Jordan Dubin ’15 From Argentina

I chose Fulbright because living in Argentina was something I always have wanted to do!

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When I got to my location, I was surprised and excited about the natural beauty of the mountains and coast.

I brought all of my SoulCycle apparel with me of course to use for spinning, running, and tango lessons.

The trip to get here was very expedited.  With the Argentine school year beginning in March, I needed to purchase my plane ticket within 2 weeks.

Something I have never done before is try Fuengian lamb and mate.

I was surprised by how popular and often Argentine slang is used.

I love living so close to the mountains.

When I am teaching, I can’t stop laughing and smiling.

At the end of each day, I think back to receiving the phone call letting me know that I was awarded a Fulbright grant.

When I tell others about my Fulbright experience, everyone is amazed at what I am doing both in the classroom and in the outdoors.

I want to tell a Smithie thinking about applying for a Fulbright: Not to be scared or intimidated by the application process because it has been such a rewarding experience thus far!

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McClain Musson ’12 from Colombia

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.

IMG_0910.jpgWhen 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Amirah Nelson ’10 from Indonesia

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We asked Amirah to answer a few questions about her Fulbright experience in Indonesia:

Amirah: My name is Amira Nelson. I’m originally from Champaign–Urbana, Illinois. I was Smith class of 2010, who opted for an ETA to Indonesia in 2012-13. Indonesia is a country where a limited number of ETA’s can apply for the second year. I was one of 3 ETA’s to do the second year 2013-14, and now I work at a mid-size, non-profit in Washington, DC. We manage a portfolio of US aid and State Department grants. I worked on two USAID scholarship programs for Malawi graduate students and Palestinian graduate students.

FellowSmithie: That’s amazing! What surprised you about yourself while you were away?

Amirah: I have always been the kind of person who can put up with a lot of suffering. While at Smith I practiced patience, but being in Indonesia taught me just how resilient I was. I lived in two different places while in Indonesia, one of which was an island of about 50,000 – 100,000 people. It was majority Muslim, pretty conservative. Then, for the next year, I moved to a city of about 200,000 people that was majority Christian and on the other side of the country. I surprised myself with my flexibility and resiliency. Fulbright definitely solidified the formative experience that started when I came to college.

FellowSmithie: What one thing prepared you the most for the Fulbright?

Amirah: It was the fact that I came to Smith on a grant, and some of those grants allowed me study abroad. I studied abroad in Australia for 11 months at the University of Melbourne. This would not have been possible without Smith’s financial support. While in Australia, I studied Indonesian. That was really the number one thing that prepared me. I was one of fifty English teaching assistants, and only a small handful had Indonesian language skills, because Indonesia does not require you to know Bahasa Indonesia to apply for the Fulbright. That put me at a competitive edge. But in terms of my experience there, I was better able to communicate with people. I had a better idea what was going on and I really helped me hit the ground running.

FellowSmithie: What did you learn about yourself during the application process at Smith? What was the most challenging part? What was the most rewarding part?

Amirah: Completing it. I applied for college and had to write applications, but I didn’t like it. What I wrote in my college application was probably okay…Smith accepted me after all! But working with the Fellowships Program (and working with Don Andrew) meant I had to respond in multiple drafts to essay prompts and re-examine, re-vision what I was trying to say. I looked closely at my personal story in order to write the Personal Statement. That was something I had never done before. Even in all the time I was at Smith, writing many, many college essays, I hadn’t written essays about myself or about my ambitions and plans for the future. Being able to complete that final project, turn it in and actually be accepted by Fulbright was the most satisfying part. It sounds silly–‘completing the application.’

Also, applying for a Fulbright forced me out of my comfort zone in terms of asking professors for advice. I asked 10 professors to read rough drafts of my application or provide feedback about plans for my side project or write recommendations for me. It was really a collaborative effort. It showed me how many people at Smith were here to support me.

FellowSmithie: What did you take away from your experience in Indonesia? 

Amirah: Two year years in Indonesia taught me to see a society where people work together to achieve the small tasks of daily life. It sounds corny, but it was really, really touching. In Indonesia, there’s this concept of a collaborative struggle to complete a goal–for example, I saw a person collecting money from the community because another person was sick in the hospital and needed help to pay the bills. Another time, a road had been washed out and the village got together to help rebuild it. Or, the time when everybody got together to set up a wedding venue in a backyard. People there are immensely gracious and kind. I can’t count the number of times I was given a ride by a stranger. Or, when I was given food by someone; it was their lunch but they told me, ‘here, you have it, just because you’re here.’

FellowSmithie: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Amirah: Doing the Fulbright gave me real life experiences to fuel a passion, to pursue national development or international academic exchange. I majored in Econ and thought I wanted to work in sports economics. I had taken all these sports econ classes but I didn’t want to go to grad school for economics, although I thought maybe something with sports. I then started to get interested in antitrust law. I wanted to be a lawyer. I took a job as a paralegal and didn’t like that for a variety of reasons.

Then I decided to apply for a Fulbright. I thought, ‘I am going to bite the bullet and am going to commit to doing this application. If I get in, I get in. If I don’t get in, I don’t get in.’ I did a total 180. I then minored in Third World Development Studies. Being in Indonesia and seeing NGOs working on the ground and hearing about the problems that happened when development is done incorrectly from the people those projects were supposed to help gave me the fuel to claw my way into an international development non-profit.

Right now I work in an exchange arm of development–this just means people come here to be educated or trained or they go to third-world countries to be educated or trained. Education is really transformative. I would love to go into the field and implement the project myself, but in order for this change to be sustainable, it needs to be done by people from that country. This is my way of giving back and facilitating the training people need to make change in their own country. I like that for now.

FellowSmithie: Last question: how would you encourage a current applicant to stay on track?

Amirah: What worked for me was just to inform everybody–especially professors–that I was applying for a Fulbright, that I was doing this application. I reached out to a lot of professors for help, and they were more than willing to help me, which was amazing. But this also gave me the psychological push that I really needed to complete the application, because it was a collaborative effort. So many people helped me, and there was no way I was going to quit. That’s my tip: just involve as many people as possible!

Amelia Burke’15 from Morocco

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I chose Fulbright because I relished the chance to do research I was passionate about in a place I loved.

 When I got to my location, I first took some time to get lost in my city.

 I brought good walking shoes with me 

 The trip to get here was surreal.

 Something I have never done before is undertake independent fieldwork.

 I was surprised by the amount of support from our Fulbright commission.

 I love the freedom I have to define my project.

 When I am doing my research I am always looking for connections to other disciplines and communities and noting potential implications.

 I want to tell a Smithie thinking about applying for a Fulbright it’s worth it.

Afreen Seher’15 from Malaysia

I chose Fulbright because I was a confused theater major and I didn’t want to just look for a 9-5 job which I wasn’t passionate about. I also did not want to work in a very familiar country or town. I was constantly encouraged by the Fulbright Fellowships office to apply and met with the fellowship advisers my first year.

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When I got to my location, I first was met by Fulbright MACEE staff and received a warm welcome at the airport even before immigration! I then proceeded to Orientation organized at Kuala Lumpur.

I brought American postcards for cultural exchange, lots of sunscreen, pack of cards, board games, and gifts for my community members with me.

In preparation for my trip I communicated at the Facebook forum created for past and present Fulbrighters and kept in touch with my MACEE (Malaysian American Commission for Educational Exchange). I also made a packing list of things I would need.

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 Something I have never done before is Eaten Malaysia’s national dish–
NASI LEMAK!

 I was surprised by how warm the weather is all year round! 90 degrees !!

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I love coconut water and coconut ice cream yummm

When I am teaching I try to warm up the class by playing name games and ice breakers.

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At the end of each day I am so tired that I need to unwind and treat myself to ice chai (Teh Tarray)

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When I tell others about my Fulbright experience so far it has been an amazing experience to come to such a diverse nation in East Asia!

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I want to tell a Smithie thinking about applying for a Fulbright: Definitely do it! And start early, you are in the best hands at Smith Fellowship Office with Ryan and Don Andrew!

Caitlin Jordan AC ’13 from Indonesia

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I chose Fulbright because I knew that I wanted to gain more experience living and working outside of the U.S. to prepare for a future in international relations. I also wanted to know what it was like to be a teacher and to learn about school systems in other countries that I could share that knowledge. Furthermore, I didn’t want to commit to a long length of time abroad – like 2 years of Peace Corps – at the time that I applied to Fulbright.

When I got to my location, I first unpacked and organized my new room! I always like to spend a few hours upon arrival to a new place doing these things because it helps me to wind down after traveling and create a space that is truly ‘mine’ to come back to right away.
When things are everywhere or packed up all in suitcases in my living space, I can’t relax and focus on what truly matters – living and teaching here in Indonesia.

I brought my stuffed tiger (given to me by my grandparents) and a small beanbag turtle (via Japan-America Student Conference 64) with me because they both remind me of home and the friends that I’ve made in my life’s journey. I wouldn’t be where I am right now if it wasn’t for the family and friends I have made along the way and having a reminder of them halfway across the world is a daily comfort.

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The trip to get here was long; both in time spent on a plane and to become a Fulbrighter in general! Where I live in Indonesia – a city called Pangkal Pinang, which is the regional capital of a medium-sized island called Bangka – is just about equidistance from my home in Massachusetts. It took about 24 hours of total time on a plane (Boston – New York – Hong Kong – Jakarta – Pangkal Pinang) and another 9 or so sitting in airports waiting for my connecting flights. It was long but I met up with some of my fellow ETAs throughout the journey and made some new friends along the way!

As for the trip to become a Fulbrighter being long too, as an Ada Comstock Scholar, I had a few stops and starts on my educational pathway. The 10-year gap between graduating from high school and graduating from Smith was both wonderful and difficult and taught me a lot about myself and about the world. Even when I graduated from Smith in 2013 – I didn’t expect to become a Fulbrighter two years later! I’ve found though that life sometimes has a funny way of setting you on the paths you need; just not in ways you may expect.

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Something I have never done before is scuba dive! I actually have not done this in Indonesia yet either but I’m really looking forward to learning over the next few months so that I can experience all the stellar diving spots that that I plan to visit after my grant year is over. 

I was surprised by the friendliness of every person I have so far met in Indonesia. I have made countless new friends as well as new families here. People say hello whenever I pass by on my bike rides to school or to the markets and shops. I am invited to dinners, outings, or just to come inside for a drink and to talk, any and all times of day. It may partly be because I am the first foreigner (bule in Indonesian) that some in my medium-sized city have seen, but I think it is mostly that Indonesians are the kindest, friendliest, most wonderful people in general. They share even if they do not have enough to share because it’s a part of their religious culture and because they know one day it will be returned.

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I love going to school everyday! Being surrounded by the students and teachers on an almost daily basis is something I look forward to all the time. Whether I’m teaching, working on lesson plans at my desk (which usually turns into talking with teachers), chatting with the lunchroom workers, or watching a teacher’s singing contest, there is always something happening on campus and I love taking part in whatever I’m invited to (and even things that I am not).

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When I am teaching I try to make it as fun as possible for my high school kids. Learning is hard, learning English harder. Added to that is the challenge that many of the students I teach won’t even need to use English in their daily lives after they graduate. Due to all of these factors, I try my best to make what they have to learn as engaging and interesting as I can. I’m hopeful that it will spark further interest in English outside of the classroom and if not I hope that the activities I include at least help to make class exciting. 

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At the end of each day, I take a moment to breathe. Indonesia is a majority Muslim country and as such, five times a day I am surrounded by the call to prayer (azan). My favorite thing to do is sit outside on the porch of my house around 5:30pm, listening to the evening call to prayer (Maghreb) and watching the clouds and the sun set past the houses in my neighborhood. It is in those moments where I take that deep breath and reflect on the day. (There is still a bit of the day left by then but usually it’s taken up with eating and getting ready to go to sleep.) 

When I tell others about my Fulbright experience so far I tell them that I haven’t stopped moving or learning from the second I stepped off the plane in Jakarta. Every day is new, different, and exciting. Whether it’s shopping by myself in the traditional markets, experiencing a sudden concert on a Saturday night in the city center, hanging around with friends talking late into the afternoon or evening, or driving four hours to a deserted but beautiful beach, there is always something to do outside of my time at school. At the Pre-Departure Orientation before I left, a previous ETA had this piece of advice, “Say yes to everything.” I’ve been doing just that and it’s helped to shape my experience so far into something incredible.

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I want to tell a Smithie thinking about applying for a Fulbright DO IT, DO IT, DO IT!

Regardless of when you apply, the Fulbright experience and the process to get there will change your life.

If you’re not sure about it senior year, keep it in the back your mind for later. I did and I ended up in Indonesia! Fulbrighters are selected for their experience as much as for their ideas to research or their desire to teach. If you go out and teach, tutor, or do research for a few years, it will only help your application. Also don’t let age be a barrier, I am currently the oldest of the ETA cohort in Indonesia (at 31 years old) and there are many other Fulbright ETAs spread out across the world that are older too.

Smith’s application process can be draining – it takes weeks and sometimes months to whittle down a grant essay and personal statement into one single-spaced page with a lot of late nights, hours spent hunched over questionnaires and wording, and possibly tears in between.

However, it is absolutely worth it and not just if you win. The act of working on the application alone leads to many lessons about yourself – what experiences shape you, what your future might look like – and which of those experiences you can draw on in situations that you find yourself in as you move past college. (It also provides valuable experience writing grant proposals, which is always a useful skill to have!) So, if you’ve been thinking about it, take the leap. Send that inquiry email, go and talk to Ryan or Don. It’s hard, but you’ll be glad you did it regardless of the outcome. I promise.  

Marichuy Gomez ’14 from Turkey

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Turkey is beautiful and Turks are some of the sweetest and warmest people I’ve met.
I live in Kirikkale, a very small and rural city located an hour and a half away from Ankara (Turkey’s capital). At Kirikkale University, I teach four English speaking classes to English-Turkish Translation students and a Speaking Elective class for Engineering majors. Additionally, I also lead four English speaking clubs open to all students.
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In the beginning of the semester, I found it difficult to help my students improve. During the Fulbright teaching orientation, we were trained to teach very basic English, but my students’ English proficiency is very advanced. I had to adjust my entire teaching approach, and in the end it worked. I even taught a few classes about “awareness,” restorative justice, and social contract political theory.
My colleagues, new friends, and especially my students have been the highlight of my experience. Most of the teachers in my department are smart, sweet, young women. Five of them have been trying to learn Spanish for a while, and they enjoy having me around to practice. In return, they support my efforts in learning Turkish.
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On top of my teaching responsibilities, I’m also taking an intensive Turkish course offered to Engineering students at my university. Most of them are Syrian refugees. They have to study Turkish for a year before they can start with their studies (B.S., M.A., Ph.D.). They meet 30 hours a week, but given my teaching schedule, I can only be there 8 hours. They are mostly male Arabic speakers. Some of them know a little English and try to help me understand the lessons. The other day, they were also teaching me the Arabic alphabet. It was hard!!! They are great people, and they have become my first group of friends.
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My students have been so good to me. They call me “Marimiz” which means “our Mari.” One of them has become my unofficial Turkish tutor, another one took me to get my hair done, and a group of them prepared me a surprise homemade Turkish breakfast last Sunday. I am very sad that next semester I will have new students, but I am hopeful that they will be as nice. The relationships that I’ve built make me want to renew my grant to spend another year teaching in Turkey.
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I included pictures from my experiences and travels in Turkey and in Northern Cyprus (a Turkish territory). I hope you enjoy them!
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Wishing you Happy Holidays and a New Year filled with prosperity and success!

Thea Dennis ’15 from Belgium

I chose Fulbright because I wanted to have a meaningful gap year before jumping onto a career path.

 

When I got to my location, I first took a nap in my beautiful apartment that I found on AirBnB and then went walking around in my new city.

 

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I brought a lot of clothes that I didn’t want to wear once I checked out what the locals fashion choices were! But now I enjoy wearing a flannel shirt once in a while and having people ask where I got it.

 

In preparation for my trip I learned a bit of Dutch and tried to research what the city of Leuven would be like…but I’m glad I didn’t do too much research. I’ve enjoyed discovering for myself the quirks and customs of Leuven.

 

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Something I have never done before is cook for myself for a whole year. It’s going….ok…. I’ll be a lot better at it in June!

 

I was surprised by how much people were interested in hearing about where I was from in America.

 

I love sitting at a coffee shop or having a Belgian beer with friends and sitting and talking for hours without anyone bothering you about the bill or rushing you.

 

When I am doing my research I need to constantly remind myself that learning comes first and results come second.

 

At the end of each day I enjoy Leuven’s fabulous night life (a chance to meet new people), or I chat and watch TV with my Italian roommate.

 

When I tell others about my Fulbright experience so far I could not be more grateful that I ended up in Leuven working with the people in my lab. This city is the perfect mix of fun and academics.

 

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I want to tell a Smithie thinking about applying for a Fulbright to absolutely do it. It is not as daunting as people make it sound and we are so lucky to have a Fulbright office to help us every step of the way! Really, just do it.

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.

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.