When Ellen Bastian graduated from Drake University in 2010 with a dual degree in international relations and electronic media, she never thought it would lead her to the Russian steppes in a town 400 miles east of Moscow. Now, Bastian is creating a documentary about globalization and its influence on Russian agriculture. None of this would have been possible without the Fulbright Scholar program.
U.S. Congress started the Fulbright Program in 1946 to increase understanding between the United States and other countries. Approximately 1,700 students, teachers and scholars are awarded the scholarship every year to complete a project in another country. Congress awarded 6,000 grants in 2010, which added up to more than $322.3 million.
“(The program) is for internationalizing America,” said Eleanor Zeff, the Fulbright Program adviser at Drake. Those applying can either teach or organize a project.
Since 2004, 15 Drake students have received a Fulbright scholarship. At least one student has received the scholarship every year since 2004. Drake was the second highest student Fulbright producer in 2009-2010 among U.S. master’s institutions. Students have to apply and have a bachelor’s degree to participate. Recipients can work in 155 participating countries.
Zeff said there have been some great projects put together by Drake students. They have constructed business, building and development projects as well as conducted interviews and studies.
Bastian is creating her documentary film in Cheboksary, Chuvashia, Russia. After she graduated, Bastian interned as an environment educator at Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge in Prairie City, Iowa. There she learned about research concerning native ecosystems that coexist with agriculture.
“I started wondering whether the same discussions are taking place in Russia’s steppes, its version of North America’s prairies, and how globalization is influencing rural life there in general,” Bastian said. “It seemed like a good documentary film topic to explore.”
Bastian first learned of the Fulbright program when she was a first-year student at Drake.
“When I was a freshman I saw Fulbright flyers in the halls of Meredith and decided to keep it as a goal for the future,” she said.
Being away from home has been an eye-opening experience for Bastian.
“I have gained even more appreciation for the relative accessibility of information in the U.S.,” she said. “The grant has taught me a lot about how to move forward with a project, an idea, in a very unfamiliar environment. It has taught me about being flexible, about letting a project evolve as it moves along.”
Other Drake students receive Fulbrights to teach English to students in other countries. Linda Yang, who graduated in 2008 with an English education degree, went to Hong Kong to teach English for the 2008-09 school year.
“We were there mainly because in certain areas of Hong Kong it is hard to encounter native English speakers,” she said.
Their presence gave students a chance to practice English more often. She was also able to organize events outside of the classroom. She created a Thanksgiving dinner for the students who had only seen the celebration of the holiday on TV and in movies. She cites this as one of her favorite memories from her Fulbright experience.
Yang said she decided to apply for the scholarship because she loved to travel, and because it fit with her values.
“As the daughter of Chinese immigrants who achieved the American dream with education, I know firsthand its transformative power,” she said.
Yang is now pursuing her masters of science-in-management degree at the London School of Economics. She said her Fulbright experience directly influenced this decision. She realized how connected the international economy was and “couldn’t help but notice the marketing and consumer behavior differences between the two places.”
Yang encourages students to apply for a Fulbright. She said it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will change any student’s life.
“I think the biggest gain I got from the program was learning to further appreciate different cultures and incorporate aspects I liked from those cultures into my own,” she said.
The Fulbright Program isn’t just for students. At least one professor from Drake has received the Fulbright award every year since 2007. One of those was international politics professor David Skidmore. He spent a year in Hong Kong during the 2010-11 academic year. Skidmore went with other American professors to advise eight major universities in Hong Kong on their development of general education.
“It was designed to give students a broad base of education,” he said.
Aside from advising the universities and traveling, Skidmore also taught a class on globalization in China. He got to work with students from six different countries.
Skidmore said his Fulbright was a great experience and that he took a lot away from it. He offers some advice for students and faculty who are thinking about applying..
“I think the main thing is to make sure your strengths are a particular match for the Fulbright you’re applying for,” he said.