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.
I was highly involved academically and socially while on campus, but taking the maximum number of credits possible each semester did not allow me much flexibility to travel abroad, which was an experience that I longed to have. I would talk with friends and fellow classmates about life-defining experiences that they had from traveling abroad, and I too thought that with my appreciation of diversity and emphasis on inclusion, I could make an overwhelmingly positive impact internationally.
It was during my junior year when I was first exposed to the Fulbright Program. It all started when I began working with my mentor, Dr. Carlton Long, to identify international scholarships that would best fit my interests and utilize my strengths. The Fulbright Program naturally emerged as a program that would allow me to utilize my skills of building bridges and facilitating cross-cultural interactions to encourage mutual understanding among different people. I had helped to facilitate an American Immersion Camp at McDonogh School for two summers, helping students from Brazil, Russia, Burkina Faso, and China increase their understanding of the English language and American culture. I felt so much joy and pleasure when my students grasped the language, and when the time came to apply for the Fulbright Program in my senior year, it became clear that the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) Program was the perfect fit for my experiences.
With no prior experience abroad, I initially thought that I would not be a competitive candidate for such a prestigious scholarship, but with the help of my Fulbright Program Adviser, Dr. Sabin Duncan, and Dr. Carlton Long, I was able to craft essays that truly captured my diverse experiences and ability to serve in the international community. With my interest in East Asia and healthcare, I chose Thailand. After countless meetings and emails, I finally completed my application and was ready to submit.
Prior to applying for the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Thailand, I knew that roughly 20% of the applicants to the award successfully received it. Out of many applicants, I was designated an Alternate for the 2017-2018 Fulbright ETA award to Thailand. I had professors, students, friends and family rallying behind me, and I felt as though I had let them down in a way. I graduated in May 2017, thinking that I would never hear from the Fulbright Program after that. I was awarded a scholarship to engage in a summer service-learning trip to Costa Rica, where I taught English to increase the proficiency of elementary and middle school Costa Rican students. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience teaching the students, and seeing the smiles on their faces reaffirmed my decision that I was going to apply to Fulbright again the next year.
At the end of the summer, however, I received an email from the Fulbright Program regarding an update to my candidate status. I immediately called the number they provided and was delighted to hear that the Fulbright Program wanted to offer me a Fulbright ETA award, not to Thailand, but to Malaysia! At that moment, I was emotionally in shock and disbelief because I was certain that my life had been carefully guided and my experiences carefully tailored to prepare me to teach abroad in Malaysia.
The very challenges that face us today as a global society are what compelled me to pursue a Fulbright. The beautiful realization of the human experience is that a single individual can play an integral part in shaping the narrative of world history, and that growth and development happen when an individual is pushed past his or her spiritual, intellectual, and physical comfort zone. I am humbled and honored to pursue a Fulbright ETA award in Malaysia and cannot wait to call Malaysia my home for the next eleven months.
Some advice to applicants, particularly from HBCUs:
- Start your research about the Fulbright Program early! The more time you spend researching where you want to conduct your Fulbright and why you want to conduct it in that location, the more time you can spend revising essays and the rest of your application.
- Utilize social media to reach out to current Fulbrighters and alumni. With the advent of LinkedIn, finding people who share similar professional experiences has been made significantly easier. Connecting with someone who has completed a Fulbright and sending them a message explaining what type of Fulbright you’re applying for, and why, could provide valuable insight you can use throughout the application process.
- Articulate your desire to go abroad and serve communities internationally within the frame of your life narrative. It’s a unique opportunity to facilitate cross-cultural dialogue and engagement with communities abroad, and a diverse range of talents, ways of thinking, and experiences all help to further the aim of mutual understanding. So, share what makes your experience at your HBCU and your life experiences unique and be genuine in your essays about how a Fulbright can allow you to share what you have learned in these settings with communities abroad.