Academic Ambassadors

Scholarships Are Passports to Adventure

By Caperton Gillett

Winning an international scholarship means more than a few new stamps in a passport. Recipients have the opportunity to serve as cultural ambassadors of the United States while living, working, and learning in other parts of the world. Three UAB students who received prestigious international scholarships in 2011 explain how these awards are opening new doors, both overseas and here at home.

 


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Recent international studies graduate Grace Benton received a Fulbright Scholarship. She will spend a year teaching English in Jordan.

On her interest in the Middle East: “As a Spanish major, I had to take two semesters of another foreign language, so I chose Arabic. As soon as I got into the class, it just clicked. The interest in Middle Eastern politics and culture came soon thereafter. That’s been my primary academic focus ever since.”

On her career path: “I’d been considering academia, but I’m also thinking about a career with a policy advisory organization or a nongovernmental organization. Whatever path I choose, I want to be able to clear up misconceptions that people in the Middle East and people in the West hold about one another.”

On the future of the Middle East: “The semester after my freshman year, I went to Tunisia, and I spent the spring semester of my junior year in Dubai. I know the political environment has changed significantly. But my friends in the Middle East have been speaking not of the negative aspects but of a real spirit of excitement and hope. I’m really looking forward to being able to explore that firsthand.”

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Senior economics major Kimberly Everett received a Truman Scholarship and UAB’s first-ever Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship. Last year, she spent her junior year studying in China thanks to the Boren Scholarship.

On returning from China: “My language progressed from the beginning—where I couldn’t even ask how much things cost—to the end, where I had Chinese friends, and we would have conversations about current events or our cultures. I feel empowered, like I can pursue anything I want.”

On her future career: “The summer after I graduate, I’ll be able to do an internship with the State Department. Then I can travel, come back, and finish grad school, and then I’ll work for the State Department. I could very well end up back in China. But I could also go anywhere else in the world.”

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Senior economics major Krish Varma received a Fulbright Scholarship. He will spend a year teaching English in India.

On being an ambassador: “One of the goals of the Fulbright is to promote intercultural communication. I really enjoy this—I like to be able to shine a positive light on different cultural norms without relying on stereotypes. I grew up in the United States in a fairly traditional household, so I feel like I have a good understanding of how to reconcile the two cultures.”

On his service project: “In addition to our teaching responsibilities, we’re asked to do a service project, and I proposed a dance group for the students at my school. I’ve been a trained dancer for some time, and I really enjoy dance and teaching. I want to start a fusion dance group that combines Bollywood music with some regional styles from India as well as American hip-hop and jazz.”

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