On September 10, 2013, I arrived in London, England at the King’s Cross tube station. As I left the station, I was hit by a cold breeze which quickly reminded me that my initial assumption about the weather in England was wrong.
I arrived in Birmingham, England a week later to begin my master’s program in robotics on a Fulbright grant. From day one, I was welcomed by students from various cultures. In the States, I was accustomed to meeting students from around the country, but in Birmingham, I met students from countries around the world – a few I knew nothing about. The exposure to different cultures challenged my views daily. I questioned my thoughts on dress, ideals, biases and ways of living. In the United Kingdom, the weather, fashion, food and dialect were different. I was naïve to think that because the British spoke English, the cultural elements wouldn’t be much different than those in the United States. I was constantly reminded of the difference between the two countries: when I rode the lift (British word for elevator), rode the tube (London subway) and had to get a jumper (British word for sweater) to keep warm.
The main focus of my Fulbright grant was to pursue a master’s in robotics and conduct research in human robot interaction. My research explored ways in which a robot can use gestures to provide feedback to a student during a learning activity.
Outside of the classroom and lab, I actively participated in activities which expanded my own view of the world and allowed me to expose others to my background. I engaged in discussions with classmates and others at events around campus; I volunteered at both an all-girls and an all-boys school as a way to educate British students on American culture, and to learn about the educational system and culture in England; I tutored students in math as part of the TEAM UP program; twice a week, I tutored three students in various math topics; lastly, I was a teacher’s assistant for the Introduction to Robotics course at the University of Birmingham. Being a teacher’s assistant allowed me to serve as a resource to and also learn a great deal from the University. Even though I am now back in the United States, I am still an active mentor. Through the Sutton Trust Program, I worked with British students as they applied for undergraduate admission; both students I worked with have since been accepted to their institution of choice.
As the first student to win a Fulbright U.S. Student grant from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, a Historically Black College and University, the best advice I can give any applicant is to not be intimidated by the application process or pool, and just go for it. It is easy to feel discouraged if you haven’t gone to a big name school or if you find the application process overwhelming. Do not try to tackle the application in one sitting and understand that you are just as smart and prepared as students from any U.S. institution.