Yearly Archives:

2019

Foreign Fulbright

Lessons from Williamson

June 21, 2019

Karen Jimeno

By Karen Jimeno, Fulbright Foreign Student, the Philippines

The first time I heard about Williamson, West Virginia, I had no clue where it was.  Growing up in the Philippines, I had heard about New York and other U.S. cities like San Francisco and Miami through movies and magazines. John Denver’s famous song “Take me Home, Country Roads” was the most familiarity I had with West Virginia. I learned from my Google research that Williamson was once a prosperous coal mining town, but its commerce and population declined after devastating floods and the collapse of the coal industry. Other articles painted a bleaker picture of what I should expect—a poor area full of “hillbillies.”

Spending a week in Williamson with Fulbright-Amizade made me realize how perceptions can be misleading, or outright inaccurate. In this era of misinformation and unreliable sources, there is nothing like first-hand experience to understand people and places. I share here lessons I learned while discovering the “true” Williamson.

Purpose & Passion

I met 21-year old Chandler when we visited Williamson’s fire department.  Chandler had something I rarely see these days: so much passion and love for his job. He beamed with pride as he told us of his family legacy, as his father and grandfather had worked for the same fire department.  I later found the same passion and sense of purpose among the lawyers at the Public Defender’s Office, and among the medical staff and doctors of the Williamson Health & Wellness Center. As a lawyer, I was particularly inspired by Chief Public Defender Teresa McCune who, after 20 years in that office, is still excited about going to work every day.

Love & Family

Mrs. Starr shared with me her family’s home-made chocolate syrup recipe. It was delicious!

We spent a day working at the Starr Family’s Honey Bee Farm. As Arlene Starr stood in her kitchen preparing snacks for us, she shared how she got into a car accident while her brother was driving through Williamson.  While getting treated for an injury in the ER, she told the medical attendants that it was her first time in Williamson and she never planned to come back. “Over 40 years later, I’m still here,” Arlene continued with a smile.

The ER is where Arlene met her husband Paul Starr. They settled in Williamson and raised a close-knit family. Arlene showed me the room where her grandkids stay during their visits, the beds clad with handmade quilts. I’ve always prided myself as coming from a Philippine culture where family ties are strong. I discovered that we share those same values with Americans like the Starr family, whose warmth and hospitality made us, a group of foreigners, feel welcomed and loved in their home.

Heritage & Identity

William Duty III graciously poses for a photo with the Amizade crew!

William Duty III, or “Papa Bill,” as he is fondly called in the community, hails from a family of lawyers. His son, William IV, is now one of the lawyers at the Public Defender’s Office.  While Papa Bill and his family have the financial means to live anywhere, they choose to remain in Williamson.  Lawyer Jim and his father Dr. Leo Pajarillo (who happen to be Filipino by ethnicity) have built their careers in Williamson despite opportunities elsewhere.  America’s Got Talent winner Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. could be living a celebrity lifestyle elsewhere, but he remains a down-to-earth guy who prefers to keep the Williamson area as his home.

Heritage and identity have kept talented people in Williamson.  Chris Dotson, who leads Williamson Forward, an organization which showcases developments in Williamson, shared why they try to break misconceptions and improve the town’s quality of life: “I want my son to have something to come home to, should he want Williamson to be his home.”  I admire the absence of pretention.  Amidst global movements toward sustainability, the people of Williamson acknowledge their coal heritage while striving to reinvent their city to be better.

Choices & Change

In the midst of an opioid crisis, Durand Warren and his team at the Williamson Recovery Center emphasized that “the community really has to get together” to solve this problem.  The community of Williamson has banded together to change lifestyles, promote employment, and aid recovery from drug problems.  During our visit, we watched the movie “Choices”—Ron James’ real-life story of addiction and recovery. Ron James, who was present at the movie screening, is living proof that change and positive transformations are possible. These interactions were particularly touching for me because my home country is also struggling with drug problems. Through Williamson’s programs, I witnessed how holistic approaches to rehabilitation are possible.

Community

Last but not least, the group of all-star Amizade volunteers!

The sense of community in Williamson is exceptional.  I ran with wellness coach Alexis Batausa and the Tug Valley Road Runners Club for their Tuesday Night Track event and saw how community members supported each other in adopting a healthier lifestyle.  While walking around Williamson with Nate Siggers, Amizade Site Director, I saw people stop to greet him.  This was not just a town—it was a community of people that truly cared for and felt connected to each other.

Faced with challenges, Williamson has emerged with a strong sense of identity. It is brimming with beauty—not only in Appalachia’s natural landscapes, but more importantly in its people.  I left Williamson feeling inspired, uplifted, and full of ideas that I want to take back to the Philippines. Our learning experience was a two-way street. As much as I was able to get rid of my erroneous perceptions about Williamson, I also clarified misconceptions about the Philippines. I had an amusing conversation with a Williamson local who told me he was on the verge of visiting the Philippines but backed out after watching an episode of “Locked-up Abroad.”

After a week, I now have friends from Williamson and from 11 different countries. I gave seven days of my time, and in return received lessons and friendships for a lifetime.

U.S. Fulbright

What Chilean Jewelry-Making Taught Me: A Fulbright Year in Review

June 3, 2019
By Sarah Lightfoot Vidal, Fulbright U.S. Student to Chile (Engineering) 

In March 2014, I began the biggest adventure of my life to date—a Fulbright research fellowship with el Centro de Investigación de Polímeros Avanzados (the Center for Advanced Polymers Research, or CIPA) in Concepción, Chile, studying biological polyesters and biomaterials.  I had never before been afforded the opportunity to live in a foreign country, much less while also working on two of my greatest passions: the Spanish language, and polymers.

One day after working in the lab at CIPA, I stopped by a café (BAC-Bon Appétit Chile) for an espresso.  On my way out, I noticed a flyer for joyeria, jewelry making.  I love art and had been searching for a small class to supplement my experiences in engineering through Fulbright, with an opportunity to do something completely different from my day-today life.  I quickly contacted the professor (profe), and we were set for our first 3-hour class.

In the 3 months of my apprenticeship, I had the joy of learning metallurgy from a practical, artistic point of view.  Thrillingly, this included working with a flame!  My professor would explain why we need to alloy the silver (plata) with another metal to increase its strength and our ability to cold-work it—practical evidence for engineering themes I had already learned at Drexel University.  I developed vocabulary I would not have learned in my scientific lab: some words I didn’t even know the equivalent of in English.  When it came time to begin a new piece, my professor took me to select a stone from another artist who had rooms full of beautiful raw and polished ones, both common and rare, indigenous treasures of Chile.  During my year in Chile I also purchased lapis lazuli jewelry (an indigenous stone of Chile) from local vendors, but the pride I felt upon completing my own pieces, start-to-finish, was incomparable.

My Fulbright project with CIPA focused on the development of biologically-produced polyester nanoparticles, for the encapsulation of quercetin (a polyphenol) and ultimately as a model for indigenous Chilean vegetable extracts.  Through the use of nanoparticles, which by comparison would be smaller in size than a common virus, we hoped to selectively deliver these extracts to patients either as a protective coating on biomedical devices or encapsulated via wound dressings.

To many it may seem like a stretch to connect silver-working with biomedical polymers research, but to me, this is what brought my Fulbright experience full circle.  I see similarities in encapsulating polyphenols or drugs to protecting a precious stone with metal; I equated the processing of large polymer pellets into small nanoparticles to the melting and reformation of the metal.  I was inspired by the skill and prevalence of talented Chilean artisans: a living manifestation of years of culture and experience of such a beautiful and complex country.  By recognizing that art and culture are fundamentally intertwined with science, we create an opportunity to collaborate and learn from those in fields different from our own.  Fulbright afforded me the chance to explore without fear and encouraged me to consume knowledge in anything and everything. I will always be grateful to Fulbright and to the beautiful country of Chile, which welcomed me and taught me so much about life.

Application tips:

  • Do not discourage yourself from applying—with a clear vision and strong motivation, your dream Fulbright experience is possible. Apply!
  • Start searching for your host affiliation early; be persistent but keep an open mind on all opportunities.
  • On editing, be receptive to suggestions from others, but ultimately the application is your own. You need to be content with your final product.
U.S. Fulbright

All It Takes is One: Creating a Fulbright Culture on Campus

April 19, 2019
Hailey Hughes
Written by Mallory Carpenter, Fulbright Program Advisor, Marshall University, Huntington, WV

As a West Virginia native and first generation college student, hearing that fellowship applicants from West Virginia are like “unicorns” took me by surprise. At the biennial National Association of Fellowship Advisors conference, a fellow attendee made the comparison because, according to her, “West Virginia applications are so rare and so special.”

West Virginia is an underrepresented state in terms of the number of students who study abroad. Prior to the creation of the Fulbright Advising office at Marshall University, students had received a few study abroad awards back in the 1960s, but then literally nothing until 2015 – just before I was hired. That year, a student applied and received a Fulbright English Teaching Award (ETA) to teach in the Slovak Republic—this was the first Fulbright student award we had had in 48 years.

Despite this, I saw many connections between the character of my student population and the mission of Fulbright.  Encouraged by the ETA award success, I heavily promoted the Fulbright Program on campus. Fulbright’s mission of cross-cultural exchange fit my students’ drive and desire.

During the first year that my office was in operation, I had one applicant. He applied to a highly competitive UK Partnership Program. This was our first study/research application in years and there we were—advancing forward in the competition already. Sadly, right after his semifinalist notification came word that the UK school involved in his proposed partnership was doing away with the degree program—and that was that.

Nonetheless, I used that small success to promote the program more. “Look, we had one applicant last year and he advanced in one of the most competitive programs. You can do this,” I found myself saying over and over again to my students. My mission was to convince my unicorns they were really unicorns—by talking to them about their stories and showing them how they fit with Fulbright’s mission.

Hailey Hughes

The next year, I had an outstanding student who was incredibly interested in a Fulbright award in Ireland. Hailey Hughes, an English major who was also interested in using disability studies in her creative writing, wanted to apply. We worked diligently for months on her application. Her professors approached me regularly, asking,“Have you heard anything? When will she find out?” It seemed like half the campus was invested in the student’s application.

I wish I could say Hailey got the award, but she didn’t. We were all disappointed. I tried to see the bright side, though. My office had been open for two years, and for the first time my office not only had applicants to Fulbright, but each of these applicants had been a semifinalist. Hailey came back to me in the spring saying, “I think I want to do this again. I want to reapply.”

That year, I had two applicants. The Fulbright snowball was rolling. Once again Hailey advanced to semifinalist status. Then, in early April, we received notification Hailey had received the award. She was the first study/research winner my institution has had since 1967.

People will see Hailey as a representative of the Fulbright Program and will get a glimpse of what West Virginians and people with disabilities can accomplish. To date, I’ve had double the level of interest in Fulbright applications for this year’s cycle. I can’t wait to see where it’ll go from here.

Photo Credit: Stephen Broome

U.S. Fulbright

Reading Greece

March 8, 2019
Written by Steven Tagle, Fulbright US Student to Greece 2016-17

At Mytikas, the highest peak of Mount Olympus, with Josh Arnold, an American friend I made on the way up

When I describe my year in Greece, I often feel like I’m describing a place I imagined rather than a place that actually exists. It is a place where golden light strikes marble columns and sparkles over the wine-dark sea; where rowdy, curious, and clever characters drink and dance; where tradition and innovation, creativity, and chaos brew in a social and economic cauldron. As a fiction writer with an admittedly tenuous grip on reality, I’ve inhabited Greece the way a reader inhabits a book. “Reading” Greece this year has reawakened my senses and bound me to Greek and Syrian people whose mythic stories have challenged what I thought I knew about the crises, and what I thought I knew about myself. I may be the newest reader of a book that spans millennia, but like Byron, Fermor, and Merrill, I’ve found a home in this country and hope to contribute to its pages.

The Vikos Gorge from the Beloi Lookout in Vradeto, supposedly the deepest gorge in Europe.

I came to Greece through its mythology, intrigued by a people whose gods were as raucous, petty, and vindictive as they were noble and just. The landscapes of Greece retain the mystery and power of mythology. Thanks to Fulbright, I’ve visited many of these places, where our world still seems to touch the world of the gods. I’ve walked along the Acheron River –  the “River of Woe” – whose spectral blue waters seem colored by the spirits of the dead. I’ve listened for prophecy in the rustling oak leaves at Dodona and felt stalactites drip onto the back of my neck as a silent boatman ferried me through the caves at Diros. I’ve retraced Odysseus’s homeward path through the Ionian Islands and paid tribute to monsters Hercules had slain in the Peloponnese. Some days, traveling alone and outside my comfort zone, I walked on the edge of fear, knowing that beyond fear is awe, or δέος, the proper attitude for approaching the gods.

I saw δέος on a Naoussan boy’s face during Carnival when he put on the wax mask of the γενίτσαρος for the very first time. I learned to play Trex in UNHCR hotels and befriended an amorous Iraqi who had lost his legs as a child. My students at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki shared their yiayias’ spoon sweets and their own stories of first love, of coming out, of overcoming anxiety, of living with HIV. I visited their hometowns, stations of my Syrian friends’ wayward journeys. I know which cheeses each island produces and for which dessert each village is famous. Everyone I’ve met breathes a bit of Greece into me, and their life stories take root in my imagination. Now initiated into Greek culture, I’m eager to soak up every bit of history and myth, new local food, new tradition.

At Kallimarmaro Stadium with the Solidarity Now team, the first refugee team to run in the Athens Marathon.

A monk on Mount Athos gave me this advice: To write distinctly, live distinctly. In Greece I learned a different way to live. I’ve always held myself apart from people, but here, I was expected to spill into other people’s lives, to reach over them for food, to let myself need and be needed by them. Friends who have visited me in Greece say that I speak louder in Greek, that I’m more willing to talk to strangers, more willing to ask for help. They notice how Greek people open up to me when I speak the language. When a Greek asks me if I’m part Greek, I respond, Ναι, η καρδιά μου είναι ελληνική, “Yes, my heart is Greek.” Completing my Fulbright year is a bittersweet accomplishment, like coming to the of a beloved book. But as Greece has become part of me, so has my experience become part of the story of Greece.

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Fulbright for Posterity: The Ripple Effects of Fulbright on Rural America

February 13, 2019
By Niecea Freeman, Fulbright ETA to Czech Republic 2018-2019

“How about: It’s quality, not quantity?” my dad proposed, wearing a grin. We were brainstorming city slogans for Loyalton, California, my hometown of 800 people nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains—now named “the Loneliest Town in America.”  We all laughed. On the surface, country living seems like paradise, but in reality a myriad of issues affect rural communities across the nation. Employment opportunities are sparse, lower income leads to higher instances of poverty, and—consequently—there is a clear demand and absolute need for higher quality education.

Megan Meschery and her family in Spain, 2008 Fulbright program.

When the town’s sawmill closed in 2001, followed by a mass population exodus, Loyalton’s tax revenues declined rapidly and ancillary school programming disappeared with them. First, we lost music and art specials. Later, our middle school was condemned, and students were moved from portable buildings into the high school, losing their separate facilities entirely. In truth, it has only been through the extraordinary efforts of dedicated teachers and community members that our school district has been kept afloat: teachers like my high school Spanish instructor, Megan Meschery, who are determined to redefine our local community without much funding from state or federal agencies.

In 2008, Megan left for a Fulbright grant in Granada, Spain, where she examined how rural economic development funding provided by the European Union reduced inequalities in public schools regardless of geographic location. She sought to find parallels and lessons applicable to rural education in America and to develop ways to promote cultural awareness and growth in Loyalton. While Megan’s experiences rather highlighted the differences between U.S. and EU development models, Megan also returned from her two-year Fulbright burgeoning with ideas tailored to Loyalton’s situation, and immediately found ways to introduce positive change, starting with school electives.

The Sierra Schools Foundation sponsors hands-on learning opportunities like harvesting chamomile tea flowers in the Loyalton Learning Garden.

My favorite memories from high school are from the culture club she initiated, through which I saw my first Broadway play, Wicked, and visited my first classical art exhibit, featuring masterpieces from Rembrandt and Raphael. These experiences opened my eyes to the world beyond our tiny valley, and change did not stop there.

The following year, Megan founded a non-profit organization called The Sierra Schools Foundation (SSF – sierraschoolsfoundation.org) to combat inequality in the school district by providing grants for resources and programs such as the STEM Learning Garden, Local-Artists-in-the-School, Advancing to College SAT prep, and others. I volunteered with SSF throughout college, running fundraisers, where I witnessed firsthand how, with dedication and perseverance, local organizations genuinely have power to initiate positive change.

Niecea (right) and her mentor, Martina (left) in Lanškroun’s city square, Czech Republic, 2018 Fulbright program.

These formative experiences propelled me to apply for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in the Czech Republic for the 2018-2019 academic year, where I will be living in a rural community not unlike Loyalton, teaching English to secondary students enrolled in veterinary and agricultural programs. As an undergrad, I pursued a B.S. in Integrated Elementary Education with an emphasis in English as a Second Language with the primary goal of becoming an elementary school teacher in a high-needs, rural community in the United States. Now, I  am ready to go forward and learn from the students and families of my host country to explore new perspectives and pedagogies that will reshape the way I view myself and my role as an educator. The quantity of programs in Loyalton’s schools has stagnated, but the quality of our education can continue to blossom

Niecea with the calves at the Lanškroun Veterinary & Agriculture School dairy