By Cheryl A. Camillo, 2015-2016 Fulbright Scholar from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County to the University of Regina
In reflecting upon International Education Week (IEW), I came to understand that a Fulbright fellowship is a lifelong journey. The exchange experience does not start when one arrives in the host country, or even when one begins the Fulbright application, rather it starts when one first realizes the benefits of international exchange, which can happen as soon as one recognizes a difference between countries or their cultures.
Looking back, my Fulbright journey started when I was very young when my great-aunts from Italy first shared some of the practices they brought with them from “the old country.” Just by visiting with them on Saturday and Sunday mornings, I learned that one could make food and drink by hand in addition to purchasing it at a store. For example, I learned that we could make spaghetti by rolling dough we made on the kitchen table and we could make wine by stomping the purple grapes that grew on the trellis in front of Aunt Dorothy’s garage. While this knowledge might seem commonplace, that was not the case. Many of my primary school classmates believed that spaghetti came only from a box or can, in the form of “SpaghettiOs”.
Because I grew up just miles from the Canadian border, I soon became exposed to other foreign practices. Starting in the 1970s, Ontario road signs declared the speed limit in kilometres per hour and consumer packages provided instructions in French as well as English. These changes not only provided occasional mental exercise (I would convert the provincial speed limits into miles per hour for my grandfather by multiplying them by .6), they made me realize that I could enjoy visiting a place with different customs.
By the time I was in my late teens, I appreciated that foreign countries offered serious social policy alternatives too. My ‘aha!’ moment came when my friend Anne (“Anne from Canada” as I called her) recounted her experience getting medical care during a flu epidemic that struck on both sides of the border—she walked into a Ontario clinic with her provincial health insurance card and saw a doctor the same day while we in Buffalo called our family physicians to schedule appointments at their convenience, usually for some day the following week.
Due to these life experiences, when I became a health policy researcher it was natural for me to look to Canada for policy options that could be applied to the U.S. context. And when, thanks to Fulbright Canada, I moved to Regina, Saskatchewan to begin cross-national research, I immediately adapted to life in a place I had never set foot in, including when behind the wheel of my car.
So to students and researchers who are intrigued by studying or working in another country but feel unqualified or unready, I say that in this highly connected, globalized world you have probably already begun your journey. You can describe your trajectory in the personal statement you will submit as part of your Fulbright application. Good luck!