Thursday, October 11, 2012

Full Circle Fulbright

Fifteen years ago I was at the Centro Cultural Artigas-Washington in Montevideo being interviewed for a Fulbright Scholarship. Today, I’m at the Centro Cultural of the U.S. Embassy in Maputo interviewing Mozambican applicants to the Fulbright Scholarship. Coming full circle.

As a former Fulbright Scholarship recipient, I was invited to be part of the panel, together with U.S. and Mozambican staff and other parties. I thought it was a nice wrapping up to these last 15 years that started with that scholarship to do a master’s degree in the United States, followed by a Ph.D., and which finally took me to working in Mozambique. So, obviously, I accepted.

The process itself entailed quite a bit of work: going through all the lengthy application forms (brought back memories!), rating and evaluating, followed by 3 full days of interviews and more discussing, rating and evaluating.

About 20 applicants had made it to this final stage, about half of them women. Most of the applicants were going for an M.A., a couple of them for a Ph.D. Disciplines? Health, agriculture, urban planning, engineering, teaching, finances, a really wide spectrum. In all other aspects they also varied enormously, which was nice to see.

We all enjoyed meeting such motivated young women and men, some definitely amazing in their will and perseverance to study under extremely difficult circumstances. Listening to their “why” they wanted to continue studying, a theme soon became common: they had done their undergraduate studies and gone to work. Then, while working in the government, or NGOs, or companies, they had identified problems that needed to be solved but nobody knew how to. They wanted to continue studying to learn how to solve those problems—everything a new country needs to sort out in order to grow.

As the only one who had gone to the U.S. with the Fulbright Scholarship, I was able to answer some of their questions and doubts about “being there” as a foreigner. It was easy to picture who would have no problems pursuing a graduate degree while living in a completely different culture and who would struggle. But everyone in the panel brought their own unique perspective to the evaluation, considering some points over others and not always agreeing on what was more important. That diversity in the panel was just what was needed to provide a more equitable evaluation of the applicants.

I don’t know who ended up being selected for the final cut, nor how many. From those chosen in Mozambique, only a few were going to be selected to finally go to the U.S. to study. I know is not as many as they would deserve it, or that at least I would have liked to send. I’m very curious though to find out who made it, and more so, what will they be doing 15 years from now. And I hope the ones who didn’t make it this time, keep on trying. Mozambique would be better for it.

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