Browsing Category

U.S. Fulbright

U.S. Fulbright

Celebrating the ADA’s 30th Anniversary: Q&A with Alumni Ambassador Alyssa Meyer

February 20, 2020

Thirty years ago, the United States became the first country in the world to adopt national civil rights legislation banning discrimination against disabled people. Since that time, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has had a profound impact both at home and abroad.

Last month, we launched our yearlong celebration of the ADA’s 30th anniversary, which will include profiles of Fulbright alumni with disabilities. This dynamic group of Fulbrighters will tell stories from their experiences abroad, offer advice to future applicants, and discuss Fulbright’s impact on their careers.

Today’s story comes from Fulbright alumna Alyssa Meyer, a 2012-2013 U.S. Student Researcher in Energy to the Kyrgyz Republic. Meyer spoke with Fulbright on her path to the program, her research, and navigating home and abroad with a disability.

Q&A with Alyssa Meyer

1. Tell us a little about your path to Fulbright. Who or what inspired you to apply?

The prospect of an opportunity like Fulbright had been on my mind for several years before I applied–largely because I wanted to seek out opportunities to use my language skills in native settings. My first exposure to Fulbright was through Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistants, who had come to the States to teach their native languages (Uzbek and Russian) at Michigan State University. My second encounter with Fulbright came the summer after my sophomore year, when I visited Berlin on my way home from a study abroad program in Turkey; there, while watching a soccer match, I met a Fulbrighter who had lost track of whether the announcer was speaking English or German. All I could think was, “Wow, I wish my language proficiency was that strong!”

The next summer, my resident adviser for a study abroad program in Tajikistan was yet another a Fulbrighter, and I was in awe of her ability to communicate in and navigate her host country. Given that I grew up in rural Northern Michigan, I can’t claim to have grown up with examples such as these, but I knew that I wanted to emulate them.

2. Tell us a little about your Fulbright research topic and project. What did a typical day as a Fulbrighter look like for you?

As a research grantee in energy to the Kyrgyz Republic, my project was focused on energy insecurity, and whether small-scale renewables could help bridge gaps in access to heat, electricity, and gas provision. My initial intent was to conduct a benefit-cost analysis in partnership with locals interested in community-level solutions to the country’s energy crisis.

I don’t think I had a typical day; I lived by a mantra to take in everything I could and talk to everyone I could–because I didn’t know whether ever get the same chances a second time. I spent five hours a week with a Russian tutor and interviewed researchers, policymakers, international organizations, and academics doing similar work. I also shared a two-bedroom apartment with a native Russian speaker from Turkmenistan, who remains one of my closest friends and travel partners to this day.

3. What advice would you give to current Fulbrighters in the field about how to get the most out of their Fulbright experience?

Be open to letting your work and your expectations of what you think you’ll accomplish evolve. For me, this happened in the most unexpected of ways: I became quite ill in the middle of my grant, and during a hospital stay, I began to see my own research from a new perspective. I don’t relay this story to wish that experience on anyone, but rather, to say that living in the very conditions I was researching taught me far more than working within a library ever could have.

Even before I got sick, I was vividly aware that my aforementioned benefit-cost analysis was far more complex than I had initially foreseen it to be. It wasn’t overly difficult for me to gain a picture of how many houses lost power in a given outage, but data as to how those outages impacted quality of life was much more complex to come by. And while I was by no means unaware of this, I was unwittingly smacked in the face with it when I experienced a power outage during a hospital visit. Even after I made a full recovery, I continued to be haunted by questions of what would have happened had I been on the operating table or on a ventilator during an outage. Eventually, this new question–the impacts of energy insecurity on quality of life–became not only the topic of my master’s thesis, but of a second grant application to return to the Kyrgyz Republic two years later.

Two years later, as a Boren fellow, the research became even more complex when I realized that what my household data was showing didn’t match the narrative being reported on the news and in political speeches. My point is: setting goals for what you’ll achieve during your Fulbright is an important piece of showing selection committees that you know what you’ll be doing when you land in your host country–but sometimes, it’s the detours you never anticipated that teach you the most.

4. What advice would you give future Fulbrighters on the application process?

Show a desire to engage with your local community. Fulbright isn’t looking for academics who never leave the ivory tower, they’re seeking applicants truly intent on promoting mutual understanding between their home and host countries. That means a willingness to engage with and challenge local stereotypes about you/your home country whenever possible, and to share those experiences when you return home.

5. What might an American/someone from your home country be surprised to hear about your host country/institution/state/etc.?

People often remark that I’ve become much more assertive after several years in the Kyrgyz Republic, but what they don’t understand is why that happened. Want to get off a bus in the Kyrgyz Republic? You’ll need to physically ask the driver to stop. Want to buy nearly anything? You’ll need to ask a seller to retrieve it for you from behind a counter or the inside of a glass case. Want to order or pay a bill in a restaurant? You’ll need to call to your waiter across a crowded restaurant. Want to receive standard medical care? You’ll need to go to a pharmacy and ask for the medicines and supplies you’ll need to purchase/bring with you, and if you can’t find something, you’ll also need to call the doctor to ask about acceptable substitutes.

My oddest “things I would have previously been terrified to do in my native language” story? Calling my veterinarian on her cell phone in the middle of the night to explain that my cat (also a Fulbright alumnus) had been vomiting and had pooped out a needle I wasn’t aware he’d swallowed. (He’s thankfully fine.)

6. What is your biggest takeaway from your Fulbright?

Few things make a person more self-aware than moving abroad alone. And for me, one of the things I’ve become most aware of by moving abroad is how often I’ve taken the Americans with Disabilities Act for granted in the United States. I have mild cerebral palsy, and–after five corrective surgeries–other than a small limp, it doesn’t drastically impact my quality of life…in the United States. I make this qualification because, while I do have worse-than-average balance going down stairs, I don’t often have to think about it in the U.S.–because of ADA requirements for railings on staircases.

Moving to Central Asia alone meant that I very quickly came to terms with the fact that I might fall going down stairs or a sidewalk in the winter (because ice isn’t cleared as readily as it is in the States). Indeed, my own struggles with uneven paths and railing-less staircases in Central Asia has shown me that I was to everything–from ATMs to pharmacies–being accessible via stairs. The years I spent in Central Asia have also shown me that people with disabilities are largely not visible within society–not because they are unable to participate, but rather, because life is just not structured in a means that is accessible for many of them.

This is a realization I do not take lightly. My life is not without its challenges and instances of outright ableism–including those who still challenge my ability to move abroad independently despite a track record of more than four years of working and researching independently in Central Asia. Nevertheless, had I not been born in the United States, it is not lost on me that I may not have been afforded the very opportunities for self-enrichment that have made me the public servant I am today.

Reach the World U.S. Fulbright

The Unexpected Mission

December 10, 2019

By Jeffrey Thiele, Fulbright U.S. Student Open Study/Research Grantee to El Salvador

As I reflect on my time as a 2018 Fulbright grantee to El Salvador, it might be easy to say that I accomplished my mission. I wanted to use my master’s degree in philosophy and health to solve a real-world problem: increasing healthcare access for Salvadorans displaced by violence by working with Cristosal, a local NGO. My grant year did give me plenty of opportunities to put theory into practice, but what I didn’t see coming, however, was the role that music would play in that journey.

When I arrived in San Salvador, I knew very little about the local political, economic, and social situation. I quickly realized that there are no quick fixes to the problems that El Salvador faces, and that I wouldn’t be able to make the sweeping changes I had anticipated going into my Fulbright. While I plugged away with the newfound perspective that I would be doing more learning than doing, another project began to occupy my nights. 

This is where Saxo Sue, my loyal, traveling saxophone, appears. Having recently fallen back in love with music during my master’s program, Saxo Sue had made the voyage with me to San Salvador, though I had little hope of finding much music there. The first month of my time with Saxo Sue incountry was spent going over old classical repertoire in the light of the evening sun. While I was making occasional improvisations and recording them, I wasn’t really moving forward musically. 

Two months in, one of my friends invited me to a gig where her friend’s boyfriend, a local trumpeter, would be playing with his group called The Zamora Brothers. I was so excited to learn that jazz was happening in the capital, and that there was such a vibrant music scene in a land where many people are still fighting for fundamental human rights. The concert got me thinking about the resilience of the arts and its unique ability to exemplify and push forward necessary human and social rights. 

In the following weeks, Pipe (pronounced “pee-peh”), the trumpet player for the Zamora Brothers, invited me to a jam session at his house with another local band, Camelo. I connected with Camelo’s leader Jorge Gómez, who said Saxo Sue and I brought the final “oomph” and tonal character that the band was seeking. I was in. 

Apart from joining Camelo as their seventh member, I became involved in about eight other music projects in and around San Salvador, including establishing my own jazz project, called Buxo Don Luis. Both Camelo and Buxo Don Luis have been getting national, and even international, recognition, and will be touring outside of El Salvador in the coming year.

My involvement and (unexpected) fame in the Salvadoran music scene has given me a wider-reaching platform from which I can share my thoughts and work on human rights and social justice. More broadly, music has been a means to not only express myself, but to advance a broader rights movement inside and outside the country. I participated in a Reach the World virtual exchange with a New Jersey elementary school classroom, where I balanced our conversations about heavy Salvadoran social issues with some improvisations with Saxo Sue. With music as the bridge, we accomplished a key Fulbright goal of building mutual understanding between cultures. 

I came to El Salvador for research, and have come away pursuing my dream of becoming a bona fide musician. Music has helped me integrate into the community in San Salvador, empowered me to meet new people, and become an authentic participant in this beautiful culture. As I grow personally and professionally, I can share the joy of music and express the urgency of the situation in El Salvador. 

U.S. Fulbright

Three Fulbrighters Named 2019 MacArthur “Genius” Fellows

November 6, 2019

The Fulbright Program is pleased to congratulate three alumnae on their selection as 2019 MacArthur Fellows! “Genius” Fellows Andrea Dutton (2020 U.S. Scholar to New Zealand), Saidiya Hartman (1997 U.S. Scholar to Ghana), and Stacy Jupiter (2002 U.S. Student to Australia) will each receive a $625,000, no-strings-attached award from the MacArthur Foundation to support their creative, intellectual, and professional projects.

According to the MacArthur Foundation’s website, fellowships are awarded to “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” It lays out the following criteria for the selection of Fellows:

  1. Exceptional creativity
  2. Promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishments
  3. Potential for the Fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work.

Learn more about how each Fellow’s experience as a Fulbright participant supported and inspired their professional goals:

Andrea Dutton

Andrea Dutton: A University of Wisconsin-Madison geochemist and paleoclimatologist specializing in sea levels, Andrea Dutton will travel to New Zealand as a Fulbright U.S. Scholar in the spring of 2020. During her grant, she will analyze local coral and coastlines to better understand how sea levels are changing. Dr. Dutton is motivated to study and share her findings with people and communities specifically affected by rising seas.

 

 

 

 

Saidiya Hartman

Saidiya Hartman: A literary scholar and cultural historian, Saidiya Hartman “explores the limits of the archive” through telling the stories of African slaves, free black people, and other marginalized individuals excluded from the recent American past, and how those experiences inform the contemporary African American experience. During her nine months as a Fulbright U.S. Scholar to Accra, Ghana in 1997, Dr. Hartman studied the Atlantic slave trade through her project, entitled, “Belated Encounters on the Gold Coast: Captives, Mourners, and the Tragedy of Origins.” She has authored two books and is a professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University.

 

 

Stacy Jupiter

Stacy Jupiter: A marine scientist, Stacy Jupiter works with indigenous Melanesian communities in Fiji, the Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea on ecosystem management by integrating local cultural practices with field research. Dr. Jupiter has collaborated on Fiji’s first “Ridge-to-Reef” management plan, which is currently used as a template for other areas in the region. During her Fulbright to Australia as a U.S. Student in 2002, she worked to contain and prevent microbial blooms in Moreton Bay, Queensland.

U.S. Fulbright

Gaucho Parade

October 29, 2019

By Lindsey Liles, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Brazil

It’s nowhere near dawn, but Karina and I are already awake and dressed, standing outside the barn, laying out the traditional Gaucho tack we will use to saddle the horses. Karina’s horse, Cavalo de Fogo, pricks his ears and shifts his weight, sensing our excitement and no doubt wondering why he’s being fed his breakfast at three in the morning.

It’s the 21st of September, a special day in Porto Alegre, Brazil. For the whole month, Gauchos come from all over the state of Rio Grande do Sul to celebrate Semana Farroupilha, an event which commemorates the Farroupilha Revolution in 1835 and is a tribute to Gaucho culture and traditions. The Gauchos set up a temporary camp made of piquetes–open wooden structures that look like barns–and stay there for the month drinking chimarrao tea, grilling traditional Brazilian churrasco barbeque, and riding horses. The celebration culminates on the 21st, with a parade of hundreds of Gauchos in traditional dress through the city center. Through a little luck and a lot of work learning to ride sidesaddle over the past few months, I will be riding with them in the parade.

I am a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant here in Brazil, and signed up on a whim for a horseback ride with a local woman named Karina. Since that first ride, I have learned to ride with a traditional Gaucho saddle, bareback, and sidesaddle; joined a women’s Gaucha riding group; and made many friends in the Gaucho community. What started as a one-time activity has become a long-term project that has allowed me to study Gaucho culture while learning to ride among these traditional South American cowboys.

We arrive at another farm outside the city at 5:00 AM, and load the horses on a truck that will take them into the city center, and the parade. At the farm, it’s organized chaos–20 or so horses are tied out front and bundles of tack are everywhere. The other 18 riders in our group are all arriving too, dressed in bombachas, the wide billowing pants tucked into soft leather riding boots, crisp shirts, and the trademark wide and flat Gaucho hat.

Karina and I make small talk and check our horses. The horse I will ride, Helena, is a little restless. I give her a treat from the stash I brought along; I have learned the hard way that it’s in my best interest to keep her happy. I meet some of the other riders for the first time. “An American, riding with us!” they exclaim, and I explain that all I know of Gauchos, horses, and riding I know from my time here, and that it is an honor for me to ride among them. They welcome me with all the kindness and authenticity that I have experienced so many times since arriving in Brazil.

Once we arrive at the grounds of the parade, it’s time to saddle up. I carefully put on the riding skirt that Karina has lent me–her mother hand-sewed it for her 30 years ago, and it is meant to be ridden sidesaddle. Karina gives me a leg up, and I situate my right leg over the horn that secures a sidesaddle rider and let my left leg rest lightly on the stirrup. The idea is to look dainty and effortless; the reality is to hang on for dear life with the right leg hidden under the skirt. Karina arranges the folds of blue fabric so they sweep elegantly across Helena’s side. She looks at us, probably recalling the hours she spent teaching Helena and I to work together to keep me balanced in the saddle, and smiles. “Perfeito,” she pronounces, and I’m not sure if she is prouder of me or Helena. She mounts Cavalo de Fogo, and we are off.

As I ride Helena down the streets of Porto Alegre, surrounded by my Gaucho group and with Karina in front of me, I can’t help but think that more than anything, this is the heart of the Fulbright Program–finding common threads with people across cultures, languages, and ways of life. In my case, I share with the Gauchos the love of a gallop down a dirt road, a passed cup of chimarrao, and the open spaces of the countryside. The parade winds down past Guaiba Lake and towards the city center, and I look at the smiling faces of the people watching. I realize suddenly that they don’t know I am not Brazilian, and that it doesn’t matter. Today is about honoring Gaucho culture and celebrating a love of horses and a way of life that I have been fortunate enough to experience.