Fulbright alumni describe unforgettable experiences

Karam Sethi '12 taught English in one of Malaysia's Muslim provinces and called the interaction with students
Karam Sethi '12 taught English in one of Malaysia's Muslim provinces and called the interaction with students "amazing."

One built an online social network for asthma patients and got to ask the Dalai Lama how he handles the burden of responsibility for helping the world.

Another published an e-book on a government program that she studied in Italy.

Others taught English at schools in Italy, Mexico, Germany, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Members of Connecticut College’s largest-ever class of nine Fulbright student scholars, who earned their awards in 2012, say they learned and accomplished much through their varied experiences — and had a great time as well.

Connecticut College is consistently ranked as a top producer of Fulbright fellows with 36 winners in the last seven years. The experience complements the College’s liberal arts education.

The prestigious and highly competitive grants from the U.S. Fulbright Student Program provide support graduating seniors and recent graduates to live and conduct research or teach abroad for an academic year.

As of October 2013, most of the College’s 2012 fellows had returned home, eager to launch careers or prepare for graduate school. (The College's 2013 winners are now in the midst of their fellowships.) Some were still abroad, completing funded research or staying on to tackle other endeavors. Here’s an update on six of them:

Justin Koufopoulos ’10. A psychology graduate who minored in East Asian studies, he spent the year in the United Kingdom conducting research on peer-to-peer Web-based health communities and building an online social network for asthma patients. An unforgettable part of his experience, he says, was attending a Global Scholars Symposium in Cambridge and having his question selected as one of a handful asked of the Dalai Lama, leader of Tibetan Buddhism. The Connecticut College alumnus wanted to know how the spiritual leader dealt with his burden of responsibility to enrich and empower others for the good of the world. Koufopoulos says he had been feeling the same sort of burden since being chosen for the Fulbright award. The Dali Lama said he viewed himself as a simple monk, not a leader, and that the weight should disappear when doing good for others. Koufopoulos is currently leading a feasibility study on behalf of the Fulbright Commission in the U.K. for a mentoring program aimed at helping improve opportunities for disadvantaged youth. After returning to the United States, he says he plans to begin looking for a graduate program that incorporates human-factors design, engineering, public policy and entrepreneurship.

Catharina Damrell ’11.  An environmental studies graduate, she taught English at a high school in Indonesia. Her accomplishments included starting an environmental campaign in her school and leading 12 of her students and five teachers through the process of applying for scholarships in the United States. She also set up a Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) prep course for teachers, one of whom received a U.S. State Department scholarship and will be coming to the United States in January to attend college, she says. And she made an environmental film with her students with help from a local environmental nongovernmental organization (NGO) and university film students. Back home in Maine, she says she recently began internships with Clean Water Action and the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences. She plans to apply to graduate programs within the year.

Savitri Arvey ’12. An international relations major and Toor Cummings Center for International Studies and the Liberal Arts (CISLA) scholar, she assisted English teachers at a Mexican university and led conversation clubs about U.S. politics, art, history and culture. She also taught a TOEFL prep course to students interested in studying in an English-speaking country. She took politics and history classes at la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and interned with an NGO. She says she’s currently interning in Mexico City at Asuntos del Sur, a Latin American think tank. 

Lindsay Paiva ’12. An English major, Italian studies minor and scholar in the College’s Holleran Center for Community Action and Public Policy, she traveled to the Tuscany region of Italy to study Giovanisì, a program of the Italian government that provides youth with opportunities involving internships, housing, study and training, entrepreneurship, civil service and employment. After traveling around the region and interviewing beneficiaries of the program, she compiled people’s stories and combined them with an analysis of the social and economic factors to create an e-book, "Pieces," available in English and Italian. She also collaborated with nine Tuscan authors on a book called “Accenti.” She says she made many friends in the region and enjoyed the experience so much that she decided to stay another year. She’s currently working and teaching English to cover her living expenses while she studies different aspects of the Giovanisì program.

Katherine Sartiano ’12. An English and German double major and CISLA scholar, she taught English to students from fifth to 12th grade at a bilingual French and German high school in Dresden, Germany. She says her lessons often looked beyond grammar to discussions of cultural aspects of the United States, including high school and university life, the 2012 elections and the death penalty.  Among other activities, she started an after-school English-language theater group that, unfortunately, didn’t get to perform because the Elbe River flooded, closing the school the week of the scheduled show. She returned to the United States in late August after having spent the summer in Germany taking advanced German courses and helping to promote the thriving English-language stand-up comedy scene in Berlin. She says she plans to attend graduate school within the next few years and hopes to return to Berlin at some point for an extended period of work or study.  

Karam Sethi ’12. An international relations major, he taught English in one of Malaysia’s Muslim provinces. “Dealing with the amalgamation of church and state here has been tough, but my interaction with students has been amazing,” says Sethi, whose grant ends in early November. Among other extracurriculars, he mentored students on studying abroad and conducting gender-equality debates, ran a book-donation program that acquired 150 new books for his school's library, and was able to travel to Vietnam, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, India, Thailand and all across Malaysia. He says he hopes to work for a policy consulting firm such as The Brookings Institute next summer and plans to attend graduate school in coming years. 

October 31, 2013