Tanisha Williams, 2015-2016, South Africa, at Boulders Beach visiting the iconic beach penguins
Welcome to the Mother City. These are the first words you read walking out of the airport in Cape Town, South Africa. No one could have prepared me for that feeling, stepping onto the soil of the Motherland for the first time. My emotions were complex and overwhelming, but the feeling of excitement and sense of belonging stood out.
My Fulbright grant was two-fold, conducting research for my doctoral dissertation and giving back through outreach and other STEM-based initiatives. I spent my Fulbright year researching the impacts of climate change on indigenous flora throughout South Africa. The first half of my research was used to collect seed and propagate over 1,500 Pelargoniums, a highly-diverse genus of flowering plants, at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (Wellington, Bellville and Cape Town campuses). These plants are now growing in reciprocal transplant gardens at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden in Cape Town, Western Cape and at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape. Growth and development data will help me understand the effects of genetics, the environment, and the interaction between these two processes that aid in Pelargonium adaptation to different environments. Understanding plant adaptations to their environment sheds light on how plants will respond to the unprecedented rates of climate change.
Darriel McBride, 2017-2018, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to South Africa
My name is Darriel McBride, and I am the fifth of six children. I am the youngest girl and the first in my family to attend college. I was raised by a single mother and welfare recipient battling chronic anemia and kidney disease. My father is a heroin addict who has been absent for the majority of my life. I grew up in the South Bronx, one of the most underfunded and under-resourced districts in the United States. Growing up, I was exposed to an environment plagued by crime, violence, and drugs, all of which had the ability to hinder my chances of success.
College had never crossed my mind as I progressed throughout my early years of high school. I knew I could never afford the tuition, which meant that my chances of earning a degree were slim. Yet, I came across an opportunity during my senior year of high school that would change my life forever: I was awarded a scholarship through the Gates Millennium Scholars Program, funded by Bill and Melinda Gates. This scholarship would cover any unmet need for my undergraduate, master’s degree, and doctoral studies. If it were not for the Gates Millennium Scholarship, I would never have been exposed to the kind of opportunities that I was able to take advantage of while in college. In August of 2013, I was accepted into Marist College as a recipient of the Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program, a partnership between the State of New York and its independent colleges which provides economically and educationally disadvantaged residents the possibility of a college education.
Mathieu S. Davis, 2013-2014, South Africa (center), with his Grade R class at Ikaya Primary School in the township of Kayamandi, just outside of Stellenbosch. Every Friday, he would meet with these children to teach them English and play games in collaboration with their classroom teacher. In return, they taught Mathieu Xhosa. Whether it was ‘1-2-3 Red Light’, ‘Duck-Duck-Goose’ or a chaotic game of football (soccer), a great time learning and playing together was had by all.
My Fulbright in Stellenbosch, South Africa, was divided into two primary areas: research and community outreach. The research portion of my fellowship focused on knee replacement implants and the different tribological properties of current materials used in these devices. For this project, I had to build a device that functioned as a pin-on-plate wear tester, which would generate particles over the course of time that could be measured using simple distillation techniques to determine the degree of wear particles produced. My research aimed to determine the most effective combination of materials to limit debris and particle accumulation during extensive wear testing. I also performed additional research in gait analysis as a means of biometric identification. For this project, I had to come up with a novel statistical and repeatable method that could determine through statistical principles, the likelihood that two gait profiles are similar or different. This expertise was utilized by the South African Police Department as a potential identification tool of a crime suspect.
Thalia Patrinos, 2015-2016, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to South Africa, with her incredibly entertaining Circle of Life team leaders, including Duncan, Mishka, Pieter, and Danny
By day, I am a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant at Paterson High School in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
By night, I am a hula hoop teacher, circus performer, and fire dancer.
My hobbies may seem eccentric, but they offer opportunities for endless exploration, healthy exercise, and incredible cultural connections with students and audience members.
I began the journey into circus arts during my first year of college six years ago, and I have never looked back. My side career in the teaching and performance of fire and flow arts have taken me to festivals in Hungary, theaters in New York City, and classrooms here in South Africa.
We all need a little bit of playtime in our lives, whether we are children or adults. We need to be encouraged to have fun, let loose, and get lost in something, and all it takes is something as simple as a hula hoop to get us there sometimes.
Samantha Kay Kobs. 2014-2015, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to South Africa, works with students in an after school English club that she and Fulbright partner Meia Geddes created at their school in Bloemfontein, South Africa. These games, provided by the Office of English Language Programs, help students improve their English speaking skills by prompting them to answer a variety of questions about themselves and the world around them (Photo Credit: Meia Geddes, 2015 Fulbright English Teaching Assistant placed here with me in Bloemfontein, South Africa).
The bell rings. Moments later, I hear the shuffling of 1,300 pairs of shoes as I brace myself for yet another lunch break spent working in the library; our library—the one at Dr. Blok Secondary School in Bloemfontein, South Africa. The one that my Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) partner and I just reopened after six years of being locked up behind giant iron bars.
As a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in South Africa, I’ve had many responsibilities: helping teachers, creating after school clubs, and reaching out to businesses for sponsorships. I’ve also spent plenty of time reestablishing the school library that was seemingly forgotten. Abandoned. Thousands of books—mostly outdated, torn covers, and enough dust to cause some serious asthma attacks—had to be cleaned and organized in a logical manner. Then came teaching my students the absolute basics of library etiquette. This has been exasperating to say the least, but I often remind myself that my students do not mean to disorganize with their frantic book grabbing—they are simply enjoying the privileges of a library for the first time in their lives. Challenges aside, I love what I do, but sometimes it’s difficult to see the impact that you’re having when you’re so caught up in the busyness of it all.
Kimberly Burge, 2009-2010, South Africa (second from right), with some of the “Born Frees,” giving a public reading at the writing club they formed in Gugulethu, South Africa
To me, writing is me.
It is me listening
To what I have to say,
To what I want to say,
To what my heart says.
– Gugu, age 16
I was not your typical Fulbrighter. I came to the program at the age of 40, after building a career in nonprofit communications, which had taken me to Africa for the first time in 2002 on a three-week trip that flew by. I fell in love with the places I visited, especially with South Africa. Years earlier, the country had played a pivotal role in educating me about social justice and activism through South Africa’s struggle against apartheid (its state-sanctioned racial segregation). While working, I also attended graduate school part-time, earning a master of fine arts in nonfiction writing. As I finished my degree, I wanted a new challenge, time to devote to writing in my own voice, maybe a chance to live abroad. A friend had just received a Fulbright Study/Research grant to translate poetry in Lithuania. I began to explore the program’s options.
It dawned on me then: Bold moves are not limited to one’s twenties.