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Community Engagement

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.

FLTA Foreign Fulbright

How to Foster a Global Mindset at Your Community College through the Fulbright Program

August 8, 2019

International students pose outside DCCC.

We spoke with Suzanne LaVenture, Director of International Education and Faculty at Davidson County Community College (DCCC) about how the Fulbright Program helped transform the semi-rural North Carolina community college, cultivating a global outlook on campus. 

Davidson County Community College (DCCC), situated among green rolling hills and forests an hour away from Charlotte, NC, is a standout among community colleges across the United States for its level of international engagement. Beginning with the college’s first engagement with the Fulbright Program, DCCC has benefited from a range of grants, institutional partnerships and global connections.

“Fulbright brings the world to DCCC,” says Suzanne LaVenture, Director of International Education & Faculty. “By having international students and Fulbright scholars on our campus, it gives all our students a chance to meet people from all over the world and learn about different cultures.”

To this day, the Fulbright Program remains a central pillar of DCCC’s international engagement activity. In August, two new Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistants (FLTAs) will arrive on campus, bringing the FLTA total to 14 over the past eight years. Lately, the institution sent three campus leaders abroad with the Fulbright International Administrators Seminar program, and between 2008-2010 DCCC welcomed three Fulbright Scholars in Residence, two from China and one from Macedonia.

Breaking New Ground

DCCC’s international engagement accelerated in 2010, when Suzanne’s role was created. The college now offers four to five study abroad trips each year, helping U.S. students experience new cultures and countries.

“I think many community colleges don’t know about the opportunities that the Fulbright Program offers, or think that the return on investment of putting all the time and effort of filling out the applications will not pay off for them,” Suzanne says. “However, I would encourage interested community colleges to be persistent and apply for available Fulbright opportunities.”

Furthering the reach and impact of the international exchange network, DCCC does not work in isolation, but rather engages with a range of partners to support study abroad.

“One of the primary challenges for community colleges in promoting study abroad opportunities has been getting enough students interested to make [a given program] financially viable,” Suzanne says. “That is one reason why we often work in consortia.”

As Suzanne explains, the college recognizes that DCCC students face barriers to participating in study abroad. Many students have families, jobs and other responsibilities that prevent them from going abroad, so the college does what it can to lessen the burden of costs and scheduling conflicts. Hosting visiting Fulbrighters at DCCC has brought the world to the campus, and also serves as a living advertisement for study abroad.

Fulbright: a Springboard for Other Opportunities

For the past six years, the college has worked with the Institute of Study Abroad Ireland to run a popular spring break trip to Ireland. More recently, DCCC received capacity-building grants from the State Department to develop study abroad programs in Guatemala and South Africa, first implementing a service-learning program in Guatemala targeted to nursing students in coordination with Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC).  While developing these programs, DCCC tailored these initiatives to be compatible with the Department of State’s  Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship program, to provide extra incentive for students to consider studying abroad. The Gilman Program provides scholarships to U.S. undergraduates with financial need for study abroad, including students from diverse backgrounds and students going to non-traditional study abroad destinations.

Recently, DCCC applied for the same capacity building grant to develop a study abroad program with Central Piedmont in South Africa. The program will offer service learning opportunities for nursing and allied health, and zoo and aquarium science students, and aim to recruit minority male students.

Along with Guilford Technical Community College and Forsyth Technical Community College, DCCC has also twice received a State-Department-managed 100,000 Strong in the Americas grant to develop a study abroad program in Argentina along with Universidad Nacional de Villa María. U.S. students have gone to Argentina for the past two years, and Argentinian students visited the DCCC campus in March.

To encourage more students to think internationally, DCCC launched the Scholars of Global Distinction program in fall 2013. To earn this distinction on their transcript, students must complete 15 credit hours of globalized courses, attend eight Passport events, and must have a global experience – either study abroad or a local-global experience. As of the past semester, 100 DCCC students completed all the requirements, becoming Scholars of Global Distinction.

While DCCC was the first community college in North Carolina to start Scholars of Global Distinction, now more than 20 colleges offer this program. To implement programming, the college works with World View at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, which serves as a convening organization for colleges in the state interested in global learning.

Leveraging On-Campus Ingenuity

Much of DCCC’s international activity outreach and coordination has occurred through innovative, in-house support – ensuring broader awareness on the campus of DCCC’s international programming, while also reducing program costs. DCCC’s digital media instructor and his students created a video to promote the college’s study abroad programs, and a computer instructor and his students created a database for Suzanne and her team to track students in the Scholars of Global Distinction program.

DCCC’s efforts to promote study abroad by its students comes full circle in the personalized support it continues to provide its visting Fulbrighters.  FLTAs not only benefit from a warm welcome by DCCC administration – which includes a campus buddy system to ensure Fellows are able to more easily integrate into campus life, but also  benefit from DCCC’s ingenuity.  The campus provides the FLTAs accommodation at the energy efficient “Green House,” a historical house across the street from the campus renovated by DCCC very own heating and air-conditioning students. In addition, DCCC allows eligible FLTAs to use of one of the college’s fleet of vehicles to get around during their award period. Finally, Suzanne has invited each cohort of FLTAs to her house for Thanksgiving and acted as their cultural liaison throughout the duration of their time at DCCC.

Given the barriers that DCCC overcame to cultivate a global outlook on campus, Suzanne believes that if DCCC can internationalize, other institutions can too. “I always say that the moral of the DCCC story is that if we can do it, anybody can,” she says.

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Fulbright for Posterity: The Ripple Effects of Fulbright on Rural America

February 13, 2019
By Niecea Freeman, Fulbright ETA to Czech Republic 2018-2019

“How about: It’s quality, not quantity?” my dad proposed, wearing a grin. We were brainstorming city slogans for Loyalton, California, my hometown of 800 people nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains—now named “the Loneliest Town in America.”  We all laughed. On the surface, country living seems like paradise, but in reality a myriad of issues affect rural communities across the nation. Employment opportunities are sparse, lower income leads to higher instances of poverty, and—consequently—there is a clear demand and absolute need for higher quality education.

Megan Meschery and her family in Spain, 2008 Fulbright program.

When the town’s sawmill closed in 2001, followed by a mass population exodus, Loyalton’s tax revenues declined rapidly and ancillary school programming disappeared with them. First, we lost music and art specials. Later, our middle school was condemned, and students were moved from portable buildings into the high school, losing their separate facilities entirely. In truth, it has only been through the extraordinary efforts of dedicated teachers and community members that our school district has been kept afloat: teachers like my high school Spanish instructor, Megan Meschery, who are determined to redefine our local community without much funding from state or federal agencies.

In 2008, Megan left for a Fulbright grant in Granada, Spain, where she examined how rural economic development funding provided by the European Union reduced inequalities in public schools regardless of geographic location. She sought to find parallels and lessons applicable to rural education in America and to develop ways to promote cultural awareness and growth in Loyalton. While Megan’s experiences rather highlighted the differences between U.S. and EU development models, Megan also returned from her two-year Fulbright burgeoning with ideas tailored to Loyalton’s situation, and immediately found ways to introduce positive change, starting with school electives.

The Sierra Schools Foundation sponsors hands-on learning opportunities like harvesting chamomile tea flowers in the Loyalton Learning Garden.

My favorite memories from high school are from the culture club she initiated, through which I saw my first Broadway play, Wicked, and visited my first classical art exhibit, featuring masterpieces from Rembrandt and Raphael. These experiences opened my eyes to the world beyond our tiny valley, and change did not stop there.

The following year, Megan founded a non-profit organization called The Sierra Schools Foundation (SSF – sierraschoolsfoundation.org) to combat inequality in the school district by providing grants for resources and programs such as the STEM Learning Garden, Local-Artists-in-the-School, Advancing to College SAT prep, and others. I volunteered with SSF throughout college, running fundraisers, where I witnessed firsthand how, with dedication and perseverance, local organizations genuinely have power to initiate positive change.

Niecea (right) and her mentor, Martina (left) in Lanškroun’s city square, Czech Republic, 2018 Fulbright program.

These formative experiences propelled me to apply for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in the Czech Republic for the 2018-2019 academic year, where I will be living in a rural community not unlike Loyalton, teaching English to secondary students enrolled in veterinary and agricultural programs. As an undergrad, I pursued a B.S. in Integrated Elementary Education with an emphasis in English as a Second Language with the primary goal of becoming an elementary school teacher in a high-needs, rural community in the United States. Now, I  am ready to go forward and learn from the students and families of my host country to explore new perspectives and pedagogies that will reshape the way I view myself and my role as an educator. The quantity of programs in Loyalton’s schools has stagnated, but the quality of our education can continue to blossom

Niecea with the calves at the Lanškroun Veterinary & Agriculture School dairy
Foreign Fulbright

Upcycling My Fulbright Experience : Making Host Community Connections

May 11, 2018

Michael Saidani, 2017-2018 Fulbright Visiting Researcher from France, volunteering and teaching French language to students at a community church in downtown Davis, California

Although most of my time as a Fulbright Visiting Researcher at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) was dedicated to working on my research project focused on the circular economy, I have always believed that the Fulbright Program should be an exciting cultural exchange experience. During my award, I participated in some amazing outdoor activities such as hiking and traveling around the United States, particularly in California. But I’d like to share how I have been involved on my host campus and in my local community to contribute in return – no matter how small – to some of the benefits I’ve received by being a Fulbrighter in the United States.

A few weeks after my arrival at Davis, I proposed offering a French Language class to a downtown community church for adults who wanted not only to speak French, but also to learn more about French culture. As it was a beginner class, I taught my students how to introduce oneself, have a basic conversation, and about French geography. With no prior French language teaching experience, it was a great opportunity, and I received good feedback from my students, who were happy to work with an actual native French speaker.

During Fall Quarter, I volunteered as an Upcycling Intern at the UC Davis Aggie Reuse Store. Because the UC Davis campus is very green and engaged in sustainability activities, I wanted to find a way to be a part of those activities directly. Being an intern allowed me to promote reuse and upcycling on campus by demonstrating how to make new things out of old ones, an activity that aligned nicely with my PhD thesis related to the circular economy.

Michael Saidani, 2017-2018 Visiting Researcher to France, at the UC Davis Aggie Reuse Store

One month before returning to France, during the Fulbright Foreign Student Enrichment Seminar in St. Louis, Missouri, I engaged in a different kind of community service involving half a day of landscaping for the Great Rivers Pathways association, which is working to connect downtown St. Louis to the Gateway Arch and the Mississippi River via a new green path for pedestrians and bikers.

By sharing this small part of my Fulbright story, I would like to encourage other Fulbrighters – current and future – to embrace their entire Fulbright experience by connecting with their local host communities during their awards. By doing so, grantees can advance the Fulbright Program’s mission to meaningfully increase mutual understanding between the people of their own countries and the people of the United States.