Seven UP students granted Fulbright grants to study or work all across the globe

By Delaney Vetter | April 24, 2017 10:53am


Alana Laanui, traveling to Malaysia to complete her Fulbright grant.

by Jeffrey Braccia / The Beacon

What is a Fulbright Scholarship? According to the Fulbright website, it is an “international scholarship with an ambitious goal — to increase mutual understanding and support friendly and peaceful relations between the people of the United States and of other countries.” It is sponsored by the U.S. State Department with programs in 155 countries.

After a long application process that included essays and letters of recommendation, seven seniors were selected as finalists for Fulbright grants this year.

Six of these finalists were offered English Teaching Assistantships: Jessica Busek (Luxembourg), Claire Kenneally (Bulgaria), Alana Laanui (Malaysia), Jocelin Morales (Mexico), Pearl Kahle (Germany) and Hanna Nightingale (Germany). Ashley Martinez was offered a Study/Internship grant in Mexico and Parkes Kendrick is an alternate for a study grant in the U.K.

The Beacon sat down with a few of the recipients to learn about the process, their placement and their expectations for the upcoming months.

Alana Laanui

Alana Laanui, a senior political science major with minors in social justice and communication studies, has quite the year ahead of her. In January 2018, Laanui, along with about 100 other Fulbright recipients, will begin a 3-month long orientation to get acquainted with the culture and the language of her placement country, Malaysia. She will then be placed in a Malaysian school to begin her English Teaching Assistantship.

“UP has a good reputation for getting Fulbrighters,” Laanui said. “Initially when I went into the Office of Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement, I went in hoping I could do a research grant in Samoa, but things changed and I ended up doing an ETA in Malaysia instead.”

Laanui said there were many reasons why she wanted to go abroad, but mainly because she hopes to gain real world experience before going to graduate school to get her masters in global development or public policy.

“Coming into UP, I was interested in international relations but we don’t have an international relations program here. The political science classes I did take that related to international relations were really interesting,” Laanui said. “I want to explore that more, it’s one thing to learn it in a classroom, where I’m like, ‘Yeah, I could totally negotiate these complicated situations.’ It’s totally different to be there and be in it.”

Laanui also thinks that her Fulbright experience will be an opportunity to aid her future career.

“I think it would be hard for me in my professional career to work with people in developing nations and not have my own experience to draw off of,” she said.

Laanui says her friends and family are all very excited for her, but her mom isn’t totally convinced.

“My mom is kinda confused about the whole thing, she’s like, ‘You’re going to this developing country, you’re not getting paid, and why?’” Laanui said. “Typical mom, overstressed.”

But Laanui said her only real concern is going to a country that speaks a different language, because learning other languages, she says, is not her strong suit. Ultimately, though, she says she looks forward to the challenge.

“I’m just excited to learn about this different culture, Malaysia is very diverse,” Laanui said.

Jessica Busek

Jessica Busek, a senior English and French major, has already had an opportunity to use her French skills in an immersive setting. She studied abroad in Nantes, France during her junior year, and now she’s getting ready to head back to another French-speaking country: Luxembourg.

Busek says that although she is “a little heartbroken to leave Portland” in September, she is excited to live in the small, European country, to continue working on her French, and to learn German, another language spoken in Luxembourg.

Busek will be doing an English Teaching Assistantship in a high school and at the University of Luxembourg; perfect, she says, to help prepare her for her future career. Like Laanui, Busek is using the 10 months abroad as a break before graduate school.

She plans to get her masters in English literature and eventually teach high school or college English.

“I’m excited about everything!” Busek said. “I want to challenge myself.”

Even though the process of applying was long, Busek said the Office of Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement — which assists with the Fulbright grant process at UP — was a huge help to her, especially after she got a late start on the application process.

“There’s so much help in this whole process,” Busek said. “So far with the Fulbright committee in Luxembourg, it’s very small and close-knit. With the webinar (a pre-departure orientation) this morning, gosh, it's just a dream come true.”

After the strenuous application process, Busek said waiting to hear whether or not she’d been accepted was difficult. She said receiving the news was nerve wracking and overwhelming in a good way.

“I got the email noise and I saw it, I couldn’t really deal with it,” Busek said. “I called my sister first because she has been just as nervous as me throughout this whole process. She would text me everyday and be like, ‘Did you get the email yet?’ When I found out, I called her first and she screamed, she was so excited. It was adorable.”

Ashley Martinez

Senior Ashley Martinez says she’s excited to graduate in just two weeks with a double major in civil engineering and Spanish. But it’s really what’s happening several months after graduation that she is most looking forward to.

In August, every Fulbright recipient placed in Mexico will go to an orientation in Mexico City and will then get their placements for English Teaching Assistantships or Research Grants around the country. While most countries offer only ETA’s or Research Grants, Martinez’s program is unique in that she will be a part-time graduate student and have an internship at a binational company in Mexico City during her 10-month stay there.

“I’m excited to go to Mexico because I haven’t been there. I’m really excited to immerse myself in a culture for 10 months,” Martinez said. “I went to Chile for five months (to study abroad), but this is a much longer period of time. I think that since I’ll be working and in graduate courses, I hope it will bring my Spanish to a level higher than what I’ve attained previously.”

Fulbright is something Martinez says she’s known she wanted to do since her freshman year of college. Being half Mexican, she knew she wanted to go to a Spanish-speaking country. But her background doesn’t mean she is free of all concerns.

“I have no idea what this is going to be like,” Martinez said. “It will probably get better once I meet people at this orientation, but I don’t know exactly what to expect. Is it acceptable to be nervous about all of it?”

Martinez found out she was a finalist while at an engineering conference in San Diego. She had been given a range of two months during which she would hear back about a decision, but ended up receiving her acceptance on the first day decisions were sent out.

“I was so excited, I wasn’t expecting to hear back at that point,” Martinez said. “I was expecting it to be much much later so it came out of nowhere. I was just elated.”

Her family shares in her excitement but, like most parents, have some worries about their child leaving the country. Martinez says her dad told her, “I’m so excited, but I don’t want you to leave.”

Martinez said she will be taking anywhere from three to six courses relating to international business along with her internship. She hopes that the experience will help her figure out her career plans and if she wants to pursue a job where she gets to work internationally.

“This particular program is a shockingly good fit for what I think, as of now, I want to be doing,” she said.

Before heading to Mexico, Martinez hopes to gain even more workplace experience this summer through an internship with the San Francisco Public Utility Commission working on hydraulic modeling.