“This is a life-changing experience for our students,” says RIC Fulbright program advisor, Prof. Vince Bohlinger.
Jennifer Contreras ’22 was recently awarded a Fulbright scholarship, one of the most widely recognized and prestigious educational exchange scholarships in the world.
Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program provides recent college graduates, graduate students and young professionals the opportunity to continue their education or professional development through study, research or in the teaching of English abroad.
Though the program receives thousands of applications each year with only 20 percent of applicants accepted, this is the second year in a row that a RIC student has won a scholarship. Last year Anthony Diebold ’21 won a Fulbright to Taiwan.
According to RIC’s Fulbright program advisor, Professor Vince Bohlinger, any graduating senior or graduate student is eligible to apply for a Fulbright as long as they are a U.S. citizen. In addition, they can only apply to one country and must specify if they want to do study/research or become an English teaching assistant (ETA). Most RIC students, like Diebold and Contreras, apply for an ETA position.
A first-generation college student, whose parents originated from Guatemala, Jennifer Contreras graduated this May with a major in world languages education, with a concentration in Spanish (B.A.) and a second major in art education (B.S.). She also completed a minor in Latin American studies. Contreras is now certified to teach Spanish and art education in grades pre-K-12.
Yet it wasn’t a Latin American country Contreras chose as her host country to carry out her Fulbright scholarship. She chose South Korea.
“I’ve wanted to go to South Korea since I was in middle school,” she says, her eyes lighting up. “It started with an interest in BTS, a boy band from South Korea.” That interest evolved into a love of all things Korean, particularly Korean art.
Bannister Gallery has an exhibit almost every year on graphic art by Korean students from Konkuk University that melds traditional Korean culture with Western communication media. Contreras attended the exhibit with a Korean student she met through a church group, and as they discussed the artwork she learned more about the culture. Afterward, Contreras began doing online searches about Korean public artists, and in the essay portion of her Fulbright application, she wrote what she found fascinating about their work.
“I think the application process made Jennifer even more excited about going to Korea,” Bohlinger says. “The whole process became a mini research project. Though she had very little experience with Korea, we talked about the things she did know. My job is to teach students how to write applications that win. I think her application was really wonderful.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing the public art and murals of Korean artists in person,” Contreras says. “I’m also going to try all the food and go to all the themed cafés. I’m excited, as well, about all the new friendships I’m going to make, all the new colleagues I’ll meet and the new community of students I’ll be working with.”
Contreras flies out in September and returns in August 2023.