Emily Clark ’15 from Trinidad and Tobago

I chose Fulbright because it is a prestigious program! It sounds a little shallow but I knew that if I got a Fulbright it would look really go on my resume and help me discover myself. The program has made such a name for itself that I also felt that if I got one it would be one of the best experiences of my life. Maybe not the easiest journey I will take, but definitely one of the most memorable, the most testing, the most intriguing.

I brought _____ with me . . . Candy! I wasn’t sure what would be available to me in Trinidad food-wise until I got there and actually went into a store, so I brought with me some candy from home that I knew would ease my transition a little. I got the idea from someone I know who visited Sri Lanka for a few months and it really appealed to me (for obvious reasons!). Even though I can get Twizzlers and caramel chews here in Trinidad it was definitely a comfort to have them stockpiled in my room! That is, until I ate them all! #sorrynotsorry

The trip to get here was exhausting! I flew out of Portland, Maine and left my family behind in the airport, stayed at a hotel in Philly, flew out to Miami the next morning, and then finished my last leg to Trinidad that afternoon. Depending on how well you travel it can be very stressful, and not just because of the long flights and the absurdly annoying layovers. Leaving everything you know behind you on that tarmac can be more that you’ve anticipated. Let yourself breathe. Let yourself take it in.

Something I have never done before is spent so much time away from home. Smith was just a 5 hour drive from home for me, so I was able to visit home every couple of months. Just thinking about being away from home, away from my friends and family, away from the familiar for so long was really intimidating. So far I have been okay! Make sure to connect with your loved ones, especially in the beginning. It can be very lonely to just be dropped off at your new home and be expected to just start anew, so let them help you.

I was surprised by how resilient I am. I was unsure of how I would adjust here in Trinidad. I was always someone that thrived off adversity and stress but I was worried I might crumble under the pressure of being abroad by myself in a new country without a day-to-day support system that was familiar to me. The key was creating that support system again, tailoring it to my needs here. I didn’t get to leave all of my problems at the airport and start with a clean slate, but I was at least able to consolidate what was important and set it to the side to make room for my new life in Trinidad.

I love my new friendships here. I was worried I might not make many friends or very few, and though I don’t have bushels and bushels they are enough. They listen to my troubles, console me, make me laugh, take me dancing when I need a break, and would be there in a split second if I needed them.

When I am doing my research I feel empowered. My research is really about empowering the fishing communities of Trinidad, but when I talk to them and hear their stories it always leaves me feeling fulfilled and ready for the next day.

At the end of each day I give myself some “me time”. Becoming immersed in your new country’s culture is really important, but giving yourself some time every day to do something that makes you feel at home is just as essential. It grounds me, keeps me focused on my goals, and constantly gives me a chance to actively think about why I’m here, what I’m doing with my life here, and what I want to make of my adventure.

When I tell others about my Fulbright experience so far is the reality of its hardship. When I talk to my friends at home I find myself mostly talking about how much I miss them, when I am coming back home, and some of the more extreme experiences I have had here in Trinidad. But I think it’s the newness of it all. I have been here for almost 3 months so far and I am still allowing it all to sink in. Now that my adjustment period is over and Trinidad feels more normal, more like home, I find myself telling them less of the everyday annoyances and more of the simple pleasures I enjoy: My walks to work in the morning, my late night talking with friends, the silly gossip in my office, my goofy friends. Having my loved ones there to listen to my initial troubles has made it easier to deal with them myself, and for that I am grateful.

I want to tell a Smithie thinking about applying for a Fulbright  It’s hard. Like, really hard. But for all of the hard work, blood, sweat, tears, and brutal swearing that went into my application, it was worth it. Getting my acceptance email late in the afternoon one day in January I had a moment of complete bliss. I had done it, I had slain the beast. And then it hit me, I actually had to do it now. I actually had to make the plans, buy my tickets, go to my orientation (which made me even more terrified!), get on the plane, and begin my journey. Talking about my research on paper in my application was one thing, but going out and doing it is something completely different. You can’t just “talk the talk” or even “walk the walk”. You have to strut. But don’t let that deter you from apply. This experience has helped me to find myself, to confirm my abilities, to perfect my strut.

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Elena Farrar ’10 from Malawi

I went on a site visit on Wednesday. It was organized by Save the Children. It was one of the most special experiences in Malawi thus far. My first visit out to a rural village.

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Children at St. Agnes Primary School doing “buddy reading” before the Boost Literacy Session, an after school program supported by USAID and Save the Children.

Beforehand, I was not editing a briefer to go on a site visit, I wasn’t calling up the Malawi desk officer asking if the literacy stats in the briefer were the most up-to-date. Instead, when we pulled into the village, there was a group of local woman singing and dancing in the local language welcoming me. It was infectious, I was taken aback and to be frank, I was totally out of my element. I must have been grinning from ear to ear because the Malawian women who worked at Save the Children kept asking me if I was excited to be there, which of course I was elated.

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The classroom is essentially a thatched hut with pictures and letters the kids have drawn on cardboard with charcoal ink.

I watched the teacher give a lesson to the first through fourth graders on a book about a hippo (mvu in chichewa). I then led a discussion session with parents and community leaders (many of whom are illiterate) on how they are supporting education. They showed me how they make ink (out of ground up charcoal, sugar and water) and various other materials for the kids to practice reading and writing.

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I’m now a month in and I’m reading a lot and trying to figure out how to hone my research question. I’m spending a lot of time at home, just parsing through articles. Asking myself: How can I glean the most from my interviews, what should my questions be and how should they be worded?

I’m still also at the stage where I’m figuring out how I can make the most of this experience. I want to travel and see the country as well. I recognize it’s important that I make time for that too.

It’s really nice that out here I can learn just for the sake of learning. There’s no pressure of assignments or deadlines. It’s really a beautiful thing to have time for soaking things in and digesting. This has really been invaluable. A part of me still can’t believe that I’m here in Malawi conducting research. It’s a little surreal.

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The Malawi countryside.

I have to say, spending time here and reading about development has really made me question the work that we do and why we do it. In a place like Malawi aid doesn’t seem to make much of a difference. Even educated people are disempowered and from my vantage point, I’m not sure that infiltrating society here with Western ideals/money has done people here much good. Lack of human rights, specifically gender rights (child marriage, birth control), lack of education and civil society will keep Malawi poor, but from what I’ve seen there’s little initiative from Malawians to see these things change. Nearly all initiatives for economic and societal change are donor lead, and therefore, unsustainable.

The living situation is great. My roommate and I take turns cooking and we have regular guests. She’s hugely social and often hosting most of the various events in town like environmental club, book club etc., so we’re a great pair. She faces her own set of challenges working at the metal hospital (she’s a doctor). Despite living, working, and teaching here for two years, most of the staff undermines her, or doesn’t take her seriously likely because she’s a woman. This is obviously frustrating for her. She’s also often working with old equipment and medication shortage – sometimes she doesn’t have either.

I’m certainly trying to keep a free write journal going. However, most of the time, I find that my experiences come out best when I’m sharing them with others, and not just myself. I’m most looking forward to interviewing the kids, teachers and parents one-on-one. I’ll be doing that in the upcoming weeks.

Alexandra Page ’12 from Mexico

Alexandra Page '12, Mexico 1I felt lucky enough to be accepted as a Fulbright Fellow, but to be welcomed and oriented to Mexico in the fashion we were received in Mexico City was very special. I was inspired and enthralled by hearing from and meeting the 86 other Fulbright student and fellow researchers, student and fellow teachers, and binational business program participants during our 4-day orientation. We got to see many cultural sites like Teotihuacan (the pyramid of the sun and moon) and el Palacio Nacional; and we even attended a special cocktail event at the residence of US Ambassador Anthony Wayne!Alexandra Page '12, Mexico 2

I also feel fortunate to have found a Fulbright affiliate who has set me up with everything I need in the form of housing, but more importantly in the lab, by connecting me with expects at CICIMAR, the marine science graduate institution where I am researching. In consulting with other faculty, and auditing a stable isotopes course (the field of my research) I have gained much knowledge already, but I also have been able to contribute knowledge from my research experiences and degree in chemistry to my academic affiliate and others working in my lab. I am currently doing methodology research and experiments regarding how I will be chemically treating my Blue Marlin fin spine samples, so that they can be analyzed for stable isotopes. With those results I hope to publish in a marine science journal.

In addition to the lab work I am doing, my affiliate has included me in field research opportunities, which are important experiences to have. I was at sea for 10 days on a research cruise where we were tagging Mahi Mahi (Dorado), and the Monterrey Bay Aquarium was also on the cruise collecting fish for their exhibits. With that experience I did my first deep-sea fishing, and caught my first tuna (and they made me eat its heart)! I also had an opportunity to help another faculty with Dorado and Striped Marlin tissue sampling in Cabo San Lucas (not far from La Paz).

My life in La Paz, Baja California Sur is distinctly different from those who are living in Mexico City or other parts of mainland Mexico. The culture here is going to the beach, spearfishing, going off-roading with dune buggies, SCUBA diving and camping in the desert among other outdoor activities. So I have taken it upon myself to have the most diverse experience I can, and get to know as many parts of Mexico as I can, following Fulbright Mexico mission to be cultural ambassadors.

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Two weeks ago, a group of Fulbrighters got together and attended Cervantino, a 40 year-old music, culture, and arts festival in Guanajuato. The city has cultural significance apart from this famous festival for being the site of the first rebellions against colonial rule. We saw incredible performances from jazz quartets to acrobatics. The city was gorgeous to walk around its cobblestone streets lined with brightly painted houses, and see the sculptures and fountains hiding around the corners of the winding hilly streets.

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This past weekend more Fulbrighters and I traveled to Morelia to observe a traditional celebration of Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), and then to participate in the 10th International Morelia Film Festival. We were able to see the traditional altars in Patzcuaro (a nearby town), and the more contemporary festivities in Morelia with lots of paper mache skeletons and decorations. The film festival was an exciting atmosphere. It was particularly special to see the films in the various Mexican competition classes. Some screenings even had question and answer sessions after with the directors, actors and crew.

It’s clear that the Fulbright not only opens doors academically, but the connections made within the group of grantees only makes the link to Mexico stronger, and the experience more meaningful.

Pepper Neff ’14 from Turkey

Hello! This is Pepper writing from the end of my year in Turkey! My city is called Elaziğ (pronounced Ela-zuh), in the south-eastern part of the country. I have been teaching a mix of grammar and speaking classes to mostly engineering students in their first year of university. A foreigner is a kind of rarity in the city, which has been a sometimes humorous and sometimes difficult experience. But the incredible moments have made it entirely worth every difficulty. So I present, Elaziğ!:

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The view from my office.

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The nearby town Sivrice and lake Hazar.

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A stroll up to our local Seljuk castle (called the “milk castle” because they supposedly ran out of water for mortar during the construction and had to use milk).

I have been able both to travel within my region of Turkey, and in other regions. I went to Gaziantep a month or so ago, which is a large city relatively close to me (5-6 hours by bus). It’s a very cool city, and I almost heard as much Arabic spoken as Turkish. I visited an old Armenian church-turned-mosque, which for years was in ruins but is now being renovated.

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View of Antep from the roof.

I’ve also been able to see Istanbul a number of times. Last fall, I went to the Istanbul Marathon. Although I didn’t run in the marathon, the bridge over the Bosphorus was closed to traffic and open to pedestrians for one day – giving us the opportunity to walk from the Asian to the European continent.

Well, that’s a taste of my experience here. And if it isn’t enough of a taste, here’s a photo of Turkish breakfast I had together with another Fulbrighter – Sabeen Ahmed (who took the photo). It’s been a wonderful and challenging year. I’m so grateful to have been giving this opportunity. And my Turkish isn’t half bad 7 months later 😉 So görüşürüz for now!unnamed-8