During the 2013-2014 academic year, I had the opportunity to travel with a Fulbright U.S. Student Fellowship to the medieval city of Toledo, Spain to experience nine months of excitement and discovery. As a transportation engineer, my passion is road safety—that is, the safe movement of people on our roadways. In Toledo, I was hosted at the Universidad de Castilla La Mancha (UCLM), where I researched the various methods of facilitating the safe movement of vulnerable road users at highway-rail crossings.
Alongside my Spanish advisors and colleagues, I researched the various engineering, educational and policy practices that have been implemented in parts of the FEVE Rail system in the Northern Region of Cantabria in Spain and how this information can benefit U.S. rail safety. I spent time with engineers and railroad staff in the cities of Torrelavega and Santander, performing field visits as well as exchanging knowledge on common issues of the rail sector on both sides of the pond.
Overall, my time in Toledo was memorable; living in a UNESCO World Heritage Site made for interesting social interactions with locals and tourists alike. Two of my most rewarding experiences involved community outreach. Throughout the year, I volunteered as a conversational English teacher and mentored an undergraduate thesis student at the UCLM. As part of my mentoring duties, I guided students in creating a proposed redesign of a rotary in the historic city of Toledo. Without realizing it, I left my imprint on a small piece of the world as an American woman, and an engineer committed to safety.
My advice to future applicants is: be you! One of the most enjoyable aspects of my Fulbright experience was meeting my Fulbright cohort during orientation. It was truly fascinating to see an amazing group of Americans from all walks of life mesh so well together in a new country. This was the moment I realized: This IS Fulbright!
It cannot be said enough: start your application early! Don’t forget that you need to contact professors and researchers in other countries who are reading your emails on different time zones. If you are applying to EU countries, bear in mind that August is a widely popular vacation month and everyone is at the beach—not really checking emails.
When in your host country: be flexible! When faced with slower-than-usual response times to e-mails, calls, or paperwork… relax, no pasa nada! I found “down time” to be very useful for connecting with my community by attending and volunteering at events in my host institution, meeting new friends, or for simply having a relaxing café con leche. My most valuable moments in Spain happened when I least expected them.
Finally, enjoy the ride! I took on the motto Y.O.F.O. (You Only Fulbright Once). Although many of my peers pointed out that you can indeed Fulbright more than once, the newness and wonder of it all may truly only be experienced once in a Fulbright!