Jogja, Kota Yang Damai (City of Peace)

By Jilisa Milton, 2014-2015, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Indonesia

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Jilisa Milton, 2014-2015, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Indonesia, at the underground mosque near Taman Sari (Water Castle) in Yogyakarta

When I found out that I was accepted to become a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in Indonesia, I did not know what to expect. I was excited and nervous, as I had never lived or studied abroad. I had some teaching experience in a small ESOL program in Florida, but had no impressive foreign language experience. Many things also went through my mind about traveling as an African-American woman because I had heard of many experiences from other people of color about having to process unique challenges as a result of traveling overseas.

When I arrived in Indonesia, I felt immediately overwhelmed. Firstly, I was welcomed in Bandung (city in central Java) by a two-week intensive cultural competency and language training. In spite of the challenges I faced during those weeks, I was met with the extreme hospitality and kindness that Indonesian people are known for. Bahasa Indonesia, Indonesia’s national language, was very difficult to grasp at first, but I began to realize how easy it was to pick up in practice.

The Power of Immeasurable Curiosity and Passion in Greece

By Evy Vourlides, 2013-2014, Greece

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Evy Vourlides, 2013-2014, Greece

I lived in the neighborhood of Koukaki—below the Acropolis and just a short walk from Panteion University, my academic home during my nine months as a Fulbright U.S. Student in Greece. The small details of my daily life in Athens were unexpectedly tremendous. I had a Greek bank account, a lease, and a phone contract. This meant learning firsthand the experience of waiting in line at the bank, signing contracts, and paying bills as (albeit temporary) a member of Greek society. Greeting the baker down the street, who knew me by name, cracking a passing joke with the beet vendor at the community market, practicing yoga on a rooftop with a beautiful group of new friends under a closing day’s sky—these memories continue to bring me deep joy and reflect the great love I have developed for Greece. These details are what the Fulbright Program is about because they lead to something greater.

Senator J. William Fulbright headed efforts for the Fulbright Program after the Second World War. He believed that educational and cultural exchanges would lead to intimate intercultural understanding, and could promote peace of global proportions.

Understanding and empathy inevitably result from working, studying, and carrying out daily tasks in a new place, amongst a new group of people, for a prolonged period of time. This becomes a space where discussion and, ultimately, diplomacy can flourish.