It’s been a few years and about 4,000 miles since Dr. Steve Burg took his last fika. The Swedish coffee break occurs at the same time every day, giving employees a chance to relax for a moment during work.
That took some getting used to when Burg spent the fall 2013 semester in Sweden as a Fulbright scholar. Americans are not known for taking breaks, but Burg strived to embrace the lifestyle. Upon his return home, he adopted a new motto—lagom—which is Swedish for “everything in moderation.”
“The Fulbright was absolutely life changing,” said Burg, professor of history. “The opportunity to live abroad and be deeply immersed in another country’s educational system, how they do things, and the way they do things—I think about it a lot.”
Burg is one of fourteen Fulbright scholars and students selected from Shippensburg over the last nine years. He taught and researched in the University of Gothenburg’s Department of Historical Studies. The latest recipient, Reece Dolbin ’18, was awarded the Fulbright US Student Program grant this spring. He will spend a year in Colombia teaching English to university students.
Ship leads the State System in Fulbright scholars and boasts recipients for faculty, staff, and student grants. The educational exchange program has paved the way for travel, extended research, new careers, nonprofit work, further education, and in some cases, permanent residence abroad.
Ethan Goldbach ’14 spent his Fulbright in Malaysia as an English teaching assistant (ETA). Toward the end of his grant, he expressed to his students how sad he was to leave. “They said, ‘We don’t want another ETA, we want an Ethan.’ That touched my heart.”
Goldbach extended his grant, staying in Malaysia for two years. “Because of the Fulbright and the connections I made, it changed the trajectory of my career and led to a job in Bangladesh.”
Today, he’s an English language instructor at Asia University for Women.
“The Fulbright Program helps to show the quality of education at Shippensburg University and the quality of our faculty at Ship,” said Dr. Jonathan Skaff, director of international studies who oversees the Fulbright program at Ship.
“This demonstrates we are a university with global perspective. It’s a prestigious award, and a symbol of success.”
The Fulbright Scholar Program is an educational and cultural exchange program. Launched in 1926, the program awards 8,000 grants annually in partnership with nearly 160 countries. Fulbright offers several grants for students, faculty, and administrators from the US to travel abroad, and also for foreign recipients to visit the US.
Skaff has worked as a liaison for the Fulbright program at Ship since 2010. In that role, he advises interested faculty and students, holds Fulbright workshops, and helps applications through the process.
He said the number of scholars and students jumped in 2010, and student applications have taken off considerably since 2013 when the international studies major began.
Dr. Luis Melara, associate professor of mathematics, was introduced to the Fulbright experience through a colleague about ten years ago. The two stayed in touch, and Melara decided to submit a proposal. He worked with Skaff on his application and received a Fulbright grant to teach and research at the Indian Institute of Technology in 2016.
Upon his return, he presented on his experience and has participated in Fulbright workshops with Skaff. “It helps to demystify the process,” he said.
Those who receive Fulbrights act as ambassadors of the US while they are abroad, Skaff said. “When they return, they are ambassadors of their host country. Returning faculty and staff share their experiences.”
Many members of the Shippensburg community have the skills to achieve the Fulbright, but don’t see the grant as attainable until they hear about the experience from someone else, he said.
“We are overcoming barriers. Faculty and students often don’t realize they are qualified until they see the work of their peers.”
Curtis Rabe ’16 (right) knew he wanted to study abroad, but he couldn’t find the time to fit it in his schedule. Goldbach, a fellow honors student, shared his Fulbright experience with Rabe, encouraging him to pursue the cultural exchange after graduation.
That made sense, so Rabe started thinking of ways he could diversify his undergraduate experience to stand out on the Fulbright application. Dr. Kim Klein, director of Wood Honors College, helped him prepare for the highly competitive grant. With Klein and Goldbach’s guidance, Rabe, a computer science major, focused on restarting German classes and joined the German Club. His hard work paid off, and he received a Fulbright grant as an English teaching assistant for ten months in Germany.
“That experience teaching uncovered the desire that I wanted to be a teacher,” he said.
Rabe extended his Fulbright to a second teaching term and ultimately applied to a university in Germany to study the German equivalent to secondary education. His hope is to teach English and computer science in gymnasium, similar to a US high school.
“As you can see, (the Fulbright) is completely changing everything I wanted to do,” Rabe said. “Whether officially or unofficially, I am a diplomat. What people around here see of Americans is going to be their perspective of Americans.”
Hannah Lougheed ’17 is completing her Fulbright as an English teaching assistant in Brazil. She works hard to be part of their community, listen to their perspectives, and respect their culture.
“I’m constantly in the community, and they prefer that you are,” she said. “The people (of Brazil) are so warm and welcoming in a manner that’s much more extreme than in the US.”
In addition to her Fulbright responsibilities, Lougheed teaches free community classes and volunteers with groups that help children from impoverished areas.
The Fulbright isn’t Lougheed’s first experience abroad. Born Canadian, the political science and international studies major has backpacked through Europe; completed study abroad in Colombia; visited Thailand, Portugal, and Spain; and lived in Africa. She plans to work for a nonprofit or NGO.
“I travel out of curiosity, to see the difference in cultural perspectives,” she said. “We are so similar, but some things are so different.”
Serving in Malaysia had a similar impact on Goldbach, which he now considers a second home. “I asked one woman if I could call her my Malaysian mom. She really embraced me and took me under her wing. We’re all just people at the end of the day.”
Today, the work he does at Asia University prepares women from marginalized or oppressed groups to be leaders in their communities and jobs. Many of these women are garment workers, refugees, or sex traffickers. He said almost all students in the Pathways for Promise Program receive full scholarships and take intense English and math instruction.
“We’re empowering women to grow into leadership positions.”
Goldbach said Ship prepared him well for the Fulbright, and his connections abroad led him to where he is today. “It truly expanded my world view in ways I didn’t expect or realize.”
It’s been two years since Dr. Margaret Lucia ventured to Madrid on a Fulbright to research the music of female Spanish composers. She was so busy speaking with composers, playing concerts, and immersing herself in the culture that she barely scratched the surface of her research.
So, this summer, she went back. “I’ve been busy every minute of it.”
When Lucia earned her Fulbright, she performed and partnered with faculty, students, and composers at the Conservatorio Teresa Berganza. Her efforts centered around the music of female Spanish composers and how it reflected Spanish culture.
“The Fulbright is all about collaborating between citizens in different countries, and that is exactly what happened to me,” she said. “I just scratched the surface (of my research). There is just so much, I had to come back to continue it.”
Lucia has interviewed several female Spanish composers and plans to compile her interviews into a book. She said her work strives to pay homage to the past, embrace the present, and explore the future of female composers in the US and Spain. She has worked her experience and research into her interdisciplinary arts courses, sharing Spanish culture, music, poetry, and dancing.
Mary Burnett ’02 (right), returned with a wealth of information after her Fulbright in Germany this past fall.
Burnett, director of international programs, was Shippensburg’s first administrator to earn a Fulbright, where she explored the German education system from primary through high school. Burnett quickly learned there are many things Germany does well, and other areas where the US excels.
Given Burnett’s position, she explored new ways to connect Ship students to German universities, and to bring German students to Ship’s campus. She now has a better understanding of the challenges, limitations, and opportunities that impact student exchanges.
“Because I’ve increased my contacts and network, I’ve identified better schools in Germany that are a better fit for our students.”
After Burg returned from Sweden, he used his connections to set up a bilateral exchange for students with University of Gothenburg.
During the Fulbright, he also had the opportunity to attend the Nobel Peace Prize awards ceremony. As a full-time professor of history, he is qualified by the Nobel Foundation to officially nominate a person or organization for the award. He used his experience to develop a new project for his Honors class. In 2017, he researched Nobel Peace Prize candidates with students to make an official nomination.
Melara’s Fulbright in India also impacted his work at home. In his application, Melara stated that he wanted to compare teaching methods of mathematics in India with practices in the United States in order to improve his undergraduate teaching practices at Ship. A few hiccups prevented him from completing the proposed research, but he gained a new perspective on his work.
“What it did for me was, when looking at Indian students and the reviews we completed in the classroom, I was able to visualize my students and Shippensburg University and visualize my students succeeding. I came back positive and confident that our students can, and will, do well.”
The Fulbright experience offers recipients a wealth of new and unique opportunities, from travel to education to cultural immersion. Lessons learned by these scholars extend far beyond formal research.
“I need to be flexible and learn to work to find solutions,” Melara said. “Things can be worked out. Living under new conditions broadened my horizons.”
Ship’s past Fulbright scholars and students encourage the university community to embrace the Fulbright experience. “For Shippensburg, one of the things that we’re doing that’s really important is that we’re setting our sights high. Our students can do what students do anywhere else,” Burg said.