Setting out for their first year as Bowdoin graduates, Fulbright recipients Samantha Burns, Daniel Ertis, Uchechi Esonu, RaiNesha Miller and Erin St. Peter will travel to far-off places around the world to teach English.
Meanwhile, Adam Rasgon will study Arabic in Egypt. Elena Crosley was also awarded a three-year Fulbright Canada Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Award, valued at $120,000. This Fulbright STEM is given to a select group of U.S. students to pursue their Ph.D. at one of Canada’s six leading research universities.
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is designed to increase mutual understanding between Americans and people of other countries, and grant recipients are selected not only for their strong academic background but also for their ability to bridge cultures. This year, three other Bowdoin seniors also received Fulbright research grants.
Samantha Burns has never been to Turkey and doesn’t speak Turkish. In fact, the Portland-born student has spent most of her life in Maine, with only brief travels outside of the country. What attracted her to the English teaching post at a Turkish university was the job requirement, “seeking adventurous applicants.” “None of the other countries had those words,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone.”
In her sport of rowing, which she’s competed in for three years at Bowdoin, Burns says she regularly pushes beyond her comfort zone. “Coach always says it’s like flirting with death,” she said, only half joking. That ease with challenge and discomfort will serve her well in Turkey. She will be placed in a teaching assignment in a new university somewhere — she doesn’t yet know where. But she’s excited by what she sees as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “Turkey is an interesting boundary of East and West, with a rich cultural history,” she said. The political theorist in her (her concentration is political theory) adds, too, that the role of religion in the state will be fascinating to observe. Burns’ other major besides government is English.
While she is in Turkey, Burns said she would like to set up a musical exchange. The Fulbright program encourages its fellows to develop cross-cultural experiences outside of the classroom. Burns is a trained classical pianist and at Bowdoin was in an “all-girl folk band” called the Bad Liars. Burns said she will learn how to play Turkish instruments in exchange for piano or guitar lessons.
Daniel Ertis, a classic major and English minor who grew up in Greenville, N.C., will travel to Greece to work as an English teaching assistant in Psychiko, Greece, a suburb of Athens. He already has significant experience working as a writing tutor for Bowdoin’s Center for Teaching and Learning, and mentoring experience through his role of head resident advisor on the Residential Life staff. “From the fretful freshman to the obstinate upperclassman, working with a variety of students has helped me acquire the techniques — and the confidence — to meet writers wherever they are,” he writes in his Fulbright application. In his role as RA, he developed the abilities to “work with individuals from diverse backgrounds.”
As a student of Mediterranean civilizations, as well as Latin and Greek — who reached a 4.0 GPA his sophomore and junior years — Ertis is well equipped to be an a cultural ambassador. “I envision using my time outside of the classroom to combine the resources of Greece, my love of Greek history and my dedication to remaining physically active,” he says, adding that he wrestled at the varsity level in high school. “I believe my interest in Greece is at least partially motivated by the ancient rejection of the division between mental and physical prowess.” Ertis says he plans to study ancient athletics and join, or perhaps implement, a “Greco-Roman wrestling program.” When he returns to the United States after his time abroad, Ertis says he hopes to work as an English and/or classical studies teacher in a high school where he can also coach wrestling.
Uchechi Esonu, a double major in East European/Eurasian studies and government and legal studies, first became interested in the Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union when she participated in the Benjamin Franklin Trans-Atlantic Fellows Initiative for students aged 16 to 19. The program focused on communication and conflict resolution, and youth from around the world participated. “Six years [later], I have maintained my commitment to the personal bonds I formed…and the academic passions that were ignited…,” she writes in her Fulbright application.
Esonu traveled to the Balkans during her study abroad junior year. Now she plans to head to Croatia to teach English. Already having learned Serbian and Russian, Esonu said she wants to study Croatian and participate in stimulating cross-cultural exchanges. “As a government major and future political science professor, I am excited for the opportunity to present on American culture,” she says. “Not only can I discuss American government and history broadly, but as an African American I am poised to have conversations with my Croatian students about racial and cultural difference in the United States.”
Besides teaching English, Esonu says she wants to explore the “turbo-folk scene … a genre of pop music popular throughout the Balkans,” by making recordings and conducting interviews. This will continue research she began her junior year when she participated in a conflict studies program in Serbia, which resulted in her paper, “Narod of Nardodnjac: Perceptions of Turbo Folk in Contemporary Sarajevo.”
RaiNesha Miller explains in her Fulbright application that she is interested in teaching English in East Java, Indonesia, partially because she wants to enhance her understanding of Islam. “I am eager to bring this knowledge back to the U.S. and share it with others,” she writes. “By telling the true stories of my Indonesian students and friends … I will play at least some small role in destigmatizing aspects of Islam and Indonesia.” While abroad, she plans to visit mosques, volunteer at care centers for children and the poor, and set up a culinary exchange, in whcih she teaches southern cooking and learns traditional Indonesia cooking.
Miller grew up in Birmingham, Ala., as the child of a single mother, and during her childhood endured financial struggles, threats of eviction, months without hot water and barely enough food to eat. Her mother, however, always overcame adversity. “Recognizing my mother’s years of sacrifice drives me to work hard, to succeed at Bowdoin and beyond despite the stigma attributed to children from single-mother households,” Miller says. At Bowdoin, Miller was a member of the College’s Judicial Board, hearing cases of student misconduct, and she was a Baldwin Program mentor, helping students learn effective study habits. She says these duties, along with the selflessness her mother taught her, will help her in Indonesia because she knows how to adjust her teaching style to a student’s needs and to help students learn from their mistakes.
A psychology major and sociology minor, Miller’s undergraduate research focused on revealing the “true stories of others by challenging the misconceptions of stigmatized groups and demonstrating the ways in which these groups overcome social limitations,” she explains. When she returns to the United States, she plans to enroll in a Ph.D. program and eventually become a professor, a professor who can “motivate individuals to overcome adversity.”
Adam Rasgon, Calabasas, Calif., has received a Fulbright to study Arabic in Cairo, Egypt, to improve his modern standard Arabic and to learn colloquial Egyptian. In his Fulbright application, he justifies his desire to study Arabic by writing that serious students of the Middle East “must go beyond mere fluency of the language and seek a total immersion experience.”
The long-term plans of Rasgon, a government and legal studies major and religion minor, include obtaining his doctorate in Middle Eastern studies and working in international diplomacy.
Though it was the Arab-Israeli conflict that sparked his original interest in the Middle East, Rasgon’s interests have expanded to include history, Islamic studies and intra-Arab affairs. He completed an independent study on the interplay between politics and religion in the Middle East, and he studied Arabic every semester at Bowdoin, as well as at Middlebury College’s intensive summer language program and during his study abroad semester in Amman, Jordan.
In particular, Rasgon says he is drawn to Egypt because the events that happen in this nation ripple throughout the Middle East. “Egypt fascinates me because of its ability to have sustained a peace treaty with Israel for more than 30 years,” he writes. “The willingness of Egypt and Israeli governments to cooperate has undoubtedly prevented wars and conflicts.”
Erin St. Peter, a government and economics major, and a history minor, spent a semester abroad in Dakar, Senegal, in 2012, where she says she became fascinated by the country’s politics, religion and agricultural economy. Plus, she was surprised “by the extent to which I felt at home in Senegal.” After living with a Senegalese host family for a semester, St. Peter speaks some Wolof and French.
As a Bowdoin student, St. Peter has gained a considerable amount of teaching experience: She was a teaching assistant for Bowdoin College’s Upward Bound program for disadvantaged Maine high school students; an SAT tutor and college advisor for low-income high school students; a tutor for the children of immigrant and refugee populations in Portland, Maine; and a volunteer weekly aide in a Portland-based ESL class for adult immigrants and refugees.
St. Peter says that besides teaching English in Senegal, she plans to facilitate, via the Internet, a letter exchange between a primary school in Senegal and an elementary school classroom in Maine. When she returns to the United States, St. Peter would like to continue working with immigrant and refugee communities or to teach in a rural Maine community. “If I pursue a teaching position in a community more like my hometown, then I will use my experiences in Senegal to teach about other cultures and histories of which we often hear very little, and to inspire students to find ways to travel and learn from communities other than their own,” she says.