Across the globe, there are not many countries less alike than Indonesia and Bulgaria — one a vast collection of tropical islands speckled by volcanos in Southeast Asia, the other a Balkan nation with snow covered mountains and rivers running to the Black Sea.
One of the two-dozen Northwestern University students and alumni awarded a 2020-21 Fulbright Fellowship, Giovanni Gamalong ’20 planned to spend the 2020-21 academic year teaching English in Indonesia before applying to medical school upon his return. But Gamalong has been rerouted via Bulgaria by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This process has taught me to be more flexible, that it’s okay for plans to fall through, to expect the unexpected, to rely on and always be thankful for the community I have around me, and that, now more than ever, public service and community organizing work is so important,” Gamalong said.
Normally, at this time of year, Fulbrighters around the world have settled into their lives and work and are halfway through their time abroad. Instead, Gamalong is at home, working remotely as a fellow for the non-profit Fund For Global Health and a chemistry tutor.
Like the majority of Northwestern awardees, he has been delayed but not deterred by COVID-19.
After the Indonesia English Teaching Assistant Program was canceled in wake of the pandemic, Gamalong received the option to relocate his Fulbright to Bulgaria. Reluctant at first, he “fell in love with Bulgaria” as he learned more about the country.
“Although Bulgaria and Indonesia are geographically different countries, they actually have a lot of similarities,” he said. “Overall, both Indonesia and Bulgaria's rich traditions and histories offer me the opportunity to immerse myself into a new and different culture. Both countries provide me the privilege to grow as an individual, while also enabling me to share the American culture through my unique perspective as an American and Filipino immigrant.”
But a second spike in the fall of 2020 led to the program's deferral, and Gamalong was faced with a hard decision of either accepting the deferral or not going at all.
“I knew that the fellowship is a once in a lifetime opportunity that would cultivate my future career as a physician and global health leader,” he said.
While Gamalong doesn’t leave until August, he stays in touch with his cohort through a Bulgarian book club. They are currently reading “Stork Mountain” by Miroslav Penkov.
Sayeed Sanchez ’20 finally made it to Madrid on Jan. 6.
There he is working remotely as an English teaching assistant at Spain’s international IE University.
Sanchez helps students at any stage in the writing process, co-teaches a series of workshops on the mechanics of writing and rhetoric in English, and leads a recurring workshop with IE university staff on the racialization of language, dialects and accents.
“Given the uniqueness of this Fulbright, I've definitely adjusted my expectations for here, although I still hope to make the best of my time,” said Sanchez, who has enjoyed the Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid. “I am excited to return in the spring when more flowers are blooming!”
Making sense of a world in flux
Lois Bigg’s ’20 found out in August that she would be able to start her Fulbright on time and arrived in the United Kingdom in September. In the months since, she has explored Yorkshire, made new friends, and experienced — virtually — Leeds's art and music scene.
“The circumstances are strange and sometimes challenging, especially given the current lockdown,” said Biggs, who is enrolled in a master’s program on the social and political dimensions of art history at the University of Leeds.
“I am so happy to be living in my host country! My time here may look different than I imagined when I applied for the Fulbright award, but I am experiencing the personal growth and building the community connections I envisioned throughout the application process.”
Biggs chose her program for its emphasis on critical, consistent engagement with the social world and said it has helped her “make sense of a world in flux.”
Important moment in time
Christopher LaMountain ’20 deferred his Fulbright research award by a year.
Focusing on the devotional music of the Lotus Temple in Delhi, the project will be a deeper exploration of the research LaMountain did as a Circumnavigator Grant awardee at Northwestern in 2019. He plans to compare the musical style of devotional songs at the Lotus Temple with that of other faith spaces to determine the influence of local sacred music on devotional music at the Lotus Temple. The Lotus Temple is one of 7 major global Baha’i temples, but unique in the influence of local religious traditions.
“Despite the challenges posed by COVID, I believe that it will be a unique and important moment in time to capture through such a project, especially considering the musical and religious vibrancy of Delhi,” LaMountain said.
Top producing institution
With 24 student and alumni recipients of the 2020–21 the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, the University ranks 12th among research institutions.
The flagship international educational exchange program of the U.S. government, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program provides grants to teach, conduct research, study or participate in specialized internships. Awardees represent undergraduate and graduate students from a range of schools and departments but are united by their enthusiasm to learn about and make an impact on the world.
Every year since 2005, Northwestern has been named a Fulbright U.S. Student Program Top Producing Institution, a point of great pride for the institution.
In a year requiring remarkable perseverance and, in many cases, major pivots by students, “we are beaming,” said Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe, director of the Office of Fellowships.
“Our Fulbrighters demonstrated flexibility and resiliency throughout the personal and social upheavals of the past year that sustained my hope for the future,” she said.
The Fulbright Student competition is administered at Northwestern through the Office of Fellowships. The Northwestern campus application deadline is always early September for awards that last an academic year. Graduating seniors, alumni and graduate students with U.S. passports are eligible to apply through Northwestern.