I chose Fulbright because I needed a breather after finishing 3 years in an intense high school following graduation. I needed to step back and reevaluate if the education field was right for me. Fulbright allowed me the ability to stay in education in a different (less intense, but equally fulfilling) context.
When I first got to my location, I rolled over in bed in the hotel where we were having orientation and looked out at the beautiful mountains and chaotic city of Bogota. All I could think was “what have I done?” Then I remembered all of the time and effort that Ryan, Donald, and I had put into getting me to that (very overwhelming) moment and buckled up for the ride.
I brought as little as possible with me. This included very few comforts of home. Luckily, being in Colombia, I was able to travel to the States for the holidays. When I came back, I made sure to bring the teddy bear that I thought I didn’t need anymore and pictures of my family and friends.
The trip to get here gave me anxiety for months beforehand. I was so worried about what to bring, where I’d live, and how my Spanish would hold up that I forgot to be excited. Following orientation, I moved to Rionegro, Antioquia, about an hour from Medellin. The transition to living in a small, Colombian town was more difficult than I imagined. I felt simultaneously overwhelmed by attention and incredibly isolated.
Something I had never done before was backpack by myself for an extended period of time. I took the opportunity over vacations to travel around Colombia, stay in hostels, and meet people from many of the distinct regions that make up the country. It was an experience that really gave me the confidence to come back to Rionegro and embrace the rest of my grant period to the fullest.
I was surprised by how difficult it was to adapt to the dialect of Spanish in Antioquia. “Paisa” Spanish is completely different than the Spanish I was accustomed to after studying abroad in Argentina and Peru.
I love the people of Antioquia. Colombians are immeasurably kind. The pride they feel in their country is immense and few things are more admirable than the resilience they have demonstrated during such a prolonged internal conflict.
When I am teaching, I have so much fun with my students. I work with students who are studying to become foreign language teachers. They impress me everyday. My university has given me a lot of autonomy in how I teach. They have given me professional opportunities that also extend outside of the classroom and align with my ultimate career goals.
At the end of each day, I sit on my balcony and watch people walking home, children playing, and the occasional cow or goat escaping. It gives me an opportunity to really absorb both how different and how similar the culture is to that of the United States.
When I tell others about my Fulbright experience so far it is difficult to encompass. I’ve spent the night in a church rectory, gotten stitches in a Colombian hospital, had beer in the presence of a nun, and been dropped off on the side of the highway after dark. Every day is so completely foreign and totally normal.
I want to tell a Smithie thinking about applying for a Fulbright to do it (or do it again if you are like me), but be intentional. I was rejected for a Fulbright my senior year at Smith. I applied because I was still on such a high from my Junior year abroad that I wanted to go back and have that same experience again. I was ashamed at the time because I felt I wasn’t the caliber of applicant that the Fulbright commission wanted. Looking back, I am glad that I had the opportunity to go back and apply again after spending some time reflecting on what I needed and wanted out of my Fulbright experience.
I want to tell a Smithie who has been accepted for a Fulbright that the expectations you have for your experience will probably be completely wrong and the reality will be completely outside of what you can imagine right now. My time has been nothing I thought it would be but everything that I’ve needed it to be.