Oberlin was recognized as a top producer of Fulbright Students for the 2018-19 academic year, an honor the college has received annually for a decade.
First introduced by then-Senator J. William Fulbright, Congress created the Fulbright Program in 1946, designed to foster international goodwill through global learning initiatives for students. The Fulbright U.S. Student Program now offers opportunities for recent graduates and graduate students to engage in international exchange and learning in more than 160 countries and awards 1,900 grants annually. Funded through an annual appropriation by the United States Congress to the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the program is the largest of its kind in the United States.
Oberlin’s 220 total recipients of Fulbright U.S. student grants have engaged in a wide range of international learning experiences, from studying violin in Samoa to studying anti-obstetric violence law in Argentina. Director of Fellowships and Awards Nick Petzak says that the breadth of skills Fulbright students gain through their diverse experiences gives them a leg-up professionally. “Fulbright students are engaged in practical, intense professional experiences—the kinds of experiences the global economy demands and employers value,” Petzak says. “These kinds of experiences can be personally and professionally transformational.”
Transformation, Petzak says, is a common theme shared by Oberlin Fulbright alumni. Theodora Nestorova ’18, who is currently studying vocal pedagogy in Vienna, Austria, echoes this sentiment. “Professionally, my life plan has always included taking an international approach to my career as a classical singer and vocal pedagogue and voice researcher,” she says. “My Fulbright year here in Vienna has solidified that desire for a trans-Atlantic connection and opened my eyes to new perspectives and possibilities.”
Fulbright students design their own research projects, live with host families, and are immersed in the culture of the country they reside in during their grant year. Thus, Fulbright recipients act not just as cultural ambassadors, but as Oberlin ambassadors in other parts of the world. Petzak says that Oberlin students are well-prepared for this responsibility.
“Oberlin students are steeped in ethical understanding and the critical thinking, interpersonal, and professional skills needed to succeed as cultural ambassadors,” Petzak says. “They know how to engage in unfamiliar contexts, how to listen, and how to promote a sense of community. These are skills and habits of mind crucial to the ‘promotion of international goodwill’ that drives the promise of the Fulbright program.”
Many alumni have used their Fulbright year to prepare for their professional lives and enhance their Oberlin education by applying it to a global context. A history and creative writing graduate, Olivia Maia Fondaras Goffman ’18 is currently teaching in Malaysia through a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship. “Every day I’m in the classroom, I’m reminded of how much I love to work with adolescents,” she says. “This experience has cemented my desire to continue working with that age group in my professional life.”
While some Fulbright alumni’s experiences have helped crystallize their future career plans, Petzak says that many are inspired to pursue new paths. “Oberlin Fulbright alumni have exciting careers in law, education, media, finance, the arts—the range is incredibly broad. Through applying their Oberlin education in a new context, Fulbright alumni discover fulfillment and interest in challenges they had not anticipated; they discover new contexts for what is possible and change directions.”
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