Danielle Elliott was ready to focus on the LSAT and officially get started on the path to becoming an immigration attorney.
But she’s more than happy to put that on hold for the opportunity of a lifetime — and maybe some authentic paella, too.
Elliott, who graduated from Northwestern University in March with a journalism degree, is headed across the Atlantic Ocean as a Fulbright Scholar through the organization's U.S. student program. She will serve as an English-language teaching assistant from September through June 2018 at Universidad Camilo José Cela in Madrid.
“It seems like the placement was designed for me,” she said. “I can't wait to get started.”
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is the U.S. government’s flagship international exchange program for recent graduates, master's and doctoral students and professionals with up to five years of experience. It provides grants for individually designed research projects or for English teaching assistant programs in countries outside the U.S.
The Fulbright is the cherry on top of Elliott’s ever-growing list of multicultural experiences. She twice studied abroad in Spanish-speaking countries and regularly volunteered and worked at Chicago area non-profits that help non-native English speakers assimilate.
Over the summer, Elliot interned for eight weeks as a press assistant at Illinois Senator Dick Durbin’s Washington, D.C., office. She coordinated interviews, wrote press releases and did social media in Spanish and English.
“I hope that the Fulbright will lead to a career and a lifetime of connecting with diverse cultures and promoting international education,” Elliott said. “The more that communities learn from one another, the better we all are.”
Elliott (far right) with fellow Senate interns during summer 2016 on former Senator Harry Reid's office balcony.
Elliott’s journey to the Fulbright was far from a straight line, though. She originally arrived in Evanston to swim competitively for the Wildcats, but left the team after two years due to injury. The time-management skills she developed as a student-athlete would prove invaluable.
A Spanish minor, Elliott spent the summer after her sophomore year interning for Fudacación Enseñarte (Performing Life) in Cochabamba, Bolivia, as part of a Global Engagement Studies Institute (GESI) study abroad program. She provided daily after-school programming in Spanish for 60 children, including a “children’s circus” that involved juggling, fire-breathing and riding a unicycle.
During her junior year, Elliott interned for Amnesty International in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for her journalism residency.
“I’ve always been interested in other cultures, but not nearly to the extent that I am now,” Elliott said. “The influence of Northwestern’s focus on global experiences and GESI completely reoriented what I wanted to do.
“I’m so thankful for GESI because it gave me a community of students and a place where I knew I could learn and develop,” she said. “It pushed me to grow in a million different ways.”
Second from right, Elliott helps hold an Amnesty International banner. She interned for the non-profit during her junior year for her journalism residency in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Back in Evanston, Elliott wrote profiles on undocumented students in Chicago for two journalism courses, exposing her to the unique challenges undocumented students face when pursuing education.
She was particularly moved by a Loyola medical student she covered this past fall. The student worked multiple jobs and had to seek out several scholarships to fulfill her dream of attending medical school.
The experiences fueled her passion for immigrant rights.
“I felt like I had such a responsibility that I had to do more than just report,” Elliott said. “I had to find other ways to get involved.”
And she did. Elliott has volunteered for the past two years at Centro Romero, an immigrant advocacy non-profit in Chicago, teaching English-language proficiency and GED prep to undocumented immigrants. In February, Elliott began tutoring at Books & Breakfast, an Evanston-area nonprofit that provides bilingual before-school programs for elementary school students.
Her efforts at the two non-profits produced an Outstanding Tutor award from Literacy Volunteers of Illinois, which honored her on April 8 at its awards banquet.
Elliott said she still plans to become an immigration attorney. For now, she will do what she’s always done — embrace a different culture.
“I am beyond thrilled with this grant because of the opportunity it allows me to continue working on my Spanish, while sharing both what I love about the U.S. and the skills I've gained from my education at Northwestern,” she said.