Browsing Tag

El Salvador

Reach the World U.S. Fulbright

The Unexpected Mission

December 10, 2019

By Jeffrey Thiele, Fulbright U.S. Student Open Study/Research Grantee to El Salvador

As I reflect on my time as a 2018 Fulbright grantee to El Salvador, it might be easy to say that I accomplished my mission. I wanted to use my master’s degree in philosophy and health to solve a real-world problem: increasing healthcare access for Salvadorans displaced by violence by working with Cristosal, a local NGO. My grant year did give me plenty of opportunities to put theory into practice, but what I didn’t see coming, however, was the role that music would play in that journey.

When I arrived in San Salvador, I knew very little about the local political, economic, and social situation. I quickly realized that there are no quick fixes to the problems that El Salvador faces, and that I wouldn’t be able to make the sweeping changes I had anticipated going into my Fulbright. While I plugged away with the newfound perspective that I would be doing more learning than doing, another project began to occupy my nights. 

This is where Saxo Sue, my loyal, traveling saxophone, appears. Having recently fallen back in love with music during my master’s program, Saxo Sue had made the voyage with me to San Salvador, though I had little hope of finding much music there. The first month of my time with Saxo Sue incountry was spent going over old classical repertoire in the light of the evening sun. While I was making occasional improvisations and recording them, I wasn’t really moving forward musically. 

Two months in, one of my friends invited me to a gig where her friend’s boyfriend, a local trumpeter, would be playing with his group called The Zamora Brothers. I was so excited to learn that jazz was happening in the capital, and that there was such a vibrant music scene in a land where many people are still fighting for fundamental human rights. The concert got me thinking about the resilience of the arts and its unique ability to exemplify and push forward necessary human and social rights. 

In the following weeks, Pipe (pronounced “pee-peh”), the trumpet player for the Zamora Brothers, invited me to a jam session at his house with another local band, Camelo. I connected with Camelo’s leader Jorge Gómez, who said Saxo Sue and I brought the final “oomph” and tonal character that the band was seeking. I was in. 

Apart from joining Camelo as their seventh member, I became involved in about eight other music projects in and around San Salvador, including establishing my own jazz project, called Buxo Don Luis. Both Camelo and Buxo Don Luis have been getting national, and even international, recognition, and will be touring outside of El Salvador in the coming year.

My involvement and (unexpected) fame in the Salvadoran music scene has given me a wider-reaching platform from which I can share my thoughts and work on human rights and social justice. More broadly, music has been a means to not only express myself, but to advance a broader rights movement inside and outside the country. I participated in a Reach the World virtual exchange with a New Jersey elementary school classroom, where I balanced our conversations about heavy Salvadoran social issues with some improvisations with Saxo Sue. With music as the bridge, we accomplished a key Fulbright goal of building mutual understanding between cultures. 

I came to El Salvador for research, and have come away pursuing my dream of becoming a bona fide musician. Music has helped me integrate into the community in San Salvador, empowered me to meet new people, and become an authentic participant in this beautiful culture. As I grow personally and professionally, I can share the joy of music and express the urgency of the situation in El Salvador. 

Foreign Fulbright

Fulbright Crossing Paths

February 14, 2017

Being a Fulbrighter will always be an important part of my life. The opportunity to study and immerse myself in a culture abroad opens your horizons and makes you grow in every way. Even still, I never imagined that Fulbright would have an impact on my life in an even more profound way. I am from El Salvador, and in 2011, I was awarded a Fulbright grant to pursue a master’s in tourism at the University of Florida. Upon graduating, I returned to El Salvador, but soon after, I was offered a job with an international organization based in Washington, DC.

During my Fulbright, I was involved in Fulbright-specific networking opportunities such as gateway orientations, enrichment seminars and the Fulbright Association Chapter events. I made a lot of friends through these events and I have visited them both in the United States and around the world whenever I have the chance.

New to the DC area, I joined the Fulbright Association National Capital Area Chapter. In November 2014, I attended one of the chapter events: an open house reception at the Goethe-Institut. There is where I met Martin. Martin was at that time a visiting researcher on a Fulbright grant from Denmark, doing a one-year research project at the National Institutes of Health. During our first conversation, I recognized the same spark in his eyes when we talked about our dreams, passions and careers. Despite being from very different countries and cultures that speak different languages, have different professional opportunities and different social norms, we found in each other a partner with the same values, goals and dreams.

Continue Reading

Enrichment Foreign Fulbright Fulbright-Millennial Trains Project

Fulbright-MTP: Inspiration for Action

June 23, 2015
Fulbright-MTP participant Rodrigo Moran from El Salvador on board the Millennial Train.

Fulbright-MTP participant Rodrigo Moran from El Salvador on board the Millennial Trains Project

For some reason, I have not been able to sleep lately. Maybe I miss the coziness of my room on the train. Maybe I miss the rocking motion and the sounds of the wheels on the tracks that lulled me into a profound sleep every night. Maybe I just miss all of my MTP friends…

Check: All of the above.

Besides the nostalgia I have been feeling, I hit the ground running as soon as we got off the train in Washington, DC. I started a summer internship in the field of international development at Creative Associates International, a company “providing outstanding, on-the-ground development services and forging partnerships to deliver sustainable solutions to global challenges.”

Continue Reading

Enrichment Foreign Fulbright Fulbright-Millennial Trains Project

Fulbright-Millennial Trains Project: Preface

May 24, 2015

Disclaimer: As I write these words, I am in the middle of Texas (between El Paso and San Antonio) after more than 15 hours of enlightening, intense and humbling learning experiences with the MTP class of 2015. So yes, I am extremely tired, but my desire to share these feelings goes beyond my body entering autopilot mode.

Continue Reading

Enrichment Foreign Fulbright Fulbright-Millennial Trains Project

Fulbright-Millennial Trains Project Participants

May 13, 2015

The U.S. Department of State selected the following six Fulbright Foreign Students to participate in the third Millennial Trains Project (MTP) voyage across the United States — leaving from Los Angeles, California on May 21 and ending in Washington, DC on May 31— as an enrichment component of the Fulbright Foreign Student Program. The six Fulbrighters will join 19 American riders on the MTP journey to gain an in-depth understanding of life in the United States and to strengthen their skills in leadership, social entrepreneurship, and communication.

Meet the six Fulbright participants:

Saja AlQuzweeni is a Fulbright Forieng Student from Iraq completing a Master's in Environmental Science and Policy at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

Saja Al Quzweeni is a Fulbright Foreign Student from Iraq

Saja Al Quzweeni is a Fulbright Foreign Student from Baghdad, Iraq, currently pursuing a master’s in environmental science and policy at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Saja’s MTP project is an extension of research she completed last year at Growing Power, a nonprofit organization in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that works in urban agriculture as an approach to increase food security in lower income and food desert communities. Small plots of land are used for intensive growing to offer healthy, affordable food to inner city communities, while merging agriculture and wise environmental practices to revitalize urban areas.

Continue Reading

U.S. Fulbright

The “Gentle Art” of Cultural Immersion

January 8, 2015
Aaron Owen - 1

Aaron Owen, 2012-2013, El Salvador (back row, fourth from left), with his jiu-jitsu teammates in El Salvador

Jiu-jitsu comes from the Japanese expression meaning the “art of being gentle, yielding, or giving way.” I began training Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) in Milwaukee, and at the time wouldn’t have imagined how it would come to shape my philosophy of cultural immersion during my Fulbright grant in El Salvador.

So how does “the gentle art” come into play in your Fulbright project? In BJJ, the idea is that instead of meeting force with force and quickly becoming exhausted, you leverage your opponent’s energy to your advantage “Cultural jiu-jitsu” is the act of giving way to the new experience. This means recognizing that you are becoming overwhelmed, accepting it, and finding ways to redirect that stimulus overload into something positive. In my case, when I realized I was becoming overwhelmed with the unfamiliar, I found a gym in El Salvador to start training BJJ again.

If immersing myself within another culture wasn’t enough, I also realized I was becoming overwhelmed by my project. I was attempting to interview hundreds of locals to study how modernization impacted their dietary habits. I had worked with my affiliates for months to craft a strong interview script, and I had even done a pilot study. The pilot interviews were successful, but highlighted the logistical and cultural difficulties I would have trying to expand to a larger sample. Logistically, I wouldn’t have the time to interview as many people as I wanted or the language skills to effectively communicate with the diverse population I was targeting. Culturally, my blunt way of inquiring about people’s dietary habits was sometimes considered intrusive. I had the choice to either callously plow through these barriers, or to look for a more creative solution.

Continue Reading