Melissa Montalvo, 2015-2016, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Mexico (far right), with Universidad Tecnológica de Jalisco’s English Language Conversation Club students after a great discussion on American culture
A year has passed since I completed my Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. As I reflect on this anniversary, I recognize that my Fulbright year had an immense impact on my personal and professional direction. I thought I knew what to expect from my Fulbright year. After all, I was a former student of International Relations, a USC Global Scholar. I had already lived abroad as an exchange student in Paris, France, and had spent weeks volunteering in Mexico and Peru. I knew what to anticipate from a year abroad, right? It turns out that I was very wrong. Every single day of my Fulbright award brought something new and unexpected. Never did I expect to have such an eye-opening experience. From the first day at orientation meeting my fellow Fulbrighters, to forming friendships with my mentors at the Universidad Tecnológica de Jalisco, to meeting local tapatíos (a word to describe the people from Guadalajara), I created lasting memories.
In Guadalajara, also considered “the Silicon Valley of Mexico,” I encountered a forward-thinking city buzzing with technology and innovation. This is not exactly the vision I had of Mexico before arriving. All I knew of Mexico was folklore, border towns, and tourist resorts. I was surprised that so many young Mexicans I met were engineers, techies, and self-described ñoños (nerds). They worked at HP, Intel, Oracle, or a slew of Mexican startups like VoxFeed and CityDrive. It also seemed that everyone I met pursued passion projects outside of their 9 to 5 jobs, such as running Airbnbs and online businesses. I wanted to emulate these intelligent, proactive, and hardworking people in my life.
David Bernstein, 2013-2014, Luxembourg (right), interviewing Mr. Rhett Power, a distinguished American entrepreneur, author, and business coach, during a talk show style event for local entrepreneurs and investors in Luxembourg City, Luxembourg. (Photo Credit: Carolyn Turpin)
Nestled between Germany, France, and Belgium resides my second home and the country that welcomed me with open arms for one of the best years of my life – the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Over the 2013-2014 academic year, I had the distinct honor of being a Fulbright Study/Research Grantee to Luxembourg. While I expected my experience in the Grand Duchy to be life-changing, I did not fully grasp how much the opportunity would positively impact me until I actually arrived and began interacting with professors, classmates, and others from across my host country.
The main element of my Fulbright proposal revolved around earning a Master in Entrepreneurship and Innovation from the University of Luxembourg, a new beacon of higher education in the European Union that had been founded only ten years earlier. With plans to return to the United States following my Fulbright experience to pursue a dual MD/MBA degree, I arrived in Luxembourg eager to learn important entrepreneurial and innovation skills that I could adjust, as needed, and apply in my future medical career. However, upon entering the classroom for the first time, I knew that I would learn more than I had originally planned.
Sheila Xu, 2016-2017, Italy, attending her first visit at the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a Fulbright event
Italy is one of the top vacation destinations in the world. The whole country is an outdoor museum, steeped in ancient history and customs. The food and weather are world-renowned. Even spoken Italian has a musical rhythm to it. One would think moving to Italy would be la dolce vita, or “living the sweet life”.
However, living in Italy on a Fulbright grant as a deaf person (Cochlear Implant user with both oral and sign language skills) certainly has its own trials and tribulations. I came to discover that the experiences and perspectives of a typical deaf Italian and American are very different. One notable difference is our languages. In the United States, American Sign Language (ASL) is the language of deaf Americans. But almost nobody in Italy knew ASL! So, it was time for me to learn Italian Sign Language, or Lingua dei Segni Italiana (LIS), so I could communicate with deaf Italians. In fact, I am proud to say I am now able to give a presentation in LIS to an audience of LIS signers when giving seminars about the American Deaf culture and its people.
Yanoa Carrasco, 2015-2017, Peru, in front of one of the Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen “Shuttlecocks” sculptures at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri
Greetings from the 2016 Millennial Trains Project (MTP). You may be wondering what MTP is. Well, let me explain. It’s a train journey across the United States for a diverse group of young leaders and innovators. Thanks to the Fulbright Program, I am having a great trip experience and making new friends: millennials from different parts of the United States and two other Fulbright Foreign Students, one from Germany and the other from Malaysia.
I’m currently doing a master’s degree in museum studies at New York University, so when I learned about the MTP, I decided to apply to conduct research about community engagement in museums. Through my project, I want to create an awareness of the importance of collecting, preserving and interpreting local and/or regional history. One of the best ways to do this is to involve a local community and create engaging activities that will allow them to discover and interpret the world around them. Institutions like museums and cultural centers are currently evolving into spaces of knowledge and personal reflection; places where communities can go and discuss specific topics while creating their own narratives about them.
The goal of my MTP journey is to explore different participatory and engaging experiences offered by museums in order to spread the word about those activities and inspire others to create similar programs all around the world.
Alex Counts, 1988-1989, Bangladesh, crossing a bamboo bridge at the time of the 1989 monsoon during his Fulbright year
From my earliest days contemplating my responsibilities as a global citizen, I have believed that entrepreneurship, and in particular social entrepreneurship, had major roles to play in realizing a better world. For this reason, I was attracted to the idea of microfinance and one of its earliest and most successful examples: the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh. This innovative financial institution, which served and was owned by this nation’s poor women, was both an entrepreneurial venture itself that made a modest profit most years, but was also an engine of spurring micro-entrepreneurship on a massive scale through the hundreds of millions of business loans it has provided.
Indeed, I have come to believe that one of the surest paths to sustainable and large-scale social change is to incorporate the discipline of the private sector into empowerment strategies. The Grameen Bank and, later, its affiliated companies, was a shining example of this. During my studies at Cornell, I began a correspondence with Professor Muhammad Yunus, Grameen’s founder, about how I could join forces with him to promote his success model at the international level. He welcomed me to come to Bangladesh after graduation to begin our collaboration.