Icela Quintero, 2014-2016, Panama, working at the Panama Canal as a vessel enters the Upper Chamber of the Cocolí Locks, in southbound transit (Atlantic Ocean-Gatun Lake-Pacific Ocean)
Since November 2016, I have been part of the group of engineers that oversees the control systems for the new locks of the Panama Canal. It is my dream job, and a position I would not have were it not for the Fulbright Foreign Student Program. As a Panamanian, working at the Panama Canal is a responsibility, our pride and joy, and lifeblood of our country. The Panama Canal is an integral part of our history and future, and it is our duty to keep it operative. I don’t do my job for myself, but for every Panamanian. I am reminded of this key motto I now live by daily, one which the Fulbright Program cemented in me. We are to be elements of change, and as long as I am in a position to do so, I will.
I never expected to become a Fulbrighter, but life takes us on mysterious paths. I became one in a most unexpected way. I was traveling in Europe with a group of 52 Latin American students. Among them were two future Fulbrighters; one Mexican and one Uruguayan. At that point, I realized I wanted to do more for my country, and my traveling companions explained how the Fulbright Program would give me the opportunity to do so. What I did not know was that participating in Fulbright would change my life in more ways than I ever imagined.
In front of the Brandenburg Gate, the famous sign warns that one is about to leave West Berlin. Photo credit: Jeffrey A. VanDreal
Jeff VanDreal has spent the last 30 years as an American diplomat, representing the United States overseas on four continents and managing some of the largest U.S. diplomatic missions in the world. Before joining the U.S. Foreign Service, he studied in Berlin in 1986-1987 as a Fulbright U.S. Student to West Germany. He’s back in Germany now, this time as the Minister-Counselor for Management Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin.
We recently interviewed VanDreal to learn more about his experience in Berlin prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and to ask how his Fulbright experience prepared him for a global career in American diplomacy.
How did you originally hear about the Fulbright Program, and who/what inspired you to apply?
I had known, vaguely, about the Fulbright Program since high school, as I had always been interested in student exchange programs. It never occurred to me to actually apply, however, until a colleague of mine at St. Antony’s College in Oxford, UK, successfully applied for a grant. As I was finishing my master’s degree in International Relations, I had applied to the Foreign Service but wished to extend my studies for one more year. The Fulbright Program provided the perfect vehicle for doing so.
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.
From left to right, back row: Mia Warren, Shondrea McCargo, David Bernstein, Benjamin Simington, Aaron Sayama, Lyuba Basin, Ben Cohn, Ryan Bell, Gwyneth Talley; front row, left to right: Mia Warren, Tanisha Williams, M Jackson, Samantha Costello, Shayak Sengupta, History Estill-Varner, Lin Shi and Katlin Kraska (Not pictured: Sarah Lightfoot-Vidal, Michael Verlezza and Yuriy Veytskin); Photo courtesy of Lee Rivers Photography
On Thursday, February 9, 2017, 19 newly selected Fulbright U.S. Student Program Alumni Ambassadors met in Washington, DC to receive training on how to promote and recruit for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Staff members from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) and the Institute of International Education (IIE), along with previous Fulbright Alumni Ambassadors, shared tips on effectively presenting the impact, innovativeness, and inclusiveness of Fulbright Program opportunities. The orientation workshop emphasized the unique and important role that Fulbright Alumni Ambassadors play in inspiring a diverse range of students, artists, and early career professionals – as well as the Fulbright Program Advisers and college administrators who support them – to learn more about the Fulbright Program and the power of educational and cultural exchange.
The Fulbright U.S. Student Alumni Ambassador Program was established in 2008 to identify, train and engage a select group of approximately 15-20 Fulbright U.S. Student Program alumni to serve as representatives, recruiters and spokespersons for the Fulbright Program. They are selected annually through recommendations from Fulbright Commissions, U.S. Embassy staff, area managers, and the Fulbright Student Program Outreach Division, and approved by the Fulbright Program’s sponsor, ECA. Fulbright Alumni Ambassadors come from an array of different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, states, fields of study, and institutions and have participated in the Fulbright U.S. Student Program in all world areas.
To learn more about the Fulbright Alumni Ambassador Program, please click here.
David J. Smith, 2003-2004, Fulbright U.S. Scholar to Estonia (right), with his family
I have come to believe that, like the fermenting of a fine wine, a Fulbright opportunity, to be fully appreciated, needs to be considered years after the experience. There is much enthusiasm when one comes back from their time overseas about how one might make a difference in their community. But, I think there is value in looking back years after an experience and taking stock of the difference one has made.
I served as a Fulbright U.S. Scholar in 2003 and taught peace studies at the University of Tartu in Estonia. At the time I was teaching in a community college, as such I represented a minority of scholars. Community colleges have been historically under represented in the program.
Now thirteen years later, I feel I have done justice to the privilege that a Fulbright offered me. I took to heart Senator Fulbright’s goal that an exchange program could make significant impact in promoting world peace. Upon returning to the United States, I dedicated my career to the work of world peace: promoting conflict resolution, peacebuilding, and global education at the U.S. Institute of Peace, teaching in higher education, starting an NGO dedicated to humanitarian training, and working as a consultant.