Christine Keung, 2014-2015, China
“It was New Year’s Eve, and my Central Asian dorm mates all chipped in to buy a whole sheep. It’s a common Central Asian tradition to sacrifice a sheep to celebrate a big event, and given the fact that many of my international dorm’s residents were Muslim, the sheep had to be prepared to Halal standards…”
Such was how 2014-2015 Fulbright U.S. Student to China, Christine Keung, celebrated holidays in Shaanxi province during her award in Environmental Studies, where she worked closely with local university students to improve the region’s urban and rural waste practices.
Since completing her Fulbright award, Christine Keung has been named a 2016 Young Laureate by the Rolex Awards for Enterprise, a 2017 Time Magazine Next Generation Leader, and gained admission to the MBA program at Harvard University.
We recently interviewed Christine to learn more about how her Fulbright experiences have had an impact on her career trajectory, what advice she has for prospective Fulbright applicants, and how she has maintained strong ties with the friends and professional contacts she established while in China.
How did you originally hear about the Fulbright Program and what/who inspired you to apply?
I first learned about the Fulbright Program during my freshman year at Wellesley College. I had a Teaching Assistant who had been a Fulbrighter in Spain who encouraged me to apply before I graduated. As a first-year student who had not yet selected her major, who had never worked as a research assistant, and who had never studied abroad, I really couldn’t imagine myself as a Fulbright Student. It wasn’t until my junior year that I seriously considered applying for opportunities to live and work abroad after graduation. I had spent the summer after my sophomore year on a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant that allowed me to conduct independent research on China’s Loess Plateau. That trip allowed me to visit Western China for the first time and to form many of the relationships that helped make my Fulbright project a reality.
Benjamin Simington, 2015-2016, India (left), with several sadhus from different Kabir Panthi monasteries. They visited the famous Mahakaleshwar temple in Ujjain together during the Kumbha Mela pilgrimage.
Memory came to be a major theme of my research, along with my personal experiences with the Fulbright Program in India. My initial research project was titled Mahant with a Message: A Study of Sant Vivek Das Acharya. I wanted to focus on the life, religious activity, and socio-political vision of Sant Vivek Das Acharya, the head of the Kabir Chaura monastery of the Kabir Panth. The Kabir Panth is a monotheistic religious community in India rooted in the teachings of the medieval Indian poet-saint Kabir. The community has an emphasis on ideas of tolerance, personal spiritual practice, and the equality of all human beings.
As I continued with my research, the importance of ideas of memory became more and more salient. I eventually shifted my focus to look at how Kabir is remembered in the Kabir Panth through ritual, the space of the monastery, and through the poetry of Kabir in everyday conversation. The way that Kabir’s poetry functioned as a form of remembrance had great personal significance for me. Studying this facet of memory allowed me to experience the poetry of Kabir in a way that was not simply abstract. I was able to internalize it. Memory remains a vital part of the religious experience of the members of the community.
Clockwise from left: Shayak Sengupta, 2015-2016, India, Emily Yedinak, 2013-2014, Chile, Yuriy Veytskin, 2013-2014, Australia, and Gwyneth Talley, 2015-2015, Morocco
On-Campus interview season is coming up! This can be a nerve-wracking time for those of you applying to the Fulbright U.S. Student Program through your college or university. Try not to worry, though – the interview is a way to add a “face” to your Fulbright application and get helpful feedback.
You’ll hit submit on the Embark Online Application before your campus deadline, your on-campus Fulbright Program Adviser (FPA) will schedule an on-campus interview, and you will then have the chance to explain and defend your project. This interview is an additional element to your application when your campus committee rates and recommends you. After the interview, your FPA will re-open your application, allowing you to adjust it before the final national deadline. As Fulbright U.S. Student Alumni Ambassadors, we’ve been through this process before and have created a Q & A about campus interviews to help you prepare.
Benjamin Cohn, 2014-2015, Fulbright-mtvU Fellow to Ghana, interviewing rap artist Reggie Rockstone in Accra
The 10 months I spent in Ghana for my Fulbright-mtvU Fellowship were the most supportive and constructive of my life. Sure, I faced new challenges every day, even insurmountable ones occasionally, but between my home communities, the Fulbright Program, and the new relationships I made in Ghana, I have never been more prepared to take risks.
Prior to applying, I had always considered Fulbright to be for “other people” until, at a networking meeting, I was told to consider it by the Executive Director of the Fulbright Association, an independent U.S. alumni organization. Upon further investigation, I realized that Fulbright’s goals aligned with my own more than I ever expected. Traveling has played a large part in my development; being exposed to different experiences, worldviews, and perspectives has 100 percent changed me for the better. Senator Fulbright believed that to be true for individuals, and even more so for nations.
Yuriy Veytskin, 2013-2014, Australia, visiting Ayers Rock at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
It was August of 2012 when I first heard about the opportunity that would change my life. How I heard about it was rather direct and unromantic: a simple email from the Fulbright Program Adviser at North Carolina State University, my alma mater, listing all of the science-related Fulbright Programs available that year. I had heard about Fulbright before, but the idea of applying for a grant in the middle of my PhD program seemed daunting and unrealistic. Setting all doubts aside, I figured I would ask my adviser for more information and take it from there. Little did I know, this would be the start of two months of dedicated, and at times frantic, application writing in order to meet the internal university and national deadlines. Unlike some other applicants, I started my application quite late and only had about five weeks to submit all of my materials by the internal campus deadline. Unfazed, I worked diligently for hours to complete my Fulbright application while also taking my graduate courses. For my affiliation letter, I cold emailed a few scientists in my potential host country, Australia, hoping that they might forward my request to the appropriate contacts. The affiliation letter I received ended up being highly detailed and focused, signed by my three prospective advisers, and was likely a major contributing factor to the success of my application.
After going through countless iterations of my Statement of Grant Purpose and Personal Statement with the assistance of my Fulbright Program Adviser, I was able to submit my application by the internal university deadline.
Are you interested in applying for a Fulbright U.S. Student grant and have questions about what it’s like to be a Fulbrighter in a particular country or field? Are you currently working on a Fulbright U.S. Student Program application? Are you a Fulbright Program Adviser (FPA) who would like a Fulbright alum to present on campus and share information about what’s involved in applying to Fulbright and what the experience is like in-country? Reach out to a Fulbright Alumni Ambassador!
The 2017 cohort of Fulbright Alumni Ambassador bios are now available on our website along with each ambassador’s contact information. We encourage prospective applicants and FPAs to contact Fulbright Alumni Ambassadors for tips, testimonial and advice – all throughout the academic year. Good luck!