Icela Quintero, 2014-2016, Panama, working at the Panama Canal as a vessel enters the Upper Chamber of the Cocolí Locks, in southbound transit (Atlantic Ocean-Gatun Lake-Pacific Ocean)
Since November 2016, I have been part of the group of engineers that oversees the control systems for the new locks of the Panama Canal. It is my dream job, and a position I would not have were it not for the Fulbright Foreign Student Program. As a Panamanian, working at the Panama Canal is a responsibility, our pride and joy, and lifeblood of our country. The Panama Canal is an integral part of our history and future, and it is our duty to keep it operative. I don’t do my job for myself, but for every Panamanian. I am reminded of this key motto I now live by daily, one which the Fulbright Program cemented in me. We are to be elements of change, and as long as I am in a position to do so, I will.
I never expected to become a Fulbrighter, but life takes us on mysterious paths. I became one in a most unexpected way. I was traveling in Europe with a group of 52 Latin American students. Among them were two future Fulbrighters; one Mexican and one Uruguayan. At that point, I realized I wanted to do more for my country, and my traveling companions explained how the Fulbright Program would give me the opportunity to do so. What I did not know was that participating in Fulbright would change my life in more ways than I ever imagined.
Samuel Fishman, 2017-2018, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Paraguay, performing at his host institution’s annual Teacher’s Day party (Photo: Martin Sanchez)
“You look like you play guitar.” I turned around and did a double take. Standing in front of me was a Paraguayan English teacher and an alumnus of a U.S. exchange program. I was in the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Asuncion, Paraguay, at a formal reception for a visiting delegation of U.S. professors. What had given me away? Not only had I swapped my usual tattered Iron Maiden muscle tee for a shirt and tie, I’d even combed my hair for the evening. Maybe it was the Chuck Taylor’s, peeping out from beneath my wrinkled khakis.
I was one month into my Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) award in San Lorenzo, Paraguay, and I was still trying to find my footing. I was struggling to connect with one of my host institutions. It was no one’s fault, but try as I might, my English study groups and lessons weren’t connecting with a consistent audience.
Back at the Ambassador’s residence I tentatively responded yes, I do strum a few chords. As tends to happen when two musicians get to talking, a jumble of shared favorite bands began tumbling through the air. Our shared musical vocabulary took us across the globe as we bantered about classic bands, songs, and shows. Between The Beatles, Janis Joplin, Soda Stereo, AC/DC, and Mana, we covered thousands of miles in just a few minutes. Before I knew it, I was plugging in my guitar at my first rehearsal for a band composed entirely of Paraguayan English teachers. The Lost Tichers, as we would come to be known, fortunately all taught at the same host institution where I was struggling to integrate myself.
Listen to 2017-2018 Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Israel Charles Coleman’s inspiring story and learn how his award is helping him to break down cultural barriers both abroad and at home. Charles is the first Fulbright recipient from his hometown of Fairfield, Alabama, and a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
In front of the Brandenburg Gate, the famous sign warns that one is about to leave West Berlin. Photo credit: Jeffrey A. VanDreal
Jeff VanDreal has spent the last 30 years as an American diplomat, representing the United States overseas on four continents and managing some of the largest U.S. diplomatic missions in the world. Before joining the U.S. Foreign Service, he studied in Berlin in 1986-1987 as a Fulbright U.S. Student to West Germany. He’s back in Germany now, this time as the Minister-Counselor for Management Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin.
We recently interviewed VanDreal to learn more about his experience in Berlin prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and to ask how his Fulbright experience prepared him for a global career in American diplomacy.
How did you originally hear about the Fulbright Program, and who/what inspired you to apply?
I had known, vaguely, about the Fulbright Program since high school, as I had always been interested in student exchange programs. It never occurred to me to actually apply, however, until a colleague of mine at St. Antony’s College in Oxford, UK, successfully applied for a grant. As I was finishing my master’s degree in International Relations, I had applied to the Foreign Service but wished to extend my studies for one more year. The Fulbright Program provided the perfect vehicle for doing so.
This year, Fulbrighters from the United States and all over the world made breakthrough discoveries and created lasting connections. Take a look back at this year’s highlights in the 2017 Fulbright Year in Review.