Fulbright Ireland-US Scholarships: “I thought I knew a lot about US culture”
Opportunities to engage with US culture are offered each year by the Fulbright Commission in Ireland, which supports passionate professionals, students, researchers, scholars and artists
Mostly, we presume to understand the US from afar. Yet, living, working, teaching or studying there can open up fantastic insight into the real country and its people.
“I thought I knew a lot about US culture from its portrayal in media and the arts,” says Pa Sheehan, a University of Limerick graduate who recently spent a year in the US on a Fulbright Award, “but I must admit, I was able to really broaden my understanding of the diverse aspects that make up US culture while on my Fulbright Award. I think that I failed to comprehend the sheer size of the US before I lived in the country. Each state, and area within each state, has its own individual culture that is extremely difficult to understand unless one lives and engages with the people of that area.”
Opportunities to engage with US culture are offered each year by the Fulbright Commission in Ireland, which supports passionate professionals, students, researchers, scholars and artists from all disciplines to travel to the USA and study or work with top Institutions. Fulbright Awardees receive funding, visa administration and introduction to a vast international professional and academic network.
This vibrant network led Pa to the University of Montana, “Although one of my primary responsibilities as a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant was to teach the Irish language, I feel that sharing the Irish culture in the community was the main aim of my Award. A culture of hurling already existed in Montana and I made it my aim to develop this to such an extent that it could exist without the presence of an Irish hurler in the future.”
As a PhD candidate at the Shannon Applied Biotechnology Centre in Limerick Institute of Technology, Jaswinder Kaur embraced both culture and community when she undertook a Fulbright Student Award to Michigan State University, “I set out to use the Fulbright platform not just to excel in science and further my research skills, but as an opportunity to embrace the cultural diversity that makes America the nation of immigrants. As an expat from India living in Ireland, I have a unique perspective on how a positive immigration experience can benefit an individual as well as the community.”
Jaswinder’s research investigates how the biologically active compounds that fungi naturally make might be of use to us in agriculture and industry. Her Fulbright experience stretched beyond research and the lab, “My time as a Fulbright Student in America gave me the chance to be completely independent and self-reliant. I was able to absorb and learn from a diaspora of individuals who, like me, were using education as a discourse to further professional and personal growth. I learned how to represent myself more effectively to an audience that is of a new country and culture, and moreover, of a global nature.”
Since 1946, the global Fulbright programme has given more than 390,000 people worldwide the opportunity to exchange ideas and find solutions to international issues. Upon returning home, Fulbrighters join thousands of alumni serving as leaders across the globe, in every field imaginable. Alumni have achieved distinction in many fields, and include 60 Nobel Prize recipients, 88 Pulitzer Prize winners, and 37 who have served as a head of state or government.
Joining the ranks of this global Fulbright Alumni community, Helen O’Donoghue, head of Engagement & Learning at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, went to the MoMA in New York City in late 2019. “The Scholarship afforded me time to reflect on my professional identity. Working closely with a peer doing a similar job in the USA has been invaluable, while the opportunity to live abroad in a new city, to navigate day-to-day needs and develop new relationships has been very empowering.”
The experience has served to strengthen communications and shared learning between Helen’s home and host institutions, particularly in light of current challenges, “Having face-to-face access to so many peers in the US (now via Zoom!) has been a lifeline since coming back to Ireland. We continue to share strategies for coping with the changing landscape of museum education during Covid-19 and I have been able to introduce my team at IMMA to people at MoMA, to share knowledge and skills, and set up staff exchanges.”
For Jaswinder, the Award has also had a lasting effect, “The Fulbright experience will always resonate with a sense of achievement. The achievement of being rewarded for hard work and perseverance. It means that an individual can be greater than just “I”. I am able to represent my adoptive country; I am able to communicate the values, culture, education and technologies of Ireland to a diversity of people.”
In this way, Fulbright opportunities build bridges to something bigger. “The award has defined possibly the most significant period of my life” says Pa. “Upon returning home to Ireland, I thought that part of my life was now closed but I soon realised that it will never be closed. From a professional point of view, the way I teach languages has been heavily influenced by the way I taught Irish in the US. My outlook has been massively altered and I believe I am now a much more well-rounded GAA coach and teacher, with a better understanding of how Gaelic games and the Irish language can open doors for people outside of Ireland and create communities and friendships that will last a lifetime.”
Professionals, students, researchers and scholars from all disciplines can apply for the 2021-2022 Fulbright Irish Awards by the deadline of 4pm, 2 November 2020. To learn more visit www.fulbright.ie.