Fulbrighters in Argentina

Fulbrighters in Argentina

Friday, January 25, 2008

SURPRISE! You're a Fulbright Scholar

Hi! My name is Jen Romano, and I graduated from Elon in May 2007. Currently, I'm teaching freshmen English at Williams High School in Burlington. However, I will soon be heading off to Argentina as a Fulbright Scholar to teach English at a univeristy in the city of ParanĂ¡ as well as volunteer during my 8 months in the country. How did this all come about? Let's just say that things looked a LOT different for my future the day before graduation...

Throughout my senior year at Elon, I had been applying to various scholarship programs, including Fulbright, in the hope of getting into grad school or teaching abroad. The Fulbright program offers 2 different types of scholarships: one provides funds for people who want to do some kind of research abroad, and the other is a teaching assistantship that sends scholars to pre-arranged locations to teach English. The scholarship I hoped for the most was the Fulbright because the teaching assistanship that I was applying for would also allow me to participate in a service project of my choice. In Argentina. As a lover of teaching English, learning Spanish, and traveling, what more could I want???

However, on the day before graduation in May, I received an email from Fulbright saying that I was named an alternate for the scholarship. Talk about the worst graduation gift ever! Since Fulbright scholarships are very competitive and rare, there was a slim to none chance that anyone who was offered the scholarship would turn it down to open up a spot for an alternate like me. I'm not gonna lie - I cried. I sat in front of my computer staring at my "semi-rejection" email and cried for about 5 minutes. I had spent the last year of my life writing essays, getting recommendations, preparing for and taking part in interviews, and most painful of all...waiting. But the wait was over. After those 5 minutes, I signed out of my email, used up a couple of tissues, and called my parents to say that even though I did not get the Fulbright, I was going to be a freshmen English teacher at Williams High School. I had done my student teaching there and had been offered a job; I was just waiting to hear from Fulbright before deciding on it. So I altered my goals: I would still do service, but for now, it would be through teaching here in Burlington.

Needless to say, I began my first year teaching, and boy has it been a ride! Let's just say that I'm NEVER bored ;) Then, one day in late September, I checked my phone messages during my planning period. I had a message from the US State Department to call back. My first thought was, "What did I do???" But when I called, the representative from the State Department (which funds the Fulbright scholarship) said that the State Department had just received a grant to allow all 8 alternates to Argentina get the scholarship. She said, "Congratulations! You're a Fulbright Scholar!" There was a long pause. I had no idea what she was talking about. I thought it was over for me - no Fulbright, no Argentina. So I said, "Oh, thank you." I had no idea how to react. It didn't seem real! When I got off the phone with the representative, I immediately received an email with all the official details. That's when it hit me - I just got a FULBRIGHT! I ran across the hall to another teacher who had her planning period and said, "I think I just got the Fulbright!" There we were screaming and jumping up and down during 3rd block on a Friday at Williams. It may not have been how I imagined to get the news, but it was fine with me!

So here I am, a Fulbright Scholar. My last official day teaching at Williams will be February 18th. I get on a plane to Argentina on March 10th. As the months of waiting turn into weeks, things are getting more and more real each day. All of a sudden I'm preparing to live in a different country, speak another language, teach a completely different age group, and - most importantly - get back into service. If something this life-changing can happen during one planning period, what's next???