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Foreign Fulbright

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.

Foreign Fulbright

The Power of the Fulbright Network

December 7, 2018

My journey began after I left the Japanese Ministry of Defense, where I’d worked for nine years, to become a Masters student at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC, on a Fulbright fellowship from 2009 to 2011. I chose SAIS to study international security and to expand my network with security experts in DC, which is the center of politics. This experience opened doors for me to meet esteemed professionals and continues to influence my career.

Mihoko at her commencement from Johns Hopkins University

I have always been interested in international security and wanted to study it in a global environment, in a second language, to learn from a different perspective. Since I didn’t know when I’d ever get to live outside my own country again, I wanted to take advantage of my time in D.C. to get to know many people and their cultures. When I was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship, I made two goals. The first was to make international friends. The second was to publish at least one article in English before graduation.

An American classmate and Fulbright alum had me over to her parents’ home in Chicago for Christmas in 2009 and 2010. Another American classmate (also a Fulbrighter alum) invited me to her parents’ home in upstate New York to celebrate Thanksgiving in 2010. This was my first traditional American Thanksgiving dinner. Their hearty welcome and friendship definitely made my time in the United States memorable and special.

Cybersecurity began to attract attention in the United States when I was a student. One of my classmates, an editor for a policy journal, was looking for a contributor to write an article about Asian cybersecurity, and asked me if I knew anyone who could write about the topic. I told her that I could, and this marked a turning point in my career. She helped me publish a blog which became my first English piece on cybersecurity.

After graduation from SAIS, I had one more year to stay in the United States on my Fulbright visa to do academic training. Since I wanted to earn more professional and academic experience, I did two fellowships at Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies (now Pacific Forum), a think tank based in Honolulu, to research Japan-US cybersecurity collaboration.

A SAIS colleague who graduated one year ahead of me joined a cybersecurity firm and introduced me to his colleagues who does research on Asia. My publications were helpful to prove my interest in cybersecurity. Since most Japanese news articles about cybersecurity are never translated into English, I started to share English summaries with my colleagues when I was with Pacific Forum.

Right before my second fellowship at Pacific Forum ended, I went to see a friend, an American Fulbrighter alum, to say goodbye. At the time I was thinking about being jobless soon, and I was quite scared. He shared his experience after earning his PhD and encouraged me to aim high and stay positive, even in challenging circumstances. I was reminded of the power of the Fulbright network and was encouraged to persevere not just to find the right job for me, but also to help others through our international network.

It has been almost seven years since the end of my Fulbright fellowship at SAIS. I am still involved in global cybersecurity policy, and write and speak about it all the time. While my career path has turned out to be different than the traditional Japanese path of staying in one organization, it also enabled me to be adventurous, travel all over the world, meet people, and make so many international friends.

A few years ago, I bumped into a woman who helped me with my Fulbright visa process at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo in 2009. She was doing her PhD then and her research focus now includes cybersecurity. This is the beauty of Fulbright: getting to know a diverse group of passionate people and learning from each other.

To those who are interested in the Fulbright Program but are hesitant for any reason, I cannot emphasize this enough: Go for it! Don’t be afraid to be different. Your journey will be full of adventures, Fulbright passion, and friends.

FLTA Foreign Fulbright Reach the World

U.S. Classrooms Celebrate International Education Week with Fulbrighters

November 13, 2018

In celebration of International Education Week 2018, six Fulbright Foreign Students, Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistants, and Fulbright Visiting Scholars will visit elementary, middle, and high schools in Kentucky, Nebraska, and New York. The visits will take place from November 13 to November 16, and are sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), in partnership with Reach the World.

The Fulbrighters will share the culture of their home countries with the students and describe their Fulbright experiences. The visits will allow American students to increase their global understanding by meeting a foreign Fulbrighter. With a diverse group of participants and classrooms, these visits will help increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and people of other countries. The visits will build on another partnership between ECA and Reach the World, in which these same classrooms are holding virtual exchanges with U.S. exchange students who are studying overseas through Fulbright and other ECA exchange programs.

Follow along with the U.S. classrooms this week and meet a Fulbrighter, by tracking and using #Fulbright on social media.

Meet the Fulbright participants:

Pritesh Chakraborty
Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant from India
New York University

Hi, I’m Pritesh. I’m an assistant professor and research scholar at West Bengal State University in India. I’m a Foreign Language Teaching Assistant with Fulbright, but my area of interest is comic book studies. I love comic books because I love stories and I’m interested in the rich heritage of English literature. Right now, I teach Hindi to elementary level language learners as part of my Fulbright award, and I’ll begin teaching intermediate levels next semester.

Lei Chen
Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant from China
University of Nebraska – Lincoln

Hi, I’m Lei! I’m from China and I’m a lecturer. I received my B.A. and M.A. degrees in English Language and Literature from Liaoning University, China. I’ve been teaching at Liaoning University of Traditional Chinese Medicine for 8 years after getting my Master’s degree. Currently, I’m a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, teaching Chinese 101 and 201, and sharing Chinese culture with my students.

 

Abeer Khlaifat
Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant from Jordan
University of Kentucky

Hello, I’m Abeer Khlaifat from Jordan, and I grew up in the capital city, Amman. Arabic is my passion, and I decided that I would study it at the age of 12. I have both a B.A. and M.A. in Arabic and I’ve worked as a teacher for Americans and other international students who are studying abroad in Jordan. This was part of my motivation to come to the U.S., where I’m currently a Foreign Language Teaching Assistant at the University of Kentucky.

Anna Potapova
Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant from Russia
University of Nebraska – Lincoln

Hello, I’m Anna! I have a lot of experience teaching English to adults and I also received my CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification from St. Giles College, Brighton, UK. I have a degree in Romance and Germanic philology from Ivanovo State University. I have a number of other certificates and qualifications, but my main professional interests are methods of teaching English and Russian as a foreign language, the lexical approach, and using authentic speaking as a speaking model. I’m currently teaching Russian 101 to college students at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and organize cultural events to promote Russian culture in America. I also have a fluffy cat, who is extremely cuddly.

Francesca Scafuto
Fulbright Visiting Scholar from Italy
Ramapo College of New Jersey

Hello! I’m Dr. Francesca Scafuto and I’m a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at Ramapo College of New Jersey. I’m from Italy, and I’m an experienced Adolescent and Young Adult Psychotherapist. I’m interested in how people think as a community about the environment, and I’m studying social science and environmental health during my Fulbright. I’m also an artist and I like to paint in my free time.

 


Nina Siegfried
Fulbright Foreign Student from Germany
University of Louisville

I’m from Germany and I’m currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Sports Administration at the University of Louisville. I grew up a competitive athlete and decided to pursue sports management at an early age. I participated in an exchange year in high school and lived with a host family while attending Apollo High School in Owensboro, KY. I studied for my undergraduate degree in the Netherlands and received a B.A. in International Studies and Management from Arnhem Business School. I also studied abroad in Hong Kong to receive a minor in Marketing.