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Northwestern named top Fulbright producing institution for 19th year

Students teach English abroad and study everything from stand-up comedy to interreligious music
fulbright awards
Jessa Shortridge, '22 — pictured here looking out over the Alps — is one of 20 Northwestern students and alumni to receive Fulbright awards as part of the U.S. State Department’s 2022-2023 class. Shortridge has been teaching English at a girls’ school in Münster, Germany since September.

Northwestern was recently named a Fulbright Top Producing Institution by the U.S. Department of State for the 19th consecutive year. This year, 20 students and alumni received Fulbright awards, which allow them to teach, study and conduct research around the world.

“This achievement is a testament to your institution’s deep commitment to international exchange and to building lasting connections between the people of the United States and the people of other countries,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote in a letter to Northwestern President Michael H. Schill.

The Fulbright program is the United States’ flagship international educational exchange program, funded by an annual appropriation from Congress. Through the Student Program, about 2,000 recent university graduates, graduate students, artists or other early career professionals pursue graduate study, conduct research or teach English abroad each year.

Northwestern has made the State Department’s Fulbright Top Producing list since the list’s inception in 2005. This year’s class will bring the total number of Northwestern alumni who have participated in the program since its inception in 1946 to more than 400.

“I’m so proud that Northwestern continues to produce an exceptional number of Fulbright grantees. It’s a wonderful way for us to further our global engagement as an institution while having a positive impact around the world,” said President Schill.

More than 400 Northwestern alumni have participated in the Fulbright program since its inception in 1946.

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.

Northwestern Now caught up with a few new Fulbrighters — many of whom are abroad right now — to learn about what they have been studying and the ways in which they are fostering positive cross-cultural exchange.

Performing stand-up comedy in Seoul

William Paik, ’20, has been using his Fulbright research scholarship to study and perform stand-up comedy in Seoul, South Korea, for the past five months. Paik previously performed in Chicago and has embraced the challenge of performing in Korea while studying how cultural dynamics shape comedy abroad.

william paik
William Paik

“Stand-up is about people narrating their everyday lives,” Paik said. “People joke about the pressure to get married, their worries about money, and their opinions on gender dynamics, all against the backdrop of Korean civil society.”

Korea’s history of war, rapid, yet uneven economic development, and traditions around the family all form part of that backdrop, according to Paik, who says his project has helped him understand the relationship between jokes and society while reflecting on the cultural context for American stand-up as well.

“Despite the challenges, the experience of performing in Korean has given me a certain confidence onstage,” Paik said. “If I can relax on stage in my second language, then anything is possible.”

Teaching in Spanish in Madrid

Alina Junejo, ’22, already had a seal of biliteracy from the State of Illinois when she left to teach English in Spain at a school outside Madrid. However, the experience of teaching English in Spanish to both students and teachers has left her with even better fluency, she said, including more familiarity with the vosotros verb form.

Alina Junejo
Alina Junejo

It’s been especially rewarding, Junejo says, to watch her students learn and grow and to have fun teaching higher-level students about American culture. To do so, Junejo has designed activities and presentations herself, while building relationships with other teachers.

“The most important thing I have learned from my Fulbright experience is the importance of a community to serve as a support system, and I am incredibly grateful to Northwestern for providing me with the skill set and education to navigate an entirely different country,” Junejo said. When she returns, she hopes to bring skills learned abroad to her role as an instructor in Northwestern’s Center for Talent Development.

Studying music in New Delhi

Christopher LaMountain, ’21, has been studying Hindi and interreligious music practices in India’s capital, New Delhi, on a Fulbright-Nehru student research scholarship. By visiting the city’s Lotus Temple and other sacred sites and taking voice lessons, LaMountain has expanded his knowledge of Hindustani Classical Music.

christopher lamountain
Christopher LaMountain

Building on knowledge gained by working with professors Donald Nally (the John W. Beattie Chair of Music and Director of Choral Organizations at Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music) and Rami Nair (Hindi Language Program Coordinator and professor of instruction in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures) at Northwestern, LaMountain has also helped start two Western vocal ensembles in New Delhi and shared some of his own music. This month, he even joined the Delhi Chamber Choir on a concert tour to Mumbai. 

New Delhi, he said, is “a cosmopolitan center of cultural diversity” and the perfect place for music research: “Here's to nine more months of coming to understand the ways that languages, musical styles and religions come together through the lens of the Lotus Temple's interreligious music practices,” he said.

Understanding the lives of free women of African descent in France

Rachel Sarcevic-Tesanovic, a current Ph.D. student, is based in Aix-en-Provence, France, for her research Fulbright. She is studying the history of free women of African descent in the Francophone Atlantic world of the 18th century by reading documents from the French colonial empire preserved at the Archives nationales d'outre-mer.

rachel sarcevic-tesanovic
Rachel Sarcevic-Tesanovic

By looking at legal records from the former colony of Saint-Domingue and Senegambian slave-trading posts that document marriages, baptisms, property transactions and more, she has been able to gain insight into the lives and legacies of women who lived in those places.

“It has been fascinating to work through what these materials — which capture only fragments of these women’s lives — can reveal about their experiences, challenges, opportunities and choices as well as their roles in and influence on the slaveholding societies in which they lived,” Sarcevic-Tesanovic said.

In her spare time, she has been taking in the city, including its vibrant streets, fountains, hôtels particuliers, galleries, museums and outdoor markets. One of the specialties of southern France, she added, are calissons: almond cookies which can be enjoyed on every corner.