Category: Fall 2022, Georgetown Magazine

Title:A Fulbright Legacy

Author: Karen Doss Bowman
Date Published: September 28, 2022

As a student in the School of Foreign Service, Daniel Breslow (SFS’22) always planned to study abroad to build intercultural skills. But when the coronavirus pandemic shuttered travel programs at Georgetown University and around the globe, the international politics major began looking for alternatives.

Breslow’s dream of an enriching, cross-cultural experience will soon come true.

In September, Breslow will travel to Białystok, Poland, to begin service as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA). He is one of 47 Georgetown students and alumni receiving a Fulbright U.S. Student Program award for 2022– 2023—a record number of Hoyas selected in one year. Georgetown, consistently named a “top producer” of Fulbright student awardees, ranks once again as a leading institution for Fulbright recipients for the current award cycle.

“Recognition for this achievement goes directly to our outstanding students and alumni who applied for a Fulbright on the belief that cultural exchange is fundamental to expanding mutual understanding and striving toward a more peaceful and tolerant world,” says Lauren Tuckley, director of Georgetown’s Center for Research and Fellowships.

Daniel Breslow
Pictured in St. Petersburg, Russia in 2019, Daniel Breslow (SFS’22) is heading to Bialystok, Poland this fall to teach. | Photo: Courtesy of Daniel Breslow

Fulbright connections start early

Breslow first heard about the Fulbright U.S. Student Program as a freshman, in his Russian language course taught by Iwona Sadowska, assistant teaching professor and director of Polish studies in the Department of Slavic Languages.

During one of the class meetings, Sadowska connected her students via Skype with Samantha Blond (SFS’18), who was then serving as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Kazakhstan. Blond shared her experiences of living and working in a Central Asian nation.

Sadowska was enthusiastic about the Fulbright program, long considered a form of “soft diplomacy” by the State Department. As Breslow recalls, she promised students that she would happily write a letter of recommendation if they decided to apply to the program.

“Four years later, I held her to that,” says Breslow, who minored in Russian language and earned a certificate in Eurasian, Russian, and East European studies. “I really credit Professor Sadowska for putting the Fulbright program on our radar and making students enthusiastic about it.”

Moments before presenting his senior capstone project in April, Breslow received word that he was selected for the ETA. Though he had applied for the program in Ukraine, Fulbright assignments in that nation are on hold due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The Fulbright selection committee instead offered him a placement at the University of Bialystok in Poland. Coincidentally, Bialystok was home to Breslow’s great-grandparents until they emigrated to the United States in the early 20th century.

“This will be a once in a lifetime experience,” says Breslow, who leaves for Poland in September. “It’s a great opportunity to gain practical teaching experience. It’s kind of like a crucible—teaching in a foreign country with students and colleagues whose first language is not English. But I don’t think there could be a better experience to really clarify whether teaching is something I want to do in the long term.”

Lavinia Taumoepeau-Latu (G’22) is researching emergency and disaster preparedness in Tonga, the homeland of her parents.
Lavinia Taumoepeau-Latu (G’22) is researching emergency and disaster preparedness in Tonga, the homeland of her parents. | Photo: Courtesy of Lavinia Taumoepeau-Latu

Top-flight Hoyas

As a global university with a focus on serving the common good, Georgetown offers a rich environment for nurturing Fulbright recipients. Over the past decade, Hoyas have proven competitive for the Fulbright U.S. student program, with Georgetown consistently ranking among the top five research institution producers of Fulbright winners, including two straight years in the number one spot (2019– 2020 and 2020–2021). During the same period, at least 140 students and alumni have applied each year to the program.

Since the Fulbright program launched 76 years ago, nearly 500 Hoyas have participated.

“Georgetown lives its commitment, as President DeGioia has described, to formation, inquiry, and the common good through classroom, campus, and community-based experiences,” Tuckley says. “We are proud of how many graduates have amplified these aims and continue to do so globally as Fulbrighters. The Center always enjoys working with students and alumni on this transformative journey, and we are committed to maintaining our strong institutional partnership with the Fulbright U.S. Student program.”

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program—administered by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) in partnership with the Institute for International Education (IIE)—strives to increase mutual understand- ing between U.S. citizens and people from other countries through the exchange of knowledge and skills. The program offers year-long research, study, or English teaching assignments to about 8,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists, and professionals each year from the U.S. and over 150 countries.

latu and family

Participants gain opportunities for professional development, intercultural awareness, and personal enrichment.

For Lavinia Taumoepeau-Latu, earning a Fulbright award to Tonga for the 2022–2023 academic year will allow her to hone her career skills while connecting with her heritage. A student in Georgetown’s Master of Professional Studies in Emergency and Disaster Management program, Taumoepeau-Latu has witnessed firsthand the chaos and destruction the Pacific Islands experience during extreme weather. She was working remotely in Tonga, her parents’ homeland, in 2018 when Tropical Cyclone Gita hit the island nation, causing widespread damage.

Taumoepeau-Latu’s Fulbright fellowship will involve conducting research with the National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) as part of an emergency and disaster preparedness project to develop a cultural curriculum and training focused on tsunami and volcanic eruptions in Tonga. She will document the project through film and foster meaningful connections across communities in the United States and Tonga.

“When I went to Tonga for the first time in 2011, I had this overwhelming feeling come over me, as I realized that I was walking in places where my ancestors were from,” says Taumoepeau-Latu. “Throughout all the years that I was born and raised here in America, I had always longed to see this island where my family migrated from and to experience what it was like. Being able to connect to my Tongan heritage and give back through the Fulbright project is an endeavor that is quite special and means a lot to me.”

 

gavin meyers
Gavin Myers (C’17) studied gastronomy in Italy to learn more about how food and culture are connected, and how to support community-based food systems. | Photo: Courtesy of Gavin Meyers

Campus Support for Fulbright Applicants

Georgetown’s status as a top producer of Fulbright U.S. Student awardees hasn’t happened by accident. The Center for Research and Fellowships (CRF), which guides students and alumni in pursuing a wide range of competitive national and international fellowships, introduces the Fulbright program to students through blast emails, social media, in-person and virtual information sessions, and more. Once a student expresses interest, the CRF maintains contact through channels such as listservs.

“A huge factor in Georgetown’s success in the Fulbright program is that we offer a tremendous amount of support to ensure that students and alumni end up with a powerful application,” says CRF Fulbright coordinator Meg Gardinier. “They also get mentoring and faculty support, and they end up being very competitive candidates. They get all this support to really cultivate a very powerful and compelling application.”

The university’s campus culture of academic rigor, undergraduate research, and intellectual curiosity also play a role in this achievement.

“We start with a highly educated and globally engaged applicant pool, so our students and alumni are especially competitive for those awards,” Gardinier says.

 

“Being able to connect and give back in this way is something that means a lot to me.”

For Gavin Myers (C’17), receiving a Fulbright fellowship provided the opportunity to explore his interest in the connections between food and culture. His award allowed him to pursue a master’s degree in gastronomy, with a concentration in world food cultures and mobility, at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy. He completed the program in March.

Myers, who is active in the Slow Food Movement, is interested in social justice issues surrounding food. A South Dakota native with roots in the Sicangu Lakota tribe, Myers wants to use his knowledge to promote local and community-based food systems.

Myers is grateful for the support he received from CRF.

“The team at Georgetown was super helpful in guiding me and offering advice on my essays and other application materials,” says Myers, who now serves as a Fulbright Alumni Ambassador. “They had a group of faculty members review my application materials, and then we had a Zoom meeting where they lobbed questions at me to help me flesh out some weak points in my essay.”

Ocean conservationist Emi Koch (C’12) led photography workshops with small-scale fisheries in Vietnam to help highlight challenges in the communities, including climate change.
Ocean conservationist Emi Koch (C’12) led photography workshops with small-scale fisheries in Vietnam to help highlight challenges in the communities, including climate change. | Photo: Courtesy of Emi Koch

Service through surf

An accomplished surfer, Emily “Emi” Koch (C’12) found her life’s purpose in the sea. As a student at Georgetown, the San Diego native founded Beyond the Surface International, a nonprofit that works with young learners from remote or marginalized small-scale fishing villages around the world. The organization promotes socio-ecological well-being, quality rural education, resilience, and ocean conservation through surfing, storytelling, and mindfulness workshops.

While pursuing a master’s degree in Marine Biodiversity & Conservation at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Koch explored ways to deepen her understanding of the challenges facing the fish-dependent communities her nonprofit engages. She also wanted to facilitate participatory community-based research on the impact of declining fish stocks on fish-dependent communities. She remembered hearing about the Fulbright U.S. Student Program during her time on the Hilltop and decided she should go for it.

“I thought the Fulbright sounded like just this extraordinary opportunity to immerse oneself in another culture and devote time to diving into this issue,” says Koch.

Koch reached out to Georgetown’s CRF to tap into the many resources and support services it offers students and alumni seeking research and fellowship opportunities. CRF Director Tuckley worked with Koch for months, offering feedback on her application materials and setting up a mock interview to prepare her for the Fulbright interview. Koch also took advantage of the webinars, listserv, and resources on the CRF website.

“Going into this, I expected that I would have to figure out everything on my own, but Georgetown was so supportive,” Koch says. “The office was so fantastic.” Koch was awarded the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship for 2019–2020, a component of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program administered in partnership with the National Geographic Society.

Ocean conservationist Emi Koch (C’12) led photography workshops with small-scale fisheries in Vietnam to help highlight challenges in the communities, including climate change.
Photo: Courtesy of Emi Koch

“I had the perception that applying for and getting a Fulbright was very difficult, and I never imagined I would get one,” Koch says. “But the CRF at Georgetown was really helpful and working with them, I was able to craft a more competitive application.”

In October 2019, Koch arrived in Vietnam for her project, which set out to investigate fisheries scarcity and anthropogenic stressors such as climate change on small-scale fisheries’ well-being through photography workshops with fish-dependent stakeholders. She was intrigued that many of them took pictures of “whale temples,” containing coffins filled with whale bones. The people in the fishing communities revere whales, as they are thought to bring protection and prosperity.

The wordless images, revealing the perspectives of local fishers, leaves a powerful impression of some of the hardships they are facing, Koch says. “It was really interesting to learn that with less fish in the sea, local communities were not only sinking deeper into poverty and food insecurity, but also their spiritual well-being was eroding.”

Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic forced Koch to evacuate and pause the project early in March 2020. The good news: Last month, Koch was awarded the Scientific Exploration Society’s Elodie Sanford Explorer Award for Amateur Photography for her work in Vietnam which will enable her to return and complete her research in late 2023. Koch also received a second Fulbright Fellowship for 2022-2023. This time, she will go to Greece, where she will facilitate a similar project. The data she gathers will be used to revamp the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s Small-Scale Fisheries Guidelines to promote sustainability of their livelihood against threats such as climate change and industrialization.

“Georgetown really prepared me to be able to resolve things on my own and serve communities throughout the world.”

While Georgetown CRF was invaluable to Koch’s successful Fulbright application, she says her overall undergraduate experience also played a role in preparing her for these opportunities.

“Georgetown is such a multicultural place, with many international students and so many diverse perspectives in the classroom,” Koch says. “I feel like I’ve been a bit of a chameleon, essentially being able to get dropped into a new place and being able to be receptive to these different perspectives I’ve encountered around the world.

“Georgetown also gave me the independence to figure things out. In Vietnam, I was in charge of my research and everything related to the project. Georgetown really prepared me to be able to resolve things on my own and meaningfully engage with communities throughout the world.”

For other students and alumni considering applying for a Fulbright, Koch offers this advice: “First of all, believe that it’s possible that you could get one of these awards,” Koch says. “Just focus on your passion and design your project around that. There’s so much support available at Georgetown, and if you put in the time and the effort, there’s a good chance that your application could be successful.”

The application process

Fulbright applications are due to Georgetown’s Center for Research and Fellowships (CRF) more than a year before the actual grant commences. Undergraduates hoping to go abroad in the academic year following their graduation, for example, should begin their application in the spring of their junior year. The national deadline for the program is October 12, but the CRF deadline is September 1 to allow time for the internal review process. Any Georgetown graduate with a bachelor’s or master’s degree (but not a doctorate) is eligible to apply through the CRF.

The process begins when students or alumni reach out to the CRF and set up a one-to-one advising session. During that initial meeting, the CRF team member will explain the Fulbright program and help them find an opportunity that matches their interests and language skills (some programs require language proficiency). While some students come to the CRF with a clear direction in mind, others want guidance.

Once the applicant has determined which program to apply to, the CRF team will help them develop their proposal. The CRF offers workshops and webinars on topics such as proposal writing and provides mentoring throughout the process. Additionally, they offer valuable feedback on applicants’ essays and can set up mock interviews, giving applicants a chance to practice for the real Fulbright interview, which is done by a panel of judges.

More Stories

Students sing bhajans (hymns) while encircling the Icons with a ghee-lamp in the Hindu ritual of aarti, which asks God to bless the devotee’s heart and mind with love and compassion.

In addition to promoting interfaith dialogue and exploration, a program called Press Pause provides a respite from the hectic pace of everyday life.

This close-up of a marshmallow polypore fungus, growing on the side of a dead tree near Glover- Archbold Park, has an otherworldly aura.

Explore the Hilltop and environs with biology professor and photographer Martha Weiss.

Winoka Wendy Wilkes (SFS’91) (front center, pink sneakers) organizes the Soul Hoyas reunion event each year.

In July 2022, the Georgetown University Alumni Association proudly announced the formation of the Black Alumni Council, the first-ever affinity group to be established by the organization.