Family, Work and Doctoral Studies

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By: Dr. Abrilene Cynthia Johnston-Scott – Organization of American States (OAS) fellow from Jamaica, pursued Doctor of Education degree from Nova Southeastern University.

The Scholarship

When the recession hit the global economy in 2008, I was completing my first semester in a doctoral program at Nova Southeastern University. Because of financial constraints, I had to take a leave of absence from the program. Despite this, I remained committed to finishing my doctorate and fortunately, I was introduced to the Organization of American States scholarship program by a former colleague at the College where I worked in Jamaica as a teacher educator. I immediately made contact with the Ministry of Finance in my home country and got further details on the scholarship. I applied and attended an intense interview in 2009 lasting about 40 minutes.

After seven months on leave of absence from the university, I received a call from Washington, D.C. informing that my scholarship application was approved for the prestigious Organization of American States (OAS) program to complete my doctoral degree. This was like a dream come true! I was able to get back on board and complete my doctoral work in two additional years with the unprecedented support from my esteemed professors, remarkable scholarship advisors at Laspau, my ardent academic advisor at Nova Southeastern University and my family.

Work, Family and Online Study

Pursuing full time job, full time studies and full time family is not a piece of cake! In relentless pursuit of my doctoral degree, I demonstrated grit, determination, very high level of self- discipline and met all deadlines. This was fundamentally how I was able to succeed. I had to carry a full teaching load as a lecturer throughout the duration of my studies due to the fact that there was no leave of absence possible since my doctoral program was conducted online.

The demands of the children were great. I managed with strong support from my spouse, family and a child care provider. The commitment of these persons held my  family together until I completed my program. To them, I am still indebted.

Throughout my program, I shared in information-rich online learning communities with international students and professors from diverse backgrounds. This international space was ideal for the development of connections, tolerance and respect for divergent views that were useful for my cognitive and affective development. I remembered that the discussions and debates were intriguing.

With my husband at the graduation ceremony

The Challenges

One of greatest challenge studying online was slow internet connectivity in my home country at the time. My computer froze many times during online chat sessions, frequent power outages, and slow connections were like lingering nightmares. I had to listen to the recorded classes to catch up. Through it all I developed persistence and learned to tackle the challenges at hand.

I remembered breastfeeding my daughter while browsing through the online libraries to find scholarly articles to complete assignments. The most challenging aspects however, were the times when my children were ill with very high fever and having deadlines to meet. I had many sleepless nights and missed opportunities to see my daughter go through her early developmental milestones, like taking her first steps and saying her first words.

Transformational Experience

Currently, I lecture in Education, Philosophy and Research Methods at Bethlehem Moravian College in Jamaica. One of the greatest impacts of my education was the role I played in conceptualising and nurturing a research culture at this College. This role involved my contributions in reviewing the College vision statement to include a focus on research, the training of faculty to adequately supervise students’ action research papers, taking students to multiple research conferences, hosting research conference at my College and allowing students to present their papers at this conference. I created and used a Research Blog to further stimulate discussions on issues/topics in educational research which was also novel and effective in building this culture.

This experience impacted my career interest and teacher education in Jamaica as my dissertation focused on improving students’ collegiate experience by creating greater opportunities for co-curricular involvement. My dissertation paper was presented in multiple research conferences in Jamaica.

The doctoral program has bolstered my cognitive development including my reasoning abilities, critical thinking skills, emotional intelligence, information literacy and collaborative skills and spirit. I benefitted immensely from my involvement in extensive research work which has helped to shape my worldview of education and my approaches to students’ learning, their collegiate experience and development.  I became the youngest faculty member with a doctoral degree.

In all of these aspects, the experience of earning a Doctor of Education degree was extremely transformational for me and has allowed me to give back to the field of Education in Jamaica.

With my husband and children

 

[vc_row][vc_column][mk_mini_callout]Disclaimer: This blog is not an official Fulbright Program site. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of the author and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.

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Using the Field of Interior Design to Redesign Physical Schools and Learning Environments

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By: Néstor Isaac Ramos Marchena, a Fulbright MESCyT scholar from the Dominican Republic is currently pursuing Master’s degree in Interior Architecture at The University of Texas, Austin.

I studied architecture in Santo Domingo, the capital city of the Dominican Republic. Similar to most of my classmates, I aspired to create huge buildings that provoked awe and admiration. While the architect ego was there since the first semester, ironically, the definition of architecture that I always loved since the beginning is the one that involves the term service. I was somehow more attracted to projects with social connotations.

After my first year in architecture school, I started to feel incomplete. I thought I needed to change my major. There was something missing. My professors convinced me that architecture was MY thing and pushed me to stay for at least two more semesters. I did, and looking back today, I can see what worked: The following semester, the studio worked on a project with a heavy focus on the interiors; the design of a museum that celebrated Dominican-aboriginal culture.

I was instantly attracted. I realized that the interiors is what I was more interested in about architecture. After all, it was the closest space to human scale, and what I love most about design and architecture is precisely the possibility to influence people, making them feel good in a space, improving the way they live and work, therefore, improving their lives.

Presenting Final Project at The University of Texas, School of Architecture

I started then to envision design as one of the most powerful tools for human development. Approaching the end of my undergraduate studies, I was more and more certain that a path in interior design was going to be my next step.

In those days, a new education model had been applied in the Dominican Republic, which added four more hours of class per day, totaling eight hours of class. This was greatly criticized due to the lack of infrastructure and facilities that the schools needed in order for the program to be a success. Moreover, the visual characteristics of these spaces created a generic atmosphere, using colors and materials that not only ignored the local character and heritage, but also yielded an aesthetic similar to prisons.

This motivated me to shape my undergraduate thesis project into research on the impact that good design has on students in their educational environment. My team and I thought it was logical to think that if the students were going to spend more time in the school, then the spaces should reflect and respond positively to this extended stay.

We were excited to substantiate that a well-designed environment can have an enormous effect on the learning process of a student, increasing the chances of academic excellence and social relationships. As a result, we proposed a series of school prototypes, according to the population and weather of the region in which they would be installed, resulting in a positive social response to actual problems.

Convinced that through architectural design I could influence and positively benefit the lives of people in my country, and especially childhood and education, I applied for an International Fulbright Scholarship, that I received months later. Thanks to the scholarship, I went to the United States to pursue a Master’s of Interior Design at The University of Texas at Austin. I understood that by getting a deeper knowledge of interior design, through a Graduate Degree, I was going to be able to design better spaces for people.

As a way of continuing my line of interest and as an extension of my previous study, I decided to shape my MDS (Final Master’s Project) into a community center for rural areas of Dominican Republic, that provides educational programs to all the residents in the community. A prototype that can be replicated and adapted to different settlements, allowing variations of layout and materials and that involves the community as part of the building process to create a sense of ownership, pride and appropriation.

It has been thrilling to be working on this project, that means so much to me on a personal level. Weeks away from graduation, my mind is already bubbling with excitement as it thinks of the many ways I can go back to my country and try to contribute with all the knowledge I have gained here in the United States. And this is one of the purposes of the Fulbright Scholarship: to give back. And it is my intention to give back by doing and teaching.

Doing, through professional practice. I envision myself working to advocate for better designed schools, and better learning environments. It would be my biggest dream to make an impact in my society through design, to not only achieve the aforementioned qualities in public education, but also to demonstrate that designers are not just “decorators”, but activists, agents of change and social development.

And also, by teaching. It is obvious that design and education are both my passions, and there is nothing I would rather be experiencing than the feeling that I am contributing to make our built environment a better place.

Holding the Dominican Republic Flag at the UT Austin graduation

[vc_row][vc_column][mk_mini_callout]Disclaimer: This blog is not an official Fulbright Program site. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of the author and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.

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BRASCON and the Empowerment of Brazilian Scientific Community

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By: Carleara Ferreira da Rosa Silva – A former Ciência sem Fronteiras/CAPES scholar from Brazil , Carleara holds a Ph.D. degree in Nursing from The State University of New York at Buffalo.

Most graduate students in science have two things in common. The first is the love of science and the dream of making the world a better place through science. The second one is the longing to belong to a scientific community. Brazilian scientists are like that. Even before moving from the United States to pursue a Ph.D., we tried to reach out to one another and created groups where we could share our thoughts and seek for peer support. Laspau does a great job of mentoring us in this process from application to placement at an American university.

After moving to the U.S., we continue to use these groups on social media, as well as the mentorship received from Laspau. The Brazilian Consulate in New York held a meeting for graduate and undergraduate student in New York City during my first year at The State University of New York at Buffalo. It was a great opportunity to meet my virtual friends in person and members of the Laspau team. Gisele Passalacqua (Master of Engineering at Columbia University) and I were invited by Gláucia Ribeiro (Laspau) to share our experiences with Laspau during that meeting. More than sharing the great experience we had, that meeting marked the beginning of BRASCON. I want to share with you more about my experience creating this unique space for Brazilian scientists studying in the United States.

What is BRASCON?

BRASCON, the Brazilian Students and Scholars Conference, has a mission of empowering Brazilian scientific community in the United States. BRASCON was born from the combined efforts three Laspau-sponsored graduate students in the United States. At the meeting at the Brazilian Consulate, Gisele had this brilliant idea of gathering graduate students, and I joined immediately. She posted the invitation on our facebook group, and Vanessa Dias (Entomology- University of Florida) and Camila Zanette (Pharmaceutical Sciences-University of California-Irvine) joined us.

We worked as a team building the foundation for BRASCON and learned in the process that more than a gathering place, BRASCON should be a space for professional development, networking, and peer review for research. We wanted to learn from the Brazilian scientists that preceded us and build the path for the generations to come. At that point, Gisele, Vanessa and I were supported by Gláucia in planning the first BRASCON. Our team of four slowly became the solid workforce of over 20 volunteers from different fields placed in 14 universities in the United States.

The Conference

The first BRASCON took place at Harvard University, March 12-13, 2016. Drs. Miguel Nicolelis, Marcelo Gleiser, Cristina Caldas, Leonardo Maestri and others joined us and shared their experiences with the 120 participants at BRASCON 2016.

BRASCON 2017 took place at the University of Southern California, March 11-12, 2017. Drs. Roberto Alvarez, Angela Olinto, Marcus Dutra e Melo among others shared their experiences as keynote speakers and panelists with 120 participants. The Cia. De Talentos hosted a workshop for professional development.

The third edition of BRASCON will take place on June 23-24, 2018 at Ohio State University, Columbus Ohio. Confirmed speakers include Drs. Joana D’arc Felix, Duilia de Mello, Jose Pires, Roberto Alvarez, and Ulisses Mello.

BRASCON offers both a personal and professional growth experience. We receive reports from students who have gotten internships, research collaborations and met new friends at the conference. Some students who presented their research at BRASCON were able to later translate their work into a start-up company.

For those interested, we encourage you to join us and support BRASCON by helping us spread the news or even by joining us at the conference as a speaker, sponsor or presenter at the Opportunities Fair. We also encourage other students studying abroad to look for these types of opportunities to connect and network with one another. It has been a long road but is has been worth it!

Thanks and Acknowledgements:

Thank you Laspau for supporting us since the beginning! Currently, I am the only remaining from the BRASCON original head team. It takes a giant amount of work to make the conference happens every year, and it would not be successful without the work of a brilliant team. Karin Calvinho (Rutgers University) and Pedro Tonhozi (University of Kansas City-Missouri) are the left and right arms in the battle to keep BRASCON alive. I am grateful for our collaborators from 2016, 2017 and today Sara Dumit,Valdir Barth, Pedro Val, Raquel Rocha, Karina Esparza, Jessica Akemi, Fernanda Gushken, Tassia Pereira, Flavio Cruz, Silvia Nishioka, Cristiano Reis, Luiz Felipe Ungericht, João Vogel, Guilherme Rosso (Rede CSF, now Emerge) e Frederico Menino.  Thank you to our partners from  BRASASciBrCOURB. Thank you to Paula Martins from BRASA OSU, Jane Aparecido, and Luke Barbara from Brazil Gateway, Dr.  Roberto Alvarez for your mentorship and the Brazilian Embassy in Washington, D.C. for the support.

[vc_column][mk_mini_callout]Disclaimer: This blog is not an official site of the program sponsors. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of the author and do not represent the views of the program sponsors or partner organizations.[/mk_mini_callout][/vc_column]

New school, new life, new challenges

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By: Blanca Esther Romero Pino – Fulbright Faculty Development scholar from Venezuela and currently a Master’s degree candidate in Linguistics and Applied Linguistics at Arizona State University.

Coming to the United States was a great adventure for me. I had never left my country and suddenly, here I was, leaving my family to move to a place I had never been before, with a different language and culture. The fear was there, as well as the excitement, but I was looking forward to this new experience.

The first length of my trip took me to Bloomington, Indiana for the Fulbright Gateway Orientation. I fell in love with the city, and with the campus at Indiana University. In this gateway program, I had the chance to meet the most wonderful people from different countries. I learned about their cultures, and tried to share mine with them. I especially loved meeting other Latino brothers and sisters who were also there, representing the best each of their countries had to offer. Although I was the only Venezuelan in the group, I felt as if all of us came from the same place. The sense of friendship and unity in our group made it rather special. I am glad to say that I made some very good friends in that gateway. I was also lucky that four other Fulbrighters from my gateway were coming to Arizona State University. I would not be alone!

At Arizona State University campus

I started my graduate program at Arizona State University (ASU), Tempe campus in the Fall of 2016. The new environment created a bit of a shock for me. Even though I already had a graduate degree from a Venezuelan university, the different dynamics in the graduate programs here in the United States took me by surprise. In all honesty, there were moments when I felt I did not belong, that there had been a mistake, and I was not good enough for my program, and that I was not worthy of being a Fulbright scholar. Fortunately, I was not alone. Other Fulbrighters and international students shared the same concerns, and we found ourselves supporting each other, and encouraging each other to keep going.

My brother once wrote the sentence “Keep moving forward” on his Skype status. I found myself thinking about it more and more, and I decided to take it as my mantra. Whenever I felt like giving up, whenever the stress became too much, I would tell myself: “Keep moving forward, no matter what. Don’t stop. Keep. Moving. Forward”.

With my “little” brother, Mila

And I have found myself repeating that mantra so many times that I am considering getting it tattooed on my arm, as a reminder (I have not done it yet, but soon). Because thetruth is, there are moments in our lives in which we feel that we cannot keep going. We feel overwhelmed with schoolwork, we miss our families, we are in a different environment, a differentculture from ours. It can become too much for any human being. I realized that I could not overcome these feelings on my own. I needed a support system. Thankfully I had my friend Milan.

Milan, a mountain of a man from Slovakia has the biggest heart that anyone can imagine. He is calm and quiet, whereas I am loud and feisty. We met at the orientation in Bloomington, and we became like brother and sister in Arizona. He said I was his “big” sister, which everyone laughed at since Milan is 6’5” and I am 4’8” tall.  Taking time for a coffee in the evenings, or dinner over the weekends helped me relax and recharge my batteries, so to speak.

The latter brings me to another strategy I found to cope with stress: take time for yourself. We all have papers to write and deadlines to fulfill. But we also need to take the time to release tension and stress. I find that sometimes my brain simply refuses to work, that even constructing a simple, coherent sentence is a struggle. When that happens, I just stop, get up and go do something else. I work out, or watch a movie, or read a non-academic book (I am a fan of the urban fantasy genre).

The trick to graduate school is to find the balance necessary to have good academic performance without sacrificing your personal well-being. School will be there, deadlines will be there, the stress and worries will be there waiting for you. It is better to face these struggles with a relaxed mind and an energized body. And remember, “Keep Moving Forward!”

Group photo with Fulbright scholars in front of the White House during the Fulbright Enrichment Seminar on Justice in Education

[vc_row][vc_column][mk_mini_callout]Disclaimer: This blog is not an official Fulbright Program site. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of the author and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.

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Be Like a Proton: challenges and takeaways when applying to graduate school

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By: Fernando Antonio Rebolledo Uscanga – a Fulbright COMEXUS scholar from Mexico and a PhD fellow in Biomedical/Medical Engineering at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

Speaking, writing and interacting in a language that is not your native one is definitely challenging. It is not easy to express yourself with the same freedom that you have when you speak in your first language. The words, phrases, expressions, are all different, and as you learn a new language you have to accept that there is nothing wrong with making mistakes.

Similarly, the process of applying to graduate programs is challenging. There is a long list or requirements to apply to schools. Academic transcripts, Curriculum Vitae (CV), Letters of Recommendation, the intricate Statement of Purpose and lastly, the terrifying standardized tests, which such as the TOEFL iBT and GRE or GMAT exams. These standardized tests are considered the most important part of your application. Well, I will counter this assumption, I think this is wrong. Why? Because graduate schools are looking for unique candidates. The admissions committee reviews the application materials for your candidacy as a whole, which demonstrate the kind of person you are, and what you are going to bring to the program and school. Through your application, the committee can identify your cultural background, your way of thinking, your reasoning and your diverse opinions about key global issues. Most of these characteristics may be conveyed through your Statement of Purpose and through it the admissions team could better understand who you are, how you think, and how you approach problems and solve them.

My recommendation for success in the application process to graduate school is to be yourself.

The standardized tests might seem frightening, but like any other required application component, they represent one part of a whole. The standardized exams do not necessarily measure your intelligence or capability, but rather your effort and how well you understood the rules of testing. Getting a high score does not equate to being qualified or being the right individual to pursue graduate studies. At the end of the day, standardized exams are tricky but a low score doesn’t mean that you would not be able to succeed in a graduate program. Getting a low score is in fact, fairly common. If the first time was a problem, then try it another time, and another and as many times as you need. One strategy I would recommend is to check out free resources that ETS offers online and watch a variety of lessons on YouTube. Remember to stay positive that the next time you take the exam it will be better. As one famous high school basketball coach in the U.S., Morgan Wootten, would say, “You learn more from losing than winning. You learn how to keep going”, so keep going. You are almost there. And yes… I took the exam more than once.

Another important factor during the application process is to be prepared with your university search. “Where are you going to apply?” is a common bottleneck for many applicants. “Where do you want to go for graduate studies? Is it feasible? What do you need to do in order to get accepted?” After thinking about all of these factors, it is essential to prepare yourself as best as you can and apply. Reach out to professors (also known as faculty advisors) that you want to work with, share with them your academic interests, ask them questions about the program, and make sure to carry your confidence along the way.

Confidence is so important during the application process to graduate programs because it demonstrates your capability that the admissions committee wants to see in you in order to make decision to whether accept or deny your candidacy to the program.

To restate my recommendation, confidence is shaped by how you present yourself to the committee, how unique you are, and how you can defend your ideas and goals.

Same recommendation goes to those interested in applying to highly competitive institutions. Although my GRE and TOEFL iBT scores were fair, I applied to some competitive graduate programs. I believed in myself and decided to apply even though some people advised me that I wouldn’t get accepted.

I was admitted. My overall application was strong enough to be considered.

Be positive, like a proton.

The process is certainly about how much effort you put in order to accomplish and reach your dreams. Every step that you are walking through is worthwhile. It is a road that will definitely lead you to success. My motto is to “Believe in you, believe in yourself deep down.”

[vc_row][vc_column][mk_mini_callout]Disclaimer: This blog is not an official Fulbright Program site. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of the author and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.

 

 

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Mexico’s First Mixe Fulbright Scholar Is Working to Improve the Lives of Indigenous Farmers

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Scholar: Tania Eulalia Martínez – a Fulbright COMEXUS scholar from Mexico holds a Master’s degree in Agricultural and Byosistems Engineering at University of Arizona. Currently, she is a PhD candidate at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

Contributor: Yara Simón, senior culture editor at Remezcla.

Three years ago, before Tania Eulalia Martínez left Mexico to pursue a doctorate in Holland, her Abuelita Eulalia had one request: “Take this shawl with you. I want you to tell those who live over there, in that other world, who we are, how we live, and what we do. Take it so that you can remember us, so that you don’t forget us.” But what the late Eulalia may not have realized at the time is that Tania’s studies would bring her closer to the Mixe community. As she pursues a Ph.D. at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, Tania’s devoted to improving the lives of Mexico’s indigenous populations.

“I feel committed to giving something back to my country, and the area where I can do it is in the agricultural sector,” she said. “The technical background is important, but so are the social aspects. I want to help agricultural projects reach more people who have been marginalized, and to do so, I have to better understand the social and cultural contexts in which these projects take place. I want not just to create technologies and techniques to solve problems, but to understand the lives of indigenous peoples and farmers, so I can be more efficient as a scientist in helping them. I am an engineer learning to be a social scientist.”

Read the full story on Remezcla’s website >>


Follow
Tania on Twitter @tania_eulalia
Follow Yara on Twitter @SaraYimon

 

[vc_row][vc_column][mk_mini_callout]Disclaimer: This blog is not an official Fulbright Program site. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of the author and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.

 

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How to be an international PhD student… and survive it!

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By: Deyanira Sindy Moya Chaves – a Fulbright Becas Colciencias scholar from Colombia and a PhD fellow in Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese at Pennsylvania State University.

After deciding to change your life and leaving everything behind; after planning every detail, carefully packing your bag, attending every training offered to you by your sponsor, you finally get to a new place: your new home in the United States. It is probably an empty room; an empty house you are sharing with someone you do not know; or it is probably a new apartment you have for yourself. Maybe it is the first time you start paying rent by yourself or maybe you have just moved over there with your spouse and family. In any case, don´t let the emptiness of your new home scare you. Breathe and picture it as full of possibilities. Maybe the first night you will sleep on the floor, or in a sleeping bag, but it is OK, you will have better nights. Let the excitement of buying your first mattress or couch take over. Hang photos of your loved ones all around, put flowers on your night table and stock up on cool school supplies. Find a nice desk and a really comfy chair for it. In other words, build your nest, for it will be yours for a while.

First day of school at Penn State University
First day of classes at Penn State University

Every new international PhD student finds a new form of transportation to school, and a good old bike is always the best option to begin with. Name it (like Lola for example), put some stickers on the handles, make it yours for it will be your unconditional friend and companionship from now on. For every day of school, have a good powerful breakfast, pack your lunch (you will need it); put your school supplies in a new backpack and pedal your way to academic life. Most importantly, bring your laptop with you for it will become an extension of your body. Let air on your face and a feeling of freedom and adventure on your body take over. But do not get lost (arriving on time is another important trait for grad school), and park Lola at the right parking spot. You definitely do not want to find her later in a tree because you did not lock her (yes, it happens…), so register her and follow the rules.

Riding Lola
Riding Lola

You are in grad school now: a high-speed rail. It moves fast and gets you to new places you could not be before.  Get on board for it is exciting and demanding. Do not fear though…start buying your own books and always get enough highlighters. Over time, your books stack beautifully on top of each other, so build a creative bookshelf. Your most visited place is the library, so find your spot there. Get comfortable, and memorize author’s names and reflect about facts when reading, doing research, having study group meetings and checking-out piles of books at a time. Take vitamins for your brain needs them.

An international student is noticed everywhere h/she goes, but have no fear. Your accented English helps you spell out your long (and “beautiful”) first, middle or last names every time you buy coffee; when your professors, nurses, colleagues or your own students ask you to; when filling out a form (which happens a lot); or when giving information over the phone. Spelling; hearing, and seeing different possible combinations of your name becomes a joyful habit. You are corrected all the time, but your English improves little by little. The silver lining is that you are not alone. Feeling lost, confused, lonely, homesick, or even stupid is what your classmates also talk about. So, shake it off and start all over again.

Learning from professors and meeting famous authors
Learning from professors and meeting famous authors

To survive grad school, find a balance. Work hard and become the best doctor in your field; but don’t forget where you come from and what your goal is. Be humble, listen and observe carefully. Take feedback from your professors and colleagues, and keep on learning every day. Also, recharge every time you need to. Rely on your loved ones, go back home for vacations, visit new places, do exercise and try new foods from time to time for the experience of grad school will only happen once!

[vc_row][vc_column][mk_mini_callout]Disclaimer: This blog is not an official Fulbright Program site. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of the author and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.

 

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Looking back at why it took me ten years to apply to Fulbright

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By: Magaly Preciado Reyes – a Fulbright COMEXUS scholar from Mexico and a Master’s degree candidate in International Development and Social Change at Clark University.

I was once in South Korea for ten days on a trip for work, and I missed the Mexican corn tortillas. Years later, I moved to Mexico City, again because of work, and I got used to missing my family and the place that was most familiar to me: the beautiful Tijuana. Situated in the northern border of Mexico (south of California, USA), Tijuana is the place where I was born and raised.

With scholarships, I pursued both high school and undergraduate studies at Centro de Enseñanza Técnica y Superior (CETYS), a university located in Baja California (Mexico). For more than seven years of my academic experience at CETYS, my studies were fully supported. My family and I could not be more grateful as this financial support enabled me to pursue studies that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. Naturally, when I realized it was time to continue my academic pursuits the first thing that came to mind was to look for a scholarship.

In front of the Centro de Enseñanza Técnica y Superior (CETYS) stadium in Tijuana, Mexico

I learned about the Fulbright program back when I was studying at CETYS, and I remember thinking about how rewarding it would be to reach a point in my academic and professional life where I felt ready to submit an application, and also how implausible it would be to get awarded such a prestigious scholarship. The years passed while I was advancing in my professional experience and continuing my academic training with courses, diplomas and extracurricular activities. While there was always an immediate and tangible reason for every professional decision I made, somewhere in my head I pondered whether taking the next step would bring me closer to that point where I felt ready to submit a Fulbright application, because this was the long-term goal. I wanted to have international academic experience, increase my multicultural understanding, immerse myself into classrooms that would allow me to reflect on my practice, and have discussions with like-minded people.

Nevertheless, when that moment came and I felt I was academically and professionally ready to apply, I decided not to because of a barrier I hadn’t anticipated: the fear of not getting the scholarship. I was left pondering “What would I do if I am not selected? What would that say about me?” I could not continue my academic studies without financial support, and I had no plan B. So, the years passed, and I avoided applying to Fulbright because I was afraid that I wouldn’t be awarded the scholarship; most importantly, I wanted to avoid the painful exposure to the message that begins, “We regret to inform you…”

Now, just a few months away from graduating with a master’s degree at Clark University, I look back at why it took me all these years to apply to Fulbright and still think of the fortune and privilege, as well as the implausibility, of being granted this scholarship. I am grateful for what I have accomplished in my professional pursuits so far, but also in my personal accomplishments for overcoming my own fears, especially my fear of failure.

First semester at Clark University, Massachusetts, USA

During my first week of arrival in the United States for the Fulbright Gateway Orientation at Northern Illinois University, I had the privilege to meet students from over forty countries. Amidst all the excitement about beginning our studies in different U.S. higher education institutions, it was clear that we all shared stories of persistence and ambition toward becoming a Fulbrighter. In one way or another, regardless of our cultural differences, all of us went through competitive selection process, but also had to overcome personal battles with our own fears.

My message to those who are still undecided about whether to apply to Fulbright or any other scholarship program is that it is worthwhile.

It is worthwhile to go through the long application process; it is worthwhile to overcome your own personal battles. At the end of the day, it was just as feasible for me to receive a decision letter saying, “We regret to inform you…” In fact, the day I understood that such an adverse outcome was valid and acceptable, and that I shouldn’t be afraid or regret trying, was the same day I decided to apply.

Fortunately, I am now at Clark University and missing everything that is familiar to me, just like that time in South Korea when I missed freshly made Mexican corn tortillas!

During the Fulbright Gateway Orientation at Northern Illinois University, Chicago
During the Fulbright Gateway Orientation at Northern Illinois University, Chicago

[vc_row][vc_column][mk_mini_callout]Disclaimer: This blog is not an official Fulbright Program site. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of the author and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.

 

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From a cornfield in El Salvador to New York City: How learning English took me overseas

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By: Pedro Alexander Vasquez Jimenez – a Fulbright Faculty Development Program scholar from El Salvador and a Master’s degree candidate in Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language/ESL Language Instructor (TESOL) at Binghamton University.

”De lápiz y de papel no se vive.” This is a figurative expression that means “Schooling alone does not provide a way to make a living. If you don’t work, you don’t eat or live.” I grew up in a rural area and was reminded of this phrase over and over again when I was a child. My parents did not believe that education was valuable and didn’t want me to spend time studying as they didn’t see it as a path to earning a living. They often told me that I had to work in the cornfield, that I belonged to this place and to this profession just like other countryside boys in El Salvador. The cornfield where I was brought up is located in the rural area of Morazán, a city considered as one of the poorest areas of the country. Nevertheless, I developed a desire for education, so I persuaded my parents to send me to school in the morning while I promised them to work in the cornfield in the afternoon even if that meant intense days full of work and school.

In high school I became interested in English language and wanted to become an English teacher, but my family could not afford to send me to college. Close to my high school graduation, I applied for a scholarship offered by the Universidad de Oriente UNIVO and got accepted because of my academic performance. To attend the Universidad de Oriente UNIVO was quite exhausting especially because I had to take two buses every day to make it there. Not to mention that I had to get up around 4:00 am to be on time for my 7:00 am classes. Despite of all obstacles I faced in order to complete my bachelor’s degree in English Teaching (TESOL), I still persevered. I remember studying by candlelight every night because we did not have electricity in my house and only carried USD $2.00 dollars on me, which was just enough for the bus fare.

The Global UGRAD experience at Missouri State University (2011-2012)
The Global UGRAD experience at Missouri State University (2011-2012)

 

In 2011, I was awarded with a scholarship to participate in the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program (Global UGRAD), an exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State´s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. I attended Missouri State University for one academic year during my undergraduate studies. The experience to fully immerse myself in a completely different academic setting was extraordinary: I had classmates from different cultures, backgrounds, and languages. In September 2015, I was awarded an opportunity by the Government of Austria to participate in an International Civilian Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding Training Programme (IPT) at Stadtschlaining, Austria. This was a three-week long program that took place at The Austrian Study Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution (ASPR). At ASPR, I wanted to focus my studies on Human Rights because I believe that we can teach values and human rights to the youth through education.  In short, I was very excited to get admitted to the program and also to go to Europe. Later in 2016, I graduated cum laude from Universidad de Oriente UNIVO and officially became an English Instructor.

Since then, teaching has become my passion, which I enjoy and love every time I do it. Undoubtedly, I chose the right profession. After I graduated from Universidad de Oriente UNIVO , I was offered a full-time position as the head coordinator of the English Teaching degree program. I taught different levels of English courses, in addition to an honors level course on leadership and competitiveness as a volunteer. This particular course was part of the University honor program for students with a high GPA pursuing a variety of majors. At the same time, I was involved in community service teaching English language to kids of the community.

I believe everything is possible when you are an optimistic person. We find obstacles in the way, but they make us stronger and help us to look for different ways to approach them and achieve our goals. Taking risks as well as trying new things may be challenging for everybody but it is worthy, and I am an example of it. Stepping out of my comfort zone is something that I will never regret. The experience of pursuing academic studies abroad and being introduced to a new culture have been the most amazing journeys in my life. I remember as a child while I was working in the cornfield, I used to look at the sky and see the planes flying over me and I never thought that once in my life I would take one. Now, I am in New York pursuing a Masters of Arts degree in TESOL and what I know is that dreams come true if you dare to believe them; of which always makes me reminisce about one of my favorite quotes, “Don’t stop dreaming, don’t stop believing.”

More news about Pedro (in Spanish): http://univonews.com/soy-prueba-de-que-univo-tiene-profesionales-con-valores-competentes/   

[vc_row][vc_column][mk_mini_callout]Disclaimer: This blog is not an official Fulbright Program site. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of the author and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.

 

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Life is an opportunity, take it

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By: Gabriela María Fretes Centurión – a BECAL scholar from Paraguay and a PhD fellow in Food Policy and Applied Nutrition at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

“Gabi, why are you going to leave the country? There are also opportunities here”, I remembered these words a few years ago when I was concluding my undergraduate studies. Many of us think that everything ends here, nevertheless here is where a new path begins. In my case, I already knew where I was going to go for my master’s degree even before I began my studies at this particular University. A swimming competition took me to Chile, so when I finished my undergraduate studies I found myself searching for universities where I could pursue graduate studies in nutrition in this country. I discovered the Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology (Instituto de Nutrición y Tecnología de los Alimentos, INTA) at Universidad de Chile, and in some way, I felt a connection to this place. The Institute only offered graduate programs in this field and because my undergraduate concentration has been in Basic Sciences and Technology, I decided to pursue a second undergraduate studies in Nutrition in my country and then go abroad seeking to specialize.

First day of classes at INTA, Universidad de Chile (March 2011)

Leaving the country is not an easy decision to make, however, the experience is so enriching not only at a professional level, but also at a personal level. Pursuing a master’s degree abroad opened the doors to new cultures, established connections with wonderful people from other countries, and allowed me to share my culture with others. Back in July of 2010 when I started looking for scholarships at a master’s degree level, compared to June of 2017 when I was going through the same process at the Ph.D. level, the situation was completely different. Over the past decade, the opportunities have grown exponentially. After an intense search, I applied to the scholarship offered by the International Cooperation Agency of Chile (Agencia de Cooperación Internacional de Chile, AgCI) through the Secretariat of Technical Planning (Secretaria Técnica de Planificación, STP). Like all scholarships, the paperwork seemed endless, but the goal was clear.

View of Santiago, Chile – photo taken from Cerro Maquehue (2012)

When I arrived with a group of grantees for the visa interview at the Consulate of Chile in Paraguay, I found myself surrounded by people with extensive work experience and vast involvement in their areas, which is why at that moment I felt at a disadvantage. Not only I had just finished my undergraduate studies, I did not have much experience other than being an Assistant Professor at the University for a few months, and I was the youngest applicant from the applicant pool. A month later, I woke up with a phone call with the news that I had been selected along with three other compatriots to begin graduate studies in March 2011. It was the beginning of one of the most enriching experiences of my life and demonstrated to me that we have to try, the most we can get as an answer is a no, but this should not discourage us from continuing to try. The times in Chile were unforgettable. Living in a big city like Santiago, sharing with colleagues from all over Latin America, strengthening friendships, visiting wonderful places for field research in one of the most renowned and prestigious nutrition research institutions in the region were experiences that are already part of my book of life.

Recognition for Outstanding Scholar of Paraguay by the Agency of International Cooperation of Chile (AgCI) (December 2012)

Although my faculty advisors already suggested that I should pursue PhD studies at the end of the master’s program, I made the decision to return to Paraguay to obtain some professional experience and then rethink the idea of ​​doing doctoral studies. Returning to the country was not easy, but there are so many things that are yet to be done in my country that any contribution, no matter how small, can make great changes. I started to coordinate a group of volunteers of Food Revolution Paraguay movement to teach at the University and to launch an enterprise. I had the opportunity to represent Paraguay at several international events and continue to build a network. Then there was an opportunity to serve at the Ministry of Public Health and Social Welfare, where I worked for more than 2 years. During this time, I decided it was time to leave again and continue with my professional training.

In June 2016, the BECAL Doctoral Scholarship Program (Programa Nacional de Becas de Postgrados en el Exterior Don Carlos Antonio López) announced a scholarship opportunity to pursue PhD studies in the United States. Making the decision to pursue graduate studies abroad is like a marriage commitment; it really is one of those critical decisions in life. Though the English language was a barrier, I still decided to apply for the scholarship. The process was exhausting, in parts frustrating, but finally rewarding.

I was awarded a BECAL scholarship and admitted to the top nutrition programs in the United States: Columbia University, Northeastern University, and Tufts University.

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Moreover, I had the opportunity to refine my language skills in Northampton, Massachusetts before I began my studies this past September. To conclude, I am now at Tufts University and I feel so grateful to have accepted the challenge. I know it will be a new journey, but I will always be raising the flag for Paraguay and continuing to collaborate from afar while the country thrives on its progress.

Follow Gabriela on Twitter @gabifretes

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