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Fulbright U.S. Student Program

U.S. Fulbright

Here and There: Hispanic Identity and Access Abroad

September 24, 2020

This National Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re highlighting the contributions of outstanding Fulbrighters who live the Fulbright mission through their identities and goals. In this Q&A, Fulbright Student Alumni Ambassadors Tania Aparicio, Maren Lujan, and Abraham De La Rosa share their experiences and discuss inclusion and equity in international education, especially as it relates to their own experiences and identities.

Tania Aparicio, 2018 Fulbright U.S. Student in Sociology and Film to Mexico
In Mexico, Tania conducted qualitative research for her doctoral dissertation, which focuses on the decision-making process involved in film curatorship. Her doctoral thesis proposes that curatorship is a collective process influenced by the principles that organizations stand for and not based on individual taste, as other scholars have previously claimed. Working with the curatorial team at the Cineteca Nacional de Mexico, Tania conducted participant observation on how film curators make and justify programmatic decisions.

 

Abraham M. De La Rosa, 2018 Fulbright U.S. Student in Public Administration to Italy
Abraham earned a master’s degree in Public Administration through the SDA Bocconi School of Management in Milan, Italy, where he studied how the public and private sectors can collaborate to tackle new challenges across the globe. As part of this program, he interned with Officine Innovazione-Deloitte Italy and Rise Products to conduct market research on the global flour industry and upcycling products. In addition to his coursework, Abraham worked on a capstone research project focused on social impact bonds for refugees in the European Union, which he presented at the European Investment Bank in Luxemburg.

 

Maren A. Lujan, 2017 Fulbright U.S. Student in Anthropology to Sierra Leone
Maren’s Fulbright research focused on studying social and cultural structures impacting women’s access to healthcare. While in Sierra Leone, Maren conducted ethnographic research in a rural town, as well as system analysis at the regional and national levels. She worked with a Sierra Leonean research assistant and collaborated with a non-governmental organization, FOCUS 1000, to employ participatory research techniques at the local level.

 

 


1. Tell us a little about your path to Fulbright. Who or what inspired you to apply?

Tania: Fulbright is one of the most prestigious grants for graduate students. I had looked into programs to fund research in Mexico, and found my doctoral dissertation project, which is arts-based, was a good fit for the Fulbright Open Study/Research Award to Mexico. When I started my application in early May, I attended an informational session at my university. There, I met Katie Wolff, Assistant Director of Global Engagement & International Programs, and The New School’s Fulbright Program Adviser. She met with me and helped me set up a timeline to get my application materials completed during the summer. I could not have done it without her.

Abraham: I had known about Fulbright for a couple of years, but I had the misconception that Fulbright was for STEM students to continue undergraduate research projects. It was not until a few years ago that I discovered that there are a lot of different Fulbright awards available across the world. While I was working full time, I discovered that you could pursue a master’s program through Fulbright. I found an award that aligned with my educational and professional background, as well as what I wanted to continue to learn, and I decided to apply. The process was quite hectic, especially since I was working. Luckily, I had the support of my supervisor and roommate, who made sure I stayed with my application and submitted.

Maren: I don’t recall exactly what prompted me to apply. I wasn’t even entirely sure what Fulbright was before applying. A friend of mine had completed a program through Fulbright, so I was familiar with the name; perhaps a professor mentioned it offhand as an option. I applied, got it, and then figured it out from there!

 

2. Tell us a little about your Fulbright research topic and project. What did a typical day as a Fulbrighter look like for you?

Tania: I spent nine months in Mexico City gathering qualitative data for my doctoral dissertation, which investigates film curatorship in two important arts organizations. I wanted to understand how curatorial decisions are made, because they impact the film culture that millions of people have access to. My first case was the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and the second was Cineteca Nacional (The National Film Center) in Mexico City.

 

Caption: Tania Aparicio on her Fulbright, posing in front of her host institution, Cineteca Nacional in Mexico City, Mexico.

 

As a Fulbrighter, I conducted participant observation as a member of the Programming Department with Cineteca Nacional. I spent most of my time with the head curators, who decide what films 1.3 million annual visitors will watch in the film center. I was lucky to attend private film screenings and observed their firsthand reactions to the films they were judging, how they classified them, and the type of evaluation processes they engaged in. I also shadowed each member of the department, including theater managers, shipping employees, film rights managers, assistants, and interns. During the last three months of my stay, I conducted in-depth interviews with film curators who worked for other organizations, as well as other important industry members, in order to get a fuller idea of the field and of how Cineteca Nacional fit in the larger cultural landscape in Mexico. I also conducted workshops for local graduate students on how to conduct qualitative research when studying forms of cultural production, such as cinema.

Abraham: My Fulbright allowed me to pursue a Master of Public Administration degree (MPA) through the SDA Bocconi School of Management in Milan, Italy. I primarily attended classes as a graduate student and my typical day really varied. My first semester focused on courses and content, while during the second semester, I worked with classmates on a research project focused on public-private partnerships and social impact bonds for refugees in Europe. After completing the research project towards the end of the semester, I completed coursework while interning with a consulting company.

In addition, I volunteered in the local community and went hiking out of the city during the weekend. It’s hard to describe a typical day, since it really changed depending on the month and where I stood in my program.

Maren: My research topic looked at women’s health in rural Sierra Leone from a social and cultural perspective. A typical day for me was walking around the rural town where I was staying, or visiting one of the many surrounding villages, and talking with individuals about their health and their experiences with the health system.

 

Abraham De La Rosa at the United Nations Office at Geneva during a multi-day excursion in Switzerland, as part of his master’s degree program.

 

3. How did your identity play a role in your Fulbright experience?

Tania: I often had conversations about how, as an immigrant from Peru, I am from “here and there,” to borrow a phrase from Alexandra Delano, the Co-Chair and Associate Professor of Global Studies at The New School, who has written about diaspora policies, integration, and social rights beyond borders. In my experience, I received pushback from people who wanted to label me exclusively as Peruvian, rather than Peruvian-American. Nevertheless, I do not think of myself only as Peruvian anymore, and I haven’t for a long time, even though I moved to the United States as an adult and without my family. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to reflect and discuss my identity as an immigrant with my peers in Mexico. I came to realize how formative my immigration trajectory has been, and how I could never be who I’ve become anywhere else but in the United States.

Abraham: My identity played a big role in my Fulbright experience, since my courses were discussion-based. One of the topics we kept going back to was how governments and the private sector can better serve their communities. During these discussions, I was able to share with my classmates my Mexican and American experience in the United States. For most of them, it was their first time interacting with an immigrant and first-generation college student. Being able to have these deep conversations with my classmates and members of the community allowed me to share a side of the United States not normally shown in mainstream media.

Maren: Being light-skinned in Sierra Leone and West Africa categorizes you as “apotho” (white/foreigner), and with that comes privilege and certain expectations, especially in rural areas. Residents’ experiences with foreigners is commonly through foreign aid: when I approached people to talk about their health, I was assumed to be a doctor, and very often get asked for medical advice and medicine. This was also part of my research on the health system: considering the impact of international aid. A few distrusted my intentions, so a lot of my work was also building trust.

Additionally, being American, there were often assumptions of wealth—I did want individuals to understand that there is also poverty, racism, and inequality in the United States. As a first-generation Mexican-American, it felt important to me to share my experiences, but navigating those conversations could be difficult given the disparities and differences in access, and given that poverty in the United States looks very different from poverty in rural Sierra Leone.

 

Abraham De La Rosa participating at the Seeds&Chips Summit through his internship in Milan, Italy.

 

4. What is your biggest takeaway from your Fulbright?

Tania: Where, what, and how a new place becomes home is always unexpected. Also, every Fulbrighter I’ve met since my grant started are members of this amazing community of kind and insightful human beings.

 

Caption: Tania Aparicio visiting Palenque archeological site in Mexico.

 

Abraham: One of the biggest takeaways from my Fulbright is realizing that we have a lot in common with others around the world. My master’s program was composed of people from 16 different countries, and I was surprised constantly by how our countries worked similarly to try to help our communities. I found myself sometimes realizing that what I understood about a country or situation from a U.S-based perspective was not the full story. Through trying to learn mutually from others, I was able to also see a different reality about their countries and societies. These are skills that I found extremely helpful, and that I continue to use even upon my return to the United States.

Maren: Being a first-generation college graduate, I’m still amazed that programs like Fulbright exist. The fact that I was given the opportunity and funding to pursue my own research is still unbelievable to me. This has set me up for a PhD. While I will need to continue to pursue funding for my research, I do feel a sense of confidence now in seeing that my work has value, and that someone was willing to fund it.

 

5. What impact did your research or studies make in your career and local communities?

Tania: I could not have completed my dissertation research without Fulbright. Due to this research, I have presented in conferences in both Mexico and the United States, prepared articles for publication in peer-reviewed journals, and I’m currently writing my PhD dissertation. My work is a comparative study of film curatorship in a U.S.-based non-profit and a Mexico-based public organization—this comparative approach is yielding new knowledge for cultural managers and practitioners.

Abraham: My Fulbright allowed me to continue to advance professionally. Since my return to the United States, I have been working with a non-profit organization, The Forum on Education Abroad, applying a lot of my acquired knowledge. The organization works directly with universities and study abroad providers to ensure best practices in the field of education abroad.

Maren: My research focused on the use of participatory practices: how to engage with community while conducting research, and considering the impact of that research on them. I currently facilitate a community health plan with a variety of health service providers and engage with stakeholders to maximize impact. I’ve been able to re-focus the work to community impact and implement strategies for engaging with residents, folding health equity into the action plan.

 

Abraham De La Rosa with two classmates at La Scala Opera House in Milan, Italy.

 

6. What does equity and inclusion look like in international education/study abroad?

Tania: It looks like networks of people helping each other move up and forward together. For example, it looks like first-generation college students learning about programs like Fulbright and getting the mentorship and support to navigate the application process.

 

Tania Aparicio touring Mexico City with fellow Fulbrighter.

 

Abraham: This is a very complex question and I think many in the field of international education are trying to answer this. Equity, diversity, and inclusion are guiding principles that should be embedded in every aspect of international education, and considered prior to a program even beginning. When a program or an opportunity abroad is being designed, underserved and unrepresented populations should be kept in mind throughout the entire design process. This includes, but is not limited to, the mission and goals of the program; the populations for whom the program is intended; the application process; financial assistance; and the support that will be provided to each participant before, during, and after their experience abroad. If underserved and unrepresented participants are not kept in mind from the very beginning, trying to ensure equity and inclusion at the end of the process will be much more difficult and perhaps ineffective.

In a broader sense, we hope that everyone can participate in international education, and that each participating cohort is representative of the vast diversity of the United States. The goal is an opportunity where everyone feels welcomed and equally served, regardless of gender, race, identity, or background, and where you can feel safe sharing who you are and learn from others. I think the field of international education continues to improve and grow, but we can all continue to learn and share with one another to continue to grow.

Maren: I think when discussing equity and inclusion for study abroad, we want to look at the students who have historically been disenfranchised or wouldn’t have access otherwise. Recently, someone mentioned that study abroad demographics mirrored higher education numbers. If you consider all the barriers to education for low-income, minority, disabled students, and others, we have to ask: are we maximizing equity, or maintaining a status quo where only the elites and outliers have access to study abroad and international education? I got lucky learning about Fulbright and was given the opportunity of a lifetime, but I know in that respect, I’m still an outlier.

 

Abraham De La Rosa hiking in Lecco, Italy, located 30 km outside of Milan.

U.S. Fulbright

How to Build a Fulbright Top-Producing Institution: Northwestern University

September 3, 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What makes a “Fulbright Top-Producing Institution“? A variety of institutions discuss their efforts to recruit, mentor, and encourage students and scholars to apply for the Fulbright U.S. Student and U.S. Scholar Programs. We hope these conversations pull back the curtain on the advising process, and provide potential applicants and university staff with the tools they need to start their Fulbright journey.

“At Northwestern University, we believe that relationships fuel knowledge. Collaborations among individuals and institutions, globally and locally, drive new discovery and innovation. Fulbright offers a platform to build new relationships and deepen existing partnerships in order to work together to identify new solutions to address the world’s most critical challenges.”

By Northwestern University Staff

Question: Your outstanding faculty/students are one of many factors that led to this achievement. What makes your faculty/students such exceptional candidates for the Fulbright Program?

Our campus is both international- and service-oriented. Northwestern students work, live, and study with students from around the globe. Similarly, our faculty as a whole is deeply international in their background and their outlook. Our students confront and embrace the concept of “difference” daily and are comfortable asking questions that do not have easy answers. We have robust connections with our language faculty who participate on panels and promote the Fulbright Program to their students. Further, a spirit of service pervades this campus. It is rare to find a student who is not actively engaged in socially focused extracurricular activities. Add in the rigorous intellectual climate at Northwestern, and the result is that students are engaged with the world, have empathy for and curiosity about all people, and possess an inquisitive disposition—which, essentially, makes them great Fulbright applicants.

Northwestern’s many strengths are amplified by our culture of collaboration; our research and learning culture is deeply multidisciplinary. In a world where the greatest innovations are produced by teams, not individuals, Northwestern faculty and students are prepared to engage across disciplines and with international partners. This makes them excellent candidates for Fulbright awards because they approach the opportunity already coming from a culture of collaboration across boundaries of all kinds.

 

What steps have you taken to promote a Fulbright culture on your campus?

We work to keep Fulbright in front of students year-round. We joke that it is “always Fulbright season,” but this is more than a little true. Beginning with the national deadline, we communicate directly with last cycle’s non-recommended applicants and those who began, but did not finish, the application. We see both cohorts as likely candidates for the next cycle. Further, those students who go through our application process are our best advertisement! Our process really gets underway in January with a series of informational meetings which then morph into application workshops in May and June (Northwestern operates on a quarter schedule). In addition to specific Fulbright-focused events, nearly every conversation with students or presentation about fellowships uses Fulbright as an example. During the summer, students work closely with a Fulbright Program Adviser, whom we assign. This close relationship is in addition to their departmental mentors and cements their engagement with our office and the Fulbright application process.

 

How has your institution benefited from increased engagement with the Fulbright Program?

Northwestern University has been a consistent Fulbright Top Producing Institution for over a decade. Thanks to this record, most students and their faculty mentors see Fulbright as an excellent opportunity to further their interests. We are blessed with a good word-of-mouth network, which encourages students to develop an international outlook early in their education. Fulbright is a well-established aspirational goal for our students, and they see that their chances of receiving an award is within their grasp. They begin on-campus research experiences and language study knowing that developing these skills will help them to extend their local goals onto a global stage.

 

How does your institution support faculty and administrators who apply to the Fulbright Program?

For administrators who wish to apply to the Fulbright Program, Northwestern’s Office of International Relations promotes the opportunity and provides editorial feedback to staff on their applications.

For faculty, we connect prospective applicants with colleagues who have had Fulbright awards or who have hosted Fulbright representatives on campus and facilitate faculty members’ efforts to bring colleagues with Fulbright grants to campus when possible.

Find out more information about the ways that Northwestern connects with the Fulbright Program here.

 

What advice do you have for other universities and colleges that want to increase the number of Fulbrighters produced by their institution?

Success with the Fulbright Program starts with an internationally focused institution and strong faculty support. While individuals working with Fulbright applicants might not be able to single-handedly internationalize their campus, they can help faculty see the value in this program and in global opportunities as a whole. Through advertising, individual meetings, group meetings, and conclaves with appropriate faculty, an adviser can facilitate that moment when a faculty member taps a student on the shoulder and says, “You know, you should apply for a Fulbright.”

U.S. Fulbright

Food and Spirit(s): Communicating in Switzerland

August 13, 2020

By Anna O. Giarratana, Fulbright U.S. Student to Switzerland

“Food is a universally vital part of our lives, representing history, traditions, and culture. Each of us relies on food not only to survive, but to comfort ourselves, communicate with others, and connect us to our forebears.”

—Sam Chapple-Sokol

When I started my Fulbright at the Zurich Center for Neuroeconomics in Switzerland, I was largely excited about the professional opportunity before me; I had just finished the PhD portion of my joint MD-PhD program, and I was joining a research lab on the forefront of conducting experiments in the nascent field of neuroeconomics. The field, studying how people make decisions, brings neuroscientists like me together with economists, computer scientists, and psychiatrists. In addition to my research, I was also eager to spend my weekends exploring my hobby interest, traditional food—in particular, traditional cured meat products. What I didn’t anticipate when I started my Fulbright was how important those culinary trips would be in giving me a sense of community within the country.

 

Enjoying saucisse aux choux in Orbe.

 

In my first few weeks, I researched online to identify fall festivals highlighting traditional Swiss cured meats. The last weekend in September, armed with Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) Transit and Google Maps, I set off to find the Fête de la Saucisse aux Choux à Orbe. After two hours of rail travel and walking, I found myself in the small hilltop town of Orbe, transported back centuries as I watched local artisans make the famous saucisse aux choux, a local sausage made with cabbage. My efforts to engage the local artisans in discussion about their process suffered an initial set-back when I tried speaking German, which I had studied in preparation for my move to Zurich. I was now in French Switzerland. Uh oh.

What are the French words for “What is this?” again? Luckily, in response to my blank stare, the artisans switched to German and then to Italian, and I was able to muddle through the exchange. I learned that day that the Swiss tend to be fluent in at least two of the national languages, in addition to English, inspiring me to dedicate myself more diligently to my language studies.

 

Learning to make kalbsbratwurst at Olma Messen.

 

In the following months, I explored Switzerland, a small country but one brimming with unique culinary traditions. I joined a wild food foraging group in Zurich, traveled to St. Gallen for the Olma Messen agricultural trade show; to Porrentruy for the “Feast and Market,” Fête et Marché de la St-Martin; to Chur for the fall exhibit, Guarda Herbstmesse;, to Bonvillars for the Marché aux Truffes; to Gruyères to the La Maison du Gruyère; to Lucerne for Käsefest; and to Ticino for its Stranociada carnival. And, along the way, I gained a greater understanding—through food—of Swiss history. I learned about the different cantons (member states) that make up Switzerland, the languages they speak, the traditions they practice, the products they create, and the values they hold.

 

View of Gruyères.

Vineyards at the Truffle Market in Bonvillars.

 

Most importantly, it was through these travels and my bumbling German/French/Italian questions that I made my best friends, both Swiss locals and other internationals like myself, over our shared love for food. We sustained these cross-cultural friendships by creating a rotating dinner group, where we took turns hosting and making our native food or traditional Swiss foods. I learned to make capuns and härdöpfel pizokel from the Graubünden region of Switzerland, enjoyed moqueca from Brazil, and taught others how to make my favorite Italian-American family recipe, potato gnocchi. We shared food, wine, and anecdotes from our time and travels, domestically and internationally. I heard firsthand about the importance of the direct democracy system in Switzerland, which results in voting on quarterly referendums. I learned more about life in India—its different regions, the way the university system works, and how highly valued a government job is. In China, the bestselling books placed in the entry display of bookstores are not works of fiction, but nonfiction books highlighting the value of self-improvement. I shared my experiences with healthcare in the United States: as a medical student, I have a vested interest in improving the U.S. healthcare system. I solicited opinions on what works and what doesn’t work, internationally. Beyond interacting with my local community, I have connected to a global audience by describing my Swiss food explorations on my personal blog and Instagram account “The Gastrochemist.” I have heard from homesick Swiss expats, as well as interested people around the world.

 

Homemade Swiss Capuns

 

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, this idea of a global community created and sustained through food has become even more vital. Serious conversations with my roommates about past crises they have lived through occurred over shared homemade wiener schnitzel. While I have been practicing social distancing, the internet has allowed me to learn about the comfort foods others are making in countries such as Italy, Singapore, and Australia. Meanwhile, I’m sharing some of my comfort food projects, most recently making homemade pasta with a rabbit sauce called tajarin al ragù di coniglio. I never could have predicted where I would be six months into my Fulbright: alone in a room with the internet, cooking just for myself, but sharing with the world. If this year has taught me anything, it’s that we’ll get through this together, with a little food and a lot of human spirit.

 

Anna O. Giarratana is an MD-PhD student at Rutgers University – Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. Originally from Franklin Lakes, NJ, she attended Bryn Mawr College where she majored in Chemistry and cultivated her love for global learning. She is passionate about interdisciplinary, multinational work – believing it to be the best way to tackle difficult problems. As a neuroscientist, she has contributed to the field with multiple publications in peer-reviewed journals and presentations at international conferences. For her Fulbright, she worked at the Zurich Center for Neuroeconomics, an innovative interdisciplinary center dedicated to understanding the cognitive process of decision-making.

U.S. Fulbright

How to Build a Fulbright Top-Producing Institution: Appalachian State University

May 15, 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What makes a “Fulbright Top-Producing Institution“? In the coming weeks, a variety of institutions will discuss their efforts to recruit, mentor, and encourage students and scholars to apply for the Fulbright U.S. Student and U.S. Scholar Programs. We hope these conversations pull back the curtain on the advising process, and provide potential applicants and university staff with the tools they need to start their Fulbright journey. 

By Joanie Andruss, assistant director, Nationally Competitive Scholarships at Appalachian State University

Question: Your outstanding students are one of many factors that led to this achievement. What makes your students such exceptional candidates for the Fulbright Program?

I’ve found that our students tend to seek out diverse combinations of academic, service, and leadership activities, which contribute to what makes them such exceptional candidates for the Fulbright Program. Caroline Webb, an English Teaching Assistant in Timor-Leste, embodies this. She majored in psychology, had a passion for American Sign Language, was highly involved in campus as a Student Leadership Consultant, collaborated with faculty on research, studied abroad, was a teaching assistant, played a range of Appalachian instruments, and was a member of an interdisciplinary living-learning community known as the Watauga Residential College. This list of noteworthy accomplishments isn’t unique only to Caroline, but represents the range of involvement that many of our students engage with on our campus.

 

What steps have you taken to promote a Fulbright culture on your campus?

Our campus’s involvement with the Fulbright Program includes sending U.S. Students, Scholars, and Teacher Exchange participants, as well as hosting visiting Scholars-In-Residence. In late 2017, a group of faculty, staff, and administrators convened to form a Fulbright Week planning committee. This first group set the tone for the following years, and Fulbright Week events have become a regular part of campus programming each spring. During our Fulbright Week, we host receptions celebrating past and prospective Fulbright Scholars and Students, and offer a series of programming and advising for applicants. This serves as a kick-off event for continued support throughout the application cycle and year for faculty, staff, and students.

Efforts in promoting a Fulbright culture on our campus have also been enhanced through involvement in the 2018–19 Fulbright Program Advisor Development Initiative. This two-part training provided an in-depth opportunity to develop a more nuanced understanding of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, further engage faculty, staff, and students across the multiple Program options, and offered additional opportunities to engage with Fulbright on our campus through outreach visits and faculty referrals to serve on National Screening Committee panels.

 

How has your institution benefited from increased engagement with the Fulbright Program?

Appalachian State University has had a successful history of engagement with the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program, being named a top producer in that category four times since 2010. Appalachian encourages and supports its faculty members in applying for Fulbright awards because the university’s leadership recognizes the benefits of the program. This engagement provides faculty the opportunity to share academic knowledge with colleagues and students in other countries and to bring new knowledge, global understanding, and connections back to our campus community.

More recently, our institution recognized the need to further support students in their own pursuits of nationally competitive awards. This resulted in the creation of the Office of Nationally Competitive Scholarships, which offers outreach, mentorship, and advising throughout the entire application and selection process for a range of competitive awards, including the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Within the first Fulbright application cycle after the creation of the office, we had four finalists, with three ultimately accepting the award for the 2019–20 grant year. This earned us the distinction of Top Producing Institution for Fulbright Student Programs.

From the student and applicant perspective, the process of applying for Fulbright U.S. Student awards has also had a significant impact on their connection with our institution and their preparation for their futures after graduation. A current Fulbright semi-finalist described that going through the application process gave her “even further appreciation for and faith in my alma mater.”

 

What advice do you have for other universities and colleges that want to increase the number of Fulbrighters produced by their institution?

My advice might be most relevant for universities and colleges with a small number of previous Fulbright U.S. Student recipients. These institutions therefore have limited examples of successful peers. Prior to the 2019–20 Fulbright year, only five Appalachian students had received a Fulbright award during the program’s history. So one of my challenges starting out was to encourage students to redefine what they thought Fulbright was and who it was for. I sought students who might not normally attend an information session, but could be great candidates for Fulbright if only they could start envisioning the program as a possible opportunity. I also worked to correct misperceptions of why we had so few prior recipients — not because our students weren’t competitive, but because they weren’t aware of the opportunities or didn’t have history with the award that other campuses might have. I tried to help applicants envision themselves as being part of a cohort that could change that reality and provide an inspiring model to those that would come after them.

Some concrete approaches include:
• Establishing an on-campus review process with earlier pre-application elements, such as a low stakes intent to apply “deadline” or first draft “deadline” that encouraged prospective applicants to move through each of the stages in smaller, more manageable pieces.
• Tracking students that either had indicated some initial interest in Fulbright or who had worked with me on other awards, such as the Gilman International Scholarship, and then targeting them specifically, saying I thought they could be a good candidate for Fulbright.
• Helping students examine which particular Fulbright award was the right fit for the right reasons.
• Developing an on-campus review process that emphasized a supportive experience for students with a diverse committee of faculty and staff, many of whom were prior Fulbright alumni themselves or perhaps future Fulbright U.S. Scholar applicants.
• Conducting post-application assessments to measure students’ perspectives on how the process impacted key learning outcomes, then communicating those outcomes to the next round of prospective applicants: “Yes, Fulbright is competitive, but this will be a valuable process regardless of the outcome.”

We now find ourselves being recognized as a Top Producing Institution for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. I attribute the work focusing on developing student self-efficacy in tandem with tangible advising practices and application procedures to have made a lasting impact. This all happened within a context of support from university leadership, a Nationally Competitive Scholarship Advisory Board, and an enthusiastic and engaged group of faculty, staff, and students campus-wide.

U.S. Fulbright

Educational Opportunities for Recently Returned Fulbrighters

May 4, 2020

By The Fulbright Program

Learning is a life-long pursuit, and life often presents individuals with unexpected challenges.

The Fulbright Program is pleased that, in response to the global pandemic, the U.S. higher education community is showing its support to Fulbrighters impacted by the global pandemic. We are grateful that a number of institutions have announced new benefits, including extending deadlines, waiving application fees, and offering financial assistance for recently returned Fulbrighters.

These benefits are meant to help Fulbright alumni continue their education and pursue their personal and professional goals. At the same time, Fulbrighters will enrich these institutions by bringing their curiosity and leadership skills to collaborate, engage, and build mutual understanding on campus and across the globe.

We’re proud to highlight the institutions which have special opportunities for returned Fulbright alumni. A current list of all participating institutions can be found here.

U.S. Fulbright

Celebrating the ADA’s 30th Anniversary: Q&A with Alumni Ambassador Alyssa Meyer

February 20, 2020

Thirty years ago, the United States became the first country in the world to adopt national civil rights legislation banning discrimination against disabled people. Since that time, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has had a profound impact both at home and abroad.

Last month, we launched our yearlong celebration of the ADA’s 30th anniversary, which will include profiles of Fulbright alumni with disabilities. This dynamic group of Fulbrighters will tell stories from their experiences abroad, offer advice to future applicants, and discuss Fulbright’s impact on their careers.

Today’s story comes from Fulbright alumna Alyssa Meyer, a 2012-2013 U.S. Student Researcher in Energy to the Kyrgyz Republic. Meyer spoke with Fulbright on her path to the program, her research, and navigating home and abroad with a disability.

Q&A with Alyssa Meyer

1. Tell us a little about your path to Fulbright. Who or what inspired you to apply?

The prospect of an opportunity like Fulbright had been on my mind for several years before I applied–largely because I wanted to seek out opportunities to use my language skills in native settings. My first exposure to Fulbright was through Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistants, who had come to the States to teach their native languages (Uzbek and Russian) at Michigan State University. My second encounter with Fulbright came the summer after my sophomore year, when I visited Berlin on my way home from a study abroad program in Turkey; there, while watching a soccer match, I met a Fulbrighter who had lost track of whether the announcer was speaking English or German. All I could think was, “Wow, I wish my language proficiency was that strong!”

The next summer, my resident adviser for a study abroad program in Tajikistan was yet another a Fulbrighter, and I was in awe of her ability to communicate in and navigate her host country. Given that I grew up in rural Northern Michigan, I can’t claim to have grown up with examples such as these, but I knew that I wanted to emulate them.

2. Tell us a little about your Fulbright research topic and project. What did a typical day as a Fulbrighter look like for you?

As a research grantee in energy to the Kyrgyz Republic, my project was focused on energy insecurity, and whether small-scale renewables could help bridge gaps in access to heat, electricity, and gas provision. My initial intent was to conduct a benefit-cost analysis in partnership with locals interested in community-level solutions to the country’s energy crisis.

I don’t think I had a typical day; I lived by a mantra to take in everything I could and talk to everyone I could–because I didn’t know whether ever get the same chances a second time. I spent five hours a week with a Russian tutor and interviewed researchers, policymakers, international organizations, and academics doing similar work. I also shared a two-bedroom apartment with a native Russian speaker from Turkmenistan, who remains one of my closest friends and travel partners to this day.

3. What advice would you give to current Fulbrighters in the field about how to get the most out of their Fulbright experience?

Be open to letting your work and your expectations of what you think you’ll accomplish evolve. For me, this happened in the most unexpected of ways: I became quite ill in the middle of my grant, and during a hospital stay, I began to see my own research from a new perspective. I don’t relay this story to wish that experience on anyone, but rather, to say that living in the very conditions I was researching taught me far more than working within a library ever could have.

Even before I got sick, I was vividly aware that my aforementioned benefit-cost analysis was far more complex than I had initially foreseen it to be. It wasn’t overly difficult for me to gain a picture of how many houses lost power in a given outage, but data as to how those outages impacted quality of life was much more complex to come by. And while I was by no means unaware of this, I was unwittingly smacked in the face with it when I experienced a power outage during a hospital visit. Even after I made a full recovery, I continued to be haunted by questions of what would have happened had I been on the operating table or on a ventilator during an outage. Eventually, this new question–the impacts of energy insecurity on quality of life–became not only the topic of my master’s thesis, but of a second grant application to return to the Kyrgyz Republic two years later.

Two years later, as a Boren fellow, the research became even more complex when I realized that what my household data was showing didn’t match the narrative being reported on the news and in political speeches. My point is: setting goals for what you’ll achieve during your Fulbright is an important piece of showing selection committees that you know what you’ll be doing when you land in your host country–but sometimes, it’s the detours you never anticipated that teach you the most.

4. What advice would you give future Fulbrighters on the application process?

Show a desire to engage with your local community. Fulbright isn’t looking for academics who never leave the ivory tower, they’re seeking applicants truly intent on promoting mutual understanding between their home and host countries. That means a willingness to engage with and challenge local stereotypes about you/your home country whenever possible, and to share those experiences when you return home.

5. What might an American/someone from your home country be surprised to hear about your host country/institution/state/etc.?

People often remark that I’ve become much more assertive after several years in the Kyrgyz Republic, but what they don’t understand is why that happened. Want to get off a bus in the Kyrgyz Republic? You’ll need to physically ask the driver to stop. Want to buy nearly anything? You’ll need to ask a seller to retrieve it for you from behind a counter or the inside of a glass case. Want to order or pay a bill in a restaurant? You’ll need to call to your waiter across a crowded restaurant. Want to receive standard medical care? You’ll need to go to a pharmacy and ask for the medicines and supplies you’ll need to purchase/bring with you, and if you can’t find something, you’ll also need to call the doctor to ask about acceptable substitutes.

My oddest “things I would have previously been terrified to do in my native language” story? Calling my veterinarian on her cell phone in the middle of the night to explain that my cat (also a Fulbright alumnus) had been vomiting and had pooped out a needle I wasn’t aware he’d swallowed. (He’s thankfully fine.)

6. What is your biggest takeaway from your Fulbright?

Few things make a person more self-aware than moving abroad alone. And for me, one of the things I’ve become most aware of by moving abroad is how often I’ve taken the Americans with Disabilities Act for granted in the United States. I have mild cerebral palsy, and–after five corrective surgeries–other than a small limp, it doesn’t drastically impact my quality of life…in the United States. I make this qualification because, while I do have worse-than-average balance going down stairs, I don’t often have to think about it in the U.S.–because of ADA requirements for railings on staircases.

Moving to Central Asia alone meant that I very quickly came to terms with the fact that I might fall going down stairs or a sidewalk in the winter (because ice isn’t cleared as readily as it is in the States). Indeed, my own struggles with uneven paths and railing-less staircases in Central Asia has shown me that I was to everything–from ATMs to pharmacies–being accessible via stairs. The years I spent in Central Asia have also shown me that people with disabilities are largely not visible within society–not because they are unable to participate, but rather, because life is just not structured in a means that is accessible for many of them.

This is a realization I do not take lightly. My life is not without its challenges and instances of outright ableism–including those who still challenge my ability to move abroad independently despite a track record of more than four years of working and researching independently in Central Asia. Nevertheless, had I not been born in the United States, it is not lost on me that I may not have been afforded the very opportunities for self-enrichment that have made me the public servant I am today.