Fulbright Student Program Blog

Category Archives: U.S. Fulbright

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

By Sarah Lightfoot Vidal, Fulbright U.S. Student Program, Chile (Engineering) 2014

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.

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

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

Reading Greece

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.

2018 Fulbright Year in Review

Last year, Fulbright Program Participants made strides in education, art, and science across the globe. Take a look back on the year in the 2018 Fulbright Year in Review.

Fulbright Alumna Connects Middle School Students to Global Perspectives

Tanya Wacholz was a 2012 Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Germany

Some experiences change the trajectory of your life forever. For Tanya Wacholz, that experience was a trip to China to visit the sister school of her Minnesota high school. “At the time, I didn’t know anyone who traveled abroad or lived in other countries,” she recalls, “and there I was in Tianjin and Beijing, meeting people whose cultures were so different and exciting.” Later, in college at the University of Minnesota, Tanya became interested in German and spent a semester in Freiburg, Germany, studying post-war history and German colonialism. After graduation, she moved back to Germany, this time to Berlin, in order to improve her German language skills. Considering a career in education and looking to gain experience, she applied for and received a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to help 12th- and 13th-grade students in Birkenwerder, Germany, prepare for the Abitur, their all-important cumulative exams.

During her time as a Fulbright ETA, Tanya volunteered for Reach the World, a nonprofit organization offering virtual exchanges. She shared her experiences abroad with Keith Pitchford’s middle school students in Hope Mills, North Carolina. “I wanted to help my present and future students on both sides of the Atlantic,” she remembers, “and I wanted my experiences abroad to have a trans-national impact.” Keith’s students were studying World War II. Tanya channeled her love of history and documented her experiences at key historical sites around Berlin. She shared engaging stories with Keith’s students vis the Reach the World platform, breathing fresh life into the topic. “The experience taught me a lot about how to get students interested in other cultures and open their minds to new places and experiences.”

Following her Fulbright ETA, Tanya returned to Minnesota and taught through Teach For America in the Minneapolis area. Says Tanya, “I came home with the same mission that I had when I started my Fulbright experience–to become a teacher. I felt prepared to take on a new challenge. I felt ready to run my own classroom, and I knew what I wanted my classroom to feel like. I knew TFA was going to be a challenge, but I was prepared.” Through TFA, Tanya earned her Master’s degree and championed equity for all students in her classrooms.

To that end, and due to a partnership between Reach the World and Teach for America, she became a Reach the World teacher herself, welcoming the next wave of Fulbright scholars into her classroom through their own virtual exchanges. “My students are so engaged when their traveler is on the screen right in front of them, sharing their experiences in a new place,” she says. Tanya’s 8th-grade English Language Learner students at Hiawatha College Prep often have international backgrounds themselves, so they’re especially interested in what languages their Reach the World traveler speaks. They are also very interested in globalization and issues surrounding refugees in other parts of the world, and together with co-teacher Ryane Hardy, Tanya enriches classroom curriculum with the travelers’ global perspectives.

“They ask so many questions,” Tanya says. “The Fulbright travelers we connect with through Reach the World are people my students really want to know and learn from. My students walk away from their virtual exchanges feeling like they’ve shared their international backgrounds and gotten so much in return. It plants a seed that motivated and curious students can go on to college and be in control of their own global experiences.”