Christine Keung, 2014-2015, China
“It was New Year’s Eve, and my Central Asian dorm mates all chipped in to buy a whole sheep. It’s a common Central Asian tradition to sacrifice a sheep to celebrate a big event, and given the fact that many of my international dorm’s residents were Muslim, the sheep had to be prepared to Halal standards…”
Such was how 2014-2015 Fulbright U.S. Student to China, Christine Keung, celebrated holidays in Shaanxi province during her award in Environmental Studies, where she worked closely with local university students to improve the region’s urban and rural waste practices.
Since completing her Fulbright award, Christine Keung has been named a 2016 Young Laureate by the Rolex Awards for Enterprise, a 2017 Time Magazine Next Generation Leader, and gained admission to the MBA program at Harvard University.
We recently interviewed Christine to learn more about how her Fulbright experiences have had an impact on her career trajectory, what advice she has for prospective Fulbright applicants, and how she has maintained strong ties with the friends and professional contacts she established while in China.
How did you originally hear about the Fulbright Program and what/who inspired you to apply?
I first learned about the Fulbright Program during my freshman year at Wellesley College. I had a Teaching Assistant who had been a Fulbrighter in Spain who encouraged me to apply before I graduated. As a first-year student who had not yet selected her major, who had never worked as a research assistant, and who had never studied abroad, I really couldn’t imagine myself as a Fulbright Student. It wasn’t until my junior year that I seriously considered applying for opportunities to live and work abroad after graduation. I had spent the summer after my sophomore year on a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant that allowed me to conduct independent research on China’s Loess Plateau. That trip allowed me to visit Western China for the first time and to form many of the relationships that helped make my Fulbright project a reality.
Steven A. Vickers, Jr., 2015-2016, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Latvia, giving a lecture on American culture at Daugavpils University, Latvia.
One of my favorite animated films tells the tale of a mouse with a dream to become a chef. Everyone thinks him crazy, but he strives towards his goal and proves to himself and those around him that anyone can, indeed, cook. My journey to becoming a 2015-2016 Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) to Latvia played out much the same. I am not what many would consider the “typical” Fulbright recipient. Many, including some professors, thought me crazy to even apply for the prestigious award. Well, I sure did prove them wrong.
You see, I did not graduate high school and immediately enter a university as is expected of my generation. My family could not afford the living expenses my scholarships failed to cover, and I could not shake my intense desire to serve my country. So, my path took me to Parris Island, South Carolina and the United States Marine Corps; that path came to an abrupt conclusion when I found myself medically unfit to continue serving. At that point, I did as my father before me and entered the police force. I enjoyed being a police officer, but I always regretted not getting a degree. The demanding schedule of a police officer made attending school incredibly difficult. I decided to end my police career, worked a few random jobs, and enrolled in Faulkner State Community College at the age of twenty-seven. When I completed enough credits, I transferred to Auburn University.
Juan I. Moreira-Hernández, 2016-2021, Costa Rica, working with bats that are captured using specialized nets called “mist nets.” Only rabies-vaccinated and trained professionals should ever handle bats or any other wild mammals.
Why are there so many plant and animal species in the tropics? This seemingly simple question has puzzled biologists for centuries, and even today, there is no definitive answer.
However, species are disappearing at an unprecedented rate, and the rate is faster in the tropics than anywhere else. My Fulbright research focuses on understanding how species interactions can promote and maintain high biodiversity in tropical regions. This understanding is necessary to predicting responses to environmental changes due to human activities, and to design effective conservation polices accordingly.
Jordyn Hawkins-Rippie, 2017-2018, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Malaysia
I’m Jordyn Hawkins-Rippie, a recent graduate of Hampton University in Hampton, VA. For as long as I can remember, I have grappled daily with living in a world that appeared, at times, to be mostly devoid of diversity. The individuals that surrounded me, from classmates to neighbors alike, shared many of the same socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic statuses that often relegated them to their respective circles, without making real, concerted efforts to understand multifaceted individuals who thought, acted, and looked different from themselves. Growing up, I was determined to passionately commit myself to celebrating and appreciating the diversity of humanity to acquire cultural capital and expand my cultural intelligence.
As many of my peers applied and successfully gained admission into top-tier colleges and Ivy League universities, I decided to attend a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in hopes of piecing together my identity as an African-American and experiencing the cultural diversity for which I longed. My parents played an integral role in my applying to HBCUs and instilled in me the value and love for the discipline of learning and education as a whole. Through a generous Presidential Scholarship awarded through Hampton University, I began my journey there in August of 2013.
Melissa Montalvo, 2015-2016, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Mexico (far right), with Universidad Tecnológica de Jalisco’s English Language Conversation Club students after a great discussion on American culture
A year has passed since I completed my Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. As I reflect on this anniversary, I recognize that my Fulbright year had an immense impact on my personal and professional direction. I thought I knew what to expect from my Fulbright year. After all, I was a former student of International Relations, a USC Global Scholar. I had already lived abroad as an exchange student in Paris, France, and had spent weeks volunteering in Mexico and Peru. I knew what to anticipate from a year abroad, right? It turns out that I was very wrong. Every single day of my Fulbright award brought something new and unexpected. Never did I expect to have such an eye-opening experience. From the first day at orientation meeting my fellow Fulbrighters, to forming friendships with my mentors at the Universidad Tecnológica de Jalisco, to meeting local tapatíos (a word to describe the people from Guadalajara), I created lasting memories.
In Guadalajara, also considered “the Silicon Valley of Mexico,” I encountered a forward-thinking city buzzing with technology and innovation. This is not exactly the vision I had of Mexico before arriving. All I knew of Mexico was folklore, border towns, and tourist resorts. I was surprised that so many young Mexicans I met were engineers, techies, and self-described ñoños (nerds). They worked at HP, Intel, Oracle, or a slew of Mexican startups like VoxFeed and CityDrive. It also seemed that everyone I met pursued passion projects outside of their 9 to 5 jobs, such as running Airbnbs and online businesses. I wanted to emulate these intelligent, proactive, and hardworking people in my life.
Tanisha Williams, 2015-2016, South Africa, at Boulders Beach visiting the iconic beach penguins
Welcome to the Mother City. These are the first words you read walking out of the airport in Cape Town, South Africa. No one could have prepared me for that feeling, stepping onto the soil of the Motherland for the first time. My emotions were complex and overwhelming, but the feeling of excitement and sense of belonging stood out.
My Fulbright grant was two-fold, conducting research for my doctoral dissertation and giving back through outreach and other STEM-based initiatives. I spent my Fulbright year researching the impacts of climate change on indigenous flora throughout South Africa. The first half of my research was used to collect seed and propagate over 1,500 Pelargoniums, a highly-diverse genus of flowering plants, at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (Wellington, Bellville and Cape Town campuses). These plants are now growing in reciprocal transplant gardens at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden in Cape Town, Western Cape and at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape. Growth and development data will help me understand the effects of genetics, the environment, and the interaction between these two processes that aid in Pelargonium adaptation to different environments. Understanding plant adaptations to their environment sheds light on how plants will respond to the unprecedented rates of climate change.