Who wouldn’t want $28,000 to travel the world for a year? Or spend nine months teaching English in Croatia? Now that the applications have been sent in, seniors are awaiting the results of their applications for many national, postgraduate fellowships.
Last year 27 students applied for Fulbright funding and 11 won the prestigious grant. The College was ranked a Top Producing Institution for the U.S. Student Fulbright award by The Chronicle for Higher Education last October. Cindy Stocks, director of student fellowships and research, spoke highly of Bowdoin’s record competing for these fellowships.
“Bowdoin can go toe to toe with just about any other school,” Stocks said.
Fulbright offers fellowships for both research and teaching English. Uchechi Esonu ’13 is in Croatia on a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship.
“Right now I’m really focused on making connections with people and getting to know people,” Esonu told the Orient in a Skype interview. “From there, you have different access points to different groups of people. Truthfully, I spent the first couple of months getting to know where I am and getting to know the city’s history.”
In the spring, Esonu plans to look either at turbo-folk music, a popular type of music in the Balkans, or rock music, which has close ties to activism there. For now, though, she works alongside professors in classrooms teaching English to college students.
Esonu and other teaching assistants split the lecture section of about 220 students into three groups and work with them every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. In these sections, Esonu leads activities and comes up with exercises.
“It is not like Bowdoin everywhere. I have 220 students spread out over three days, so you have to try to adjust,” she said.
Adam Rasgon ’13 also had to be highly adaptable. Rasgon received a Fulbright Study/Research Grant to continue his study of Arabic at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad in Cairo, Egypt. However on June 30, shortly after he arrived, massive protests erupted in the city, contesting President Mohammed Morsi’s rule.
“Most people didn’t think there would be any major changes coming out of this movement, but they organized a big protest.” Rasgon said. “This movement was pretty liberal and secular and called for Morsi to step down.”
Originally, Rasgon was supposed to be in Egypt until May 2014, but he and other students were evacuated in the end of June and early July. He went to Amsterdam to wait for a few days and see if the situation would calm down, but it continued to escalate and the U.S. embassy raised the travel warning for Egypt instead of lifting it.
In the middle of July, Rasgon was notified by Fulbright that the program in Egypt would not resume until December, so he decided to relocate to Jordan temporarily. He tried to transfer his Fulbright funds to study Arabic in Jordan in a similar program, but the Fulbright program told him he would have to wait until the fellowship resumed in December.
“I had to forfeit the grant in this somewhat compulsory way, but I got funding from the program in Jordan,” Rasgon said. “The news that I lost my Fulbright grant was pretty devastating, because I was ecstatic when I received it.”
The program in Jordan has waived Rasgon’s tuition, paid for his travel, and provides him with a monthly stipend, though less than what the Fulbright fellowship offered.
Despite his disappointment and relocation, Rasgon has continued to engage with the Arabic language while in Jordan. He lives with three American roommates who he speaks Arabic with. They travel into the city during the day to practice the language and met new friends.
In addition to Fulbright fellowships, Bowdoin students are also abroad on fellowships through the Princeton in Africa and Asia, the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program and the Watson Fellowship, to name a few.
David Bruce ’13 won a Watson Fellowship to travel around the world for one year and study how cities are handling the effects of climate change on water supplies.
The Watson Fellowship rewards 40 students from 40 select universities with $28,000 to travel around the world for a year to explore independently designed projects.
Bruce was unavailable for an interview due to his travel plans.
Stocks noted that though it is easy to focus on the winners of these prizes, it is also important to consider what all applicants gain from participating in the process.
The applications for these fellowships begin early in the year, requiring students to consider what they have done, what they want to do, why they want to do it, and how they will get there.
Esonu said, “For me, it really forced me to think about why I was applying and why I wanted to go where I wanted to go. You really have to take a second and think about why you think it would be useful.”