Alumni Spotlights | Global Impact | Seattle Life | Student Life

Adventures abroad: Fulbright scholarships open doors

Rachel Weeks eating street food with some of her engineering students in downtown Vientiane. They are eating Lao noodles with dumplings, fresh passionfruit juice, and chicken heart on a stick.

SPU had an astounding 80 percent Fulbright acceptance rate.

If you want to make a global impact, a Fulbright Scholarship could help your career path. Fulbright alumni are presidents, prime ministers, and Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners. And Seattle Pacific students have a good track record of winning the award.

“It’s amazing how much more competitive students are for jobs and grad school after having a Fulbright,” said Brad Murg, Seattle Pacific University’s Fulbright Program adviser and assistant professor of political science.

The Fulbright Program is a highly competitive, federally funded grant for students and recent graduates to conduct research or teach English in a foreign country for one year. In the 2018–19 award cycle, the program chose four SPU graduates to teach English abroad: David Dovgopoly ’15 in the Ukraine, Rachel Long’18 in Kyrgyzstan, Abigail Jensen ’18 in Jordan, and Rachel Weeks ’16 in Laos.

Laos sounds like motorcycles, smells like car exhaust and green mango trees, and tastes like sticky rice, papaya salad, and sweet Lao coffee.

Four out of five SPU applicants were accepted from that cycle. To put that in perspective, most of the 14 universities awarded four scholarships in the 2017 to 2018 academic year submitted 20 applications.

“An 80 percent success rate is remarkable,” said Murg, who works closely with the students on their approximately 20-page Fulbright applications. “SPU’s success is linked to the rigorous nature of our programs, together with the school’s strong commitment to maintain a global outlook.”

Rachel Weeks, a political science alumna, first heard about the scholarship in an international politics course and pursued it in hopes of a future job at the U.S. Department of State.

She teaches English at an engineering university in the Laos capitol, Vientiane. Weeks says Laos sounds like motorcycles, smells like car exhaust and green mango trees, and tastes like sticky rice, papaya salad, and sweet Lao coffee. Her classes have 40 engineering students, all at different levels of English — from learning the ABCs to holding conversations.

“This makes complex language learning difficult,” she said. “However, I try to remember my most important goal for being here is to build relationships with my students. I do the best job possible and accept that while I cannot be a miracle teacher, I can be an encouraging influence.”

Rachel Weeks poses with Laotian family
Weeks poses with coworkers and a coworker’s extended family in Vang Vieng, a city north of Laos. “Vang Vieng can be a big tourist destination so exploring with my Lao friends and seeing the Lao side of the city made me feel more like a local,” Weeks said.

One of the ways she builds relationships is through practicing the Lao language in front of her students and showing them that it’s okay to make language mistakes.

“When I speak Lao, it helps my students relax, because they can see that I am also trying — and failing — to speak a new language,” she said, adding that her students were at first nervous to make language mistakes in front of a native English teacher.

Rachel may pursue a job with the United States Department of State in the future, but in the meantime she plans to head back to Los Angeles and apply for careers in city government and at federal agencies.

“Fulbright has clarified and confirmed my passion for international relations and public diplomacy,” she said. “I love how Fulbright commits to the mission of diplomacy through soft power influences and relationship building.”

Abigail Jensen applied for a Fulbright award because she wanted to improve her Arabic and return to Jordan where she interned as a translator in the summer of 2017. Jensen, a global development and linguistics double major, co-taught English to first graders until March and now co-teaches fifth graders in the capital city, Amman. When she was with first graders, her coworkers, who were all Jordanian, were known for being like a family.

“We were always exchanging food and stories with each other,” she said. “Being around them was probably the one thing that has improved my Arabic the most.”

Abigail Jensen
Abigail Jensen in Jordan.

Jensen also loves her church in Amman and the genuine excitement of Jordanian Christians.

“Those outside the church have lots of stereotypes about what Christians are like,” she said. “It’s been interesting to explain that just because someone is from a Western country does not automatically make them Christian.”

She’s introduced her fifth graders to the game of Taboo, which they affectionately call “tabbouleh” after the popular salad containing parsley, tomatoes, mint, and bulgur. During the game, one team sends a student to sit in front of the classroom with their back to the smartboard. Abigail puts a word on the PowerPoint and a teammate describes the word in English. Abigail deducts a point if anyone is caught speaking Arabic.

“The fifth graders love friendly competition,” she said. “This has been a fun game to help them improve their speaking and review vocabulary words.”

“Those outside the church have lots of stereotypes about what Christians are like,” she said. “It’s been interesting to explain that just because someone is from a Western country does not automatically make them Christian.”

Jensen is considering pursuing a master’s degree in linguistics in Germany after she leaves Jordan in July.

“Fulbright has enabled me to feel more independent traveling and living abroad,” she said. “I have improved my Arabic, and I’ve gained new skills and experiences through teaching.”

Weeks agrees that experience abroad is invaluable.

“I hope that every SPU student has the opportunity to study or live abroad,” Weeks said. “Going to an unfamiliar place gives you perspective that is hard to have otherwise.”

student sits in ancient amphitheater

 

Share
Tags
Topics
Become a Student
See how SPU can help you achieve your academic and career goals!
Discover SPU