By Anna Charny '19
Earning a Fulbright has been one of the highlights of my academic and professional career. International relations allowed me to take courses from a multitude of departments and fostered an environment for global learning through the language and study abroad components. While I didn’t know it at the time, the flexibility within the international relations department to take classes in various departments, do research and earn academic credit for summer internships, ultimately constructed a perfect path towards earning a Fulbright.
In the summer of my freshman year, I interned with Breakthrough, an NGO based in the U.S. and India that aims to end violence against women through social media and workshops. Working with a team of people who were dedicated to creating positive social change inspired me to continue seeking out similar opportunities. After my junior year, I interned as a researcher in Vienna, Austria, for the international nonprofit Women without Borders, which is dedicated to preventing violent extremism in high-risk countries and promoting women leaders. These experiences gave me opportunities to learn about international human security and further solidified my hunger to enhance my global understanding.
During a study abroad in Seville, Spain, I took part in intercambios with new Spanish friends talking in English and Spanish, a conversational process that increased our language abilities exponentially, but also taught me a tremendous amount about southern Spain and them about New York. I learned how to dance Sevillanas, and we laughed good-naturedly at my missteps, and I poked fun at their many preconceived stereotypes about Estadounidenses and watched them pass their exams. Exchanging language and culture on such a personal level sparked a yearning to form these relationships wherever I go.
In Seville, Spanish flags seem to hang from every balcony as a political choice—a symbol that changes based on the region. My curiosity about Spain led me to choose an au pair job in Catalonia for the second half of that summer—a region so different from Andalucia. A few months later, I found myself moved by how the flags in my new town of Torroella de Montgri lacked the shield of Spain, like those in Seville. This small taste of the complexities of Spanish politics and society affirmed that I needed to return to Spain for further exploration through immersion. One of the reasons I chose to apply to Spain was because the placement includes not only classroom teaching in a school, but also a community-based project perhaps forming an English creative writing club for Galicians or volunteering with a local NGO.
Two months after graduating from Geneseo, I moved to Taipei, Taiwan, to start a job as an English language teacher and immerse myself in Taiwanese society. Collaborating with Taiwanese teachers and learning their educational methodologies confirmed how much more I have to learn about the world of education and the global community. Becoming a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) is not just stepping into the shoes of an English teacher or a community leader, but an opportunity to be a cultural ambassador to help strengthen Spanish-US relations. I often feel like a sponge—eager to learn, ask questions, and soak up my surroundings. Moving abroad for an extended period of time as a Fulbrighter will allow me to move past being just an American traveler, as I join a community and a new culture, to meet and learn from like-minded leaders, educators, and new friends.
My intercultural experiences have taught me the power of language—teaching it, learning it, and not knowing it. Language is a mechanism of inclusion and bonding, but not knowing it can create an environment that is exclusionary and segregated, a dilemma I understand. As an ETA, I will be given the opportunity to once again help provide Spaniards the language tools to connect more deeply with English speaking cultures and opportunities, and I want to grow as well.
After my time in Spain, I am planning on a dual master’s degree in law and international relations so that I can continue to learn about the global community. I aspire towards a career in international law that will include research and writing, advancing public policy, and positively influencing students I teach. In our evolving, globalized world, human connection is the key to diplomacy and advancement, and language is a necessary step to that connection.