Study Abroad and SSU as Preparation for the Fulbright Experience
Anna Andrews, alumna 2012
When I was a second year student at SSU I joined the Sociology Department on their trip to Ireland. I had never been away from my family alone because I grew up with a chronic, incurable illness that I still have today. But Prof. Arthur Gould told my mom that I’d be fine and to let me see the world. That trip changed my life, I came home and knew I had to study abroad. The question was: where?
I read a book called The Unbearable Lightness of Being by the Czech author Milan Kundera, and the book talked to me about what it was like to live in Prague during the Russian occupation. I read about the strength of the Czech people and I knew that they would accept who I was. So I found a program and hit the road in the summer of 2011 to go learn the Czech language at one of the oldest universities in Europe, Charles University. I lived in Prague and it changed my entire life. I found out just how capable I was of getting around when lost even when I didn’t know the language yet, I was able to communicate across the lines of verbal and written communication with Czech citizens and form bonds. Every day brought a new challenge and I went to bed smiling and dreaming of what new place I would discover in the morning before class or after when I went on field trips with my study abroad friends.
Our travels included London where I got to see the Olympic stadiums and walk alongside the changing of the guard. Then, on the weekends I went with the group to Berlin, Germany; Vienna, Austria; and Krakow, Poland. I desperately wanted to see Auschwitz as a Holocaust historian, and the trip was worth the cost and the wait. I was really sick the day we traveled there and I was outside in 90 degree weather, not having been able to eat for days, and I was walking around barely able to stand up and appreciating how hard it is for a free person to take in what Auschwitz really is, never mind a prisoner. I left feeling more incensed then ever and more driven to dedicate myself to the human rights movement.
After I traveled with my mother and sister who came over to “move me home” and we did the “Sound of Music” tour in Salzburg (my name is Julianna Andrews, people always joke I was named for Julie Andrews!), took in the “Museum of Terror” in Budapest to really see the horrors of the Russian occupation, and enjoyed a train ride through Slovakia back into Prague where I was sad to leave my new home. But I wasn’t content just to stay in America anymore and fighting for human rights abroad had become a calling.
I joined Prof. Avi Chomsky’s trip to Cuba and learned to appreciate what it is to make something out of nothing as the Cubans do, and I began to research countries that I could move to safely for my health, but also be able to make an impact.
During my first year in my graduate program at UMASS Boston, I decided to apply for a Fulbright in Bulgaria. I had a professor at SSU in undergrad, Dr. Severin Kitanov, who was from Bulgaria and would talk to my classes about their issues with freedom. In time I researched issues with education and abuse and decided I had to go there. I applied to Fulbright to teach at an English language high school while conducting research and after months of interviews, applications, and waiting I was picked!
So here I am. I moved to Bulgaria in August 2013 to take two intensive weeks in Bulgarian language, customs, history, teaching, and TOEFL preparation. After I completed that and really got to know my fellow Fulbrighters I again hit the road, packing a small LL Bean backpack and flying to Istanbul where I stayed up all night waiting to head to Croatia. It was amazing to see the sun rise over Istanbul and set over Zagreb in the same day! I backpacked from Croatia down into Bosnia and Herzegovina, down to Montenegro, over to Albania, up into Kosovo, down into Macedonia, and back into Bulgaria in a little under two weeks. Those two weeks taught me more about myself than years of self-reflection ever could. I climbed mountains in the national park in Croatia, I walked the “Tunnel of Hope” in Bosnia with new friends that I made along the way. I climbed an extreme and ancient (and dangerous) fort with an 80-year-old Australian and a 60-year-old Spaniard cheering each other on to the top in Montenegro. I got lost in Albania and found myself in a beautiful market watching performers dance while skyping with my friend’s niece so she could see her father’s home country, I embraced the “New World” that Kosovo is building, and I made friends with a high school student in Macedonia on their Independence day, while exploring the spice market and learning about the shared culture between Macedonia and Bulgaria.
My life is a constant adventure over here. Some days I can’t remember how to ask for “bananas” at the local market, while others I have full conversations with my neighbors. I teach 450 high school students while running after-school programs and a research project. These students really need help to learn English because they desperately want to escape their economy. It’s a truly rewarding experience as they welcome me into their lives and share intimate details as if I was family. And when I got a virus at the beginning of October students would ask doctors they knew what I should eat (as I was allergic to the medications that eased the symptoms) and then they would prepare me the food and bring it to me.
Living over here has opened my eyes to just how competent I am. It wasn’t just a “fluke” during study abroad. I truly can be successful by just being open-minded. Everything is different over here and instead of calling it “weird” I think “How cool! Let’s try.” You can’t be ethnocentric while abroad, and I have my undergraduate trips and study abroad to thank for making me so open-minded and able to adapt quickly in every environment over here.
Over the course of the rest of my stay I will go to Romania for Halloween at Dracula’s castle, spend Christmas travelling through Zurich, Belgium, France and Germany staying with friends I made who did their undergraduate degrees at SSU as international students! I will attend the Russian Olympics, see Italy at carnival time, backpack the Baltics (Estonia-Ukraine) for my 24th birthday, see the canonization of two saints in Rome, interview in Scotland for Doctoral programs, visit Greece and take a hot air balloon ride in Turkey, and finish off my travels backpacking from Finland to Amsterdam with a Fulbright friend. The world is a huge place and I want to hit all 195 recognized and unrecognized nations, after this there will be 153 to go!!