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Monday, Jul 15, 2019

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Fulbright award recipients encourage OHIO students to apply for prestigious grant


What do a language and conversation assistant in Spain, a student in a metabolic physiology lab in Switzerland, and an English teacher at a middle school in South Korea have in common?

They are all Ohio University students who received Fulbright awards. The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is the largest United States educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The prestigious program offers research, study and teaching opportunities in more than 140 countries for graduating seniors and graduate students and alumni. 

Ohio University had the most Fulbright U.S. Student Program recipients in the state of Ohio for the 2017-2018 year, and during the 2018-19 academic year, seven OHIO students and alumni received the award. The time is almost here to apply for the next cohort. 

With that in mind, three OHIO students wanted to share their experience in hopes of encouraging current Ohio University students and recent alumni to apply. 

No matter their interests, these three OHIO Fulbright recipients have a few things in common: They wanted to engage with another culture, experience personal growth and challenge themselves.  

Sydney Pence, an OHIO graduate and 2018-19 Fulbright Award recipient working in a metabolic physiology lab in Zürich Switzerland, said she has become more confident, independent and resourceful through the program. 

Sydney Pence at the microscope, imaging sections of the brain. The sections had been stained to indicate neuronal activation.

Sydney Pence at the microscope, imaging sections of the brain. The sections had been stained to indicate neuronal activation. Photo courtesy of Sydney Pence.

“This experience has allowed me to explore my curiosities in science with the support of amazing mentors and colleagues,” Pence said. “Additionally, it has given me the opportunity to immerse myself into Swiss culture, explore beautiful areas across Europe, and make friends from around the world. I highly encourage all students interested in research to apply for this grant so that they too can grow in their academic areas of interest and have life changing experiences abroad.”

Pence noted the Fulbright experience has changed her entire perspective of the world. She was surprised to find that the world is smaller than she thought, yet there is more to see, do and understand than she ever could have imagined.

Sydney Pence on a hike from Grindelwald to Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland.

Sydney Pence on a hike from Grindelwald to Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. Photo courtesy of Sydney Pence. 

“I have learned to navigate foreign cities, to engage with people from all cultures and how to have mature conversations about cultural differences to find mutual understanding,” she continued. “I am leaving this year with a better understanding of scientific research, of my future goals and of how different areas around the world operate.” 

OHIO graduate Reiya Bhat received an English Teaching Assistant grant through the program in 2018 and was stationed in Madrid, Spain.

Bhat worked in a secondary school where she was a language and conversation assistant in English, biology, history, art and physical education classes. Through the program, she’s learned about not only Spain, but navigating a professional work environment and the education system.

Reina Bhat

Reiya Bhat and a group of her students at their Madrid-wide Global Classrooms (Model UN) conference. Photo courtesy of Reiya Bhat.

She also has a clearer sense of her future goals and aspirations. 

“I knew I had wanted to live in Spain since I was in high school and started learning more about Spanish culture in my Spanish classes,” Bhat explained. “When I learned about the Fulbright Award, I knew I would eventually want to apply for it. I wanted the opportunity to immerse myself in Spanish culture and language and work with a community. I also wanted meaningful opportunities for intercultural exchange, which is a key part of Fulbright.” 

Mailé Nguyễn received the Fulbright Award for the 2018-19 year and has extended their* grant program until July 2020. They are teaching English at a middle school in South Korea.

“I enjoy having a strong support system through Fulbright,” they said. “If I had come to Korea to be a teacher on my own, there is no guarantee that I could build a community as strong as the one I have. I also have the opportunity to live with a homestay family. While I was trepidatious at first, my homestay family has been one of my absolute favorite aspects of my program.”

Mailé Nguyễn and other Fulbright recipients meet the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris.

Mailé Nguyễn and other Fulbright recipients meet the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris. Photo courtesy of Mailé Nguyễn.

Nguyễn believes Ohio University students should apply for the once-in-a-lifetime experience to have friends all over the world.

“I would encourage any student interested in applying for a nationally competitive award to just go for it,” Nguyễn pointed out. “You don’t need to be the most qualified, you just need the work ethic and ambition. The worst that can happen is that they say no.”

Mailé Nguyễn and their students during their Sports Day.

Mailé Nguyễn and their students during their Sports Day. Photo courtesy of Mailé Nguyễn.

* Nguyễn prefers the use of gender-neutral pronouns. 

Applying for the program

OHIO is among the nation’s leaders in producing Fulbright Award recipients, with 10 students receiving the 2018-19 award in May 2018. That’s tied for 20th among public research institutions and tied for 40th among research institutions nationwide, tied with George Washington University, Penn State University, Indiana University, Temple University and Tufts University. 

For more information on how to apply to the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, contact Christopher Lewis, who directs the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards, at 740-593-2302 or christopherlewis@ohio.edu

Applicants should have relatively well-composed applications by August 30, Ohio University’s internal deadline. Throughout the month of September, applicants will receive additional feedback from OHIO faculty and staff through a campus committee interview process that helps strengthen their applications ahead of the October 8 national Fulbright U.S. Student Program deadline.