Florida Southern students and recent graduates who hope to enrich their academic experience while increasing their global awareness can turn to language study and research opportunities offered by Fulbright Program grants, Critical Language Scholarships, Boren Awards and Fellowships, and Gilman Scholarships. These programs provide irreplaceable options for continued learning in ways that strengthen our country’s engagement with the world. Although health and travel restrictions related to COVID-19 brought changes to many such programs, student interest has remained strong.
The Fulbright Program
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program provides grants that make it possible for graduating college seniors and recent bachelor’s degree recipients to pursue individually designed study/research projects or to work as English teachers in more than 140 participating countries.
Typically, Fulbrighters spend one academic year living with and learning from the people of their host country, a process that promotes cultural exchange and mutual understanding.
It was 1949 when the first Florida Southern student participated in the Fulbright Program, studying political science in France. Since then, nine other graduating seniors or recent FSC alumni have taken part in the program, serving as cultural ambassadors in Mexico, Thailand, Taiwan, Ghana, France, the Slovak Republic, the Netherlands, and Spain.
FSC twice has been included among U.S. colleges and universities that produced the most Fulbright U.S. Students: in 2018, when four of FSC’s applicants were selected, and in 2019, when three new grantees were named and a 2018 participant was renewed for an additional year.
In 2021, a total of 11 FSC students and recent graduates submitted applications to the Fulbright U.S. Student Program – a record number, according to Dr. Jennifer Moffitt, assistant professor of English and associate director of the honors program. Five of those applicants were selected as semifinalists.
“It is a tremendous honor to make the first cut for these highly competitive awards,” Dr. Moffitt said.
Two alumni applicants from the Class of 2020 – Anya Larson of Spring, Texas, and Cesar Maldonado of Naples, Florida – accepted English Teaching Assistant (ETA) grants from the Fulbright Program and will teach abroad during the upcoming academic year. Two members of FSC's Class of 2021, Zoe Perkins of Melbourne, Florida, and Catherine Stogner of Naples, Florida, were named as Fulbright alternates.
From September 2021 through June 2022, Fulbright grant recipient Anya Larson will work as an English Teaching Assistant in the autonomous Spanish communities of the Canary Islands, off the coast of northwestern Africa.
“It has been exciting to begin the visa process, hear about previous grant holders, and learn more details about Fulbright and its purpose,” Larson said. “I am grateful to be provided an opportunity to serve as a cultural ambassador for the United States, as well as being able to follow my passion of teaching foreign languages.”
Larson had applied to the Fulbright Program previously; upon deciding to reapply in 2020, she brainstormed with earlier FSC Fulbrighters Abby Eskridge ’18 and Olivia Panda ’19, whose English Teaching Assistant awards had taken them to Spain.
“That was really awesome, to get that kind of support,” Larson said. “I didn’t know them before, but Dr. Moffitt put us together. I owe a huge thank you to Florida Southern for supporting me throughout this process, and to Dr. Moffitt and the other Fulbright applicants for their help through it all.”
Having graduated with majors in interpersonal and organizational communication and Spanish, and a minor in women and gender studies, Larson hopes to continue to graduate school to study second language acquisition or linguistics.
“This is a step along the way on my career path,” she said.
Cesar Maldonado’s family emigrated from Mexico to New Jersey in the 1990s, relocating to Florida when he was about 3 years old to be closer to relatives. Growing up in Naples, Maldonado learned to speak English “pretty well,” he said, but struggled with Spanish. He recalled “playing this weird sort of language game” with his parents: “They were trying to pick up what I was saying in English, and vice versa.”
While at Florida Southern, Maldonado participated in a May 2018 Junior Journey to Taiwan, led by piano professor and Taiwan native Dr. Fen-Fang Chen. He became acquainted with three distinct areas of the country: its farm villages, its coastal towns, and its metropolitan capital, Taipei.
“The music and the street food – called ‘small eats’ – brought me in,” he said. “In Mexico, they’re called antojitos, or ‘little cravings.’ It was a wonderful, fun time that I really enjoyed.”
After his Junior Journey, Maldonado visited Mexico and tried to speak Spanish, but felt frustrated the whole time. Although he understood what others were saying, he found it difficult to speak the language himself. He applied for a grant to teach English in Taiwan, in part, to be able to share his experiences of growing up with two languages in the United States.
Maldonado majored in music education with a concentration in band, and played clarinet throughout his years at FSC. Currently using his degree to work as a tutor at the Salvation Army youth center in Naples, his goal is to teach middle-grade students in Collier County, where he attended school. He will travel to Taiwan for his one-year adventure in the English Teaching Assistant program at the start of the next school year, in Fall 2021.
Zoe Perkins graduated with a double major in music and psychology, having served as social media director for FSC’s Asian & Pacific Islander Student Association during her senior year. She applied for an English Teaching Assistant award in Latvia, a northern European country on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea, and was named a Fulbright alternate.
“It’s a beautiful country; the nature is untouched,” said Perkins, who also was drawn to the country’s longstanding musical reputation. “Its folk songs go back hundreds of years.”
Perkins expressed appreciation for the help she received from Assistant Professor of History Dr. Richards Plavnieks – who grew up around the Latvian enclave of Rockville, Maryland – and his fiancé, Andrea Rachel, a former Fulbright ETA. Plavnieks talked with Perkins about Latvian history and life in the country today, reviewed her application, and took part in a mock interview. Rachel discussed the application process with Perkins via Zoom calls and put her in touch with an acquaintance who had been a Fulbright ETA in Latvia.
Perkins plans to reapply to the Fulbright Program in Fall 2021: “While the application process was intense, it pushed me to deeply reflect on what I want from a career, to meet new people from around the world and connect with others who also have a passion for teaching. I am excited to embark on the Fulbright journey again with a new cohort of applicants and a redefined vision of my own goals.“
Fulbright alternate Catherine Stogner had applied for an English Teaching Assistant award in Montenegro, on the southeastern Balkan peninsula of Europe. As a recent bachelor’s degree recipient, Stogner is able to reapply to the program – a possibility that she is considering.
Stogner studied Spanish and Swahili previously, but has not traveled outside of North America. She views her selection as an alternate for both the Fulbright and Boren programs as an encouraging sign for others: “Having a lack of travel experience shouldn't discourage anyone from applying.”
The Fulbright application process “is a two-way street for evaluation,” Stogner said. She advises potential applicants to consider not only whether they feel a connection with their country of choice, but also to “make sure you fit what they are looking for.”
Stogner also was a candidate for a Boren Award – having applied to study the Swahili language in Tanzania – and was named as an alternate.
“My mother is from Kenya, and she and her family speak Swahili fluently,” Stogner said. “It was a big part of my childhood, using Swahili words interchangeably with English words, and I grew up with a tenuous grasp on the language.”
Following her graduation from FSC, Stogner is working and studying for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), with the hope of starting law school in Fall 2022.
Critical Language Scholarships
Each summer, the U.S. government’s Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program provides rigorous group-based courses of academic instruction in fifteen languages deemed critically important to the country’s security and economic prosperity: Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bangla, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Swahili, Turkish, and Urdu.
Participants in the CLS Program serve as “citizen ambassadors” with individuals in their host countries during an intensive eight-to-10-week period of language instruction – the approximate equivalent of one academic year of college-level coursework.
Two Florida Southern alumni previously received CLS awards: in 2018, Mark Haver ’20 spent two months studying in Indonesia while living with a host family in the city of Malang, East Java; in 2020, current FSC student Morgan McDermott studied the Chinese language through a virtual CLS program.
In 2021, FSC student Jollice Boyd ’22 of Sanford, Florida, was selected to study the Arabic language through a program based in Meknes, Morocco. A political science major at Florida Southern, Boyd is participating in a summer language study program through the Arab American Language Institute in Morocco (AALIM). The institute’s program strives to convey the beauty of the Arabic language while also focusing on the practical needs of students who may choose to work in diplomacy or government, non-governmental organizations, or private business.
As in 2020, the AALIM Center’s summer program for 2021 is being conducted virtually, allowing Boyd to work with both a language partner and a dialect partner, with an expectation of communicating with a “host family” via Zoom instead of through the program’s standard, in-person approach to cultural immersion.
Boyd’s interest in the Arabic language originated, unexpectedly, when she was a high school exchange student in the north of Scotland.
“The town of Forres had three or four Syrian refugee families when I was there,” Boyd said. “My host mom took me to meet one of those families; we used a lot of hand gestures and translation apps. I knew I was going back to Scotland the following year, so I took Arabic to be able to talk with them – and their English had gotten better, so we were able to have conversations.”
She knew she would want to apply for a study-abroad program while in college.
During Boyd’s sophomore year at Florida Southern, she began working with Dr. Moffitt, associate director of FSC’s honors program. Although Boyd's first application for the CLS program in 2020 did not lead to her selection as a finalist, she and Dr. Moffitt continued to work toward that goal: “Dr. Moffitt puts in a lot of work, helping kids with scholarships.”
Graduating seniors who are applying to graduate school are eligible to apply for overseas study through the David L. Boren Scholarships and Fellowships program.
This federal initiative, sponsored by the National Security Education Program (NSEP), is designed to help undergraduate and graduate students acquire language skills and international experience in countries that are critical to the security and stability of the United States.
Boren Scholars and Fellows study 46 different foreign languages and cultures in 44 countries throughout Africa, Asia, Eurasia, Latin America, and the Middle East. In exchange for the funding of these study-abroad opportunities, recipients of Boren Award scholarships agree to work in the federal government for at least one year. Since 1994, more than 7,000 students have received Boren Awards, which were named in recognition of former U.S. Senator David Boren, the principal author of the legislation that created the NSEP.
Current FSC student Morgan McDermott of Cape Coral, Florida, was recognized as the recipient of a Boren Scholarship. McDermott applied to study Mandarin Chinese through the International Chinese Language Program (ICLP) at National Taiwan University.
The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship program provides study-abroad opportunities to outstanding undergraduate Pell Grant recipients who, because of financial restraints, might not otherwise be able to gain those experiences. Since its launch, the program has enabled more than 28,000 U.S. students to participate through study and internship options in 145 countries around the globe.
Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, The Gilman Scholarship program helps to make study abroad – and its career advantages – more accessible and inclusive for U.S. students. The program focuses on supporting first-generation college students, students in the STEM fields, ethnic and racial minority students, students with disabilities, students who are veterans, students attending community colleges and minority-serving institutions, and other underrepresented populations.
Grace Sill ’22 of Pensacola, Florida, recently was named a finalist for the Gilman Scholarship program. She is a religion major with an English minor, and a participant in FSC’s Honors Program.
Although her original goal was to study the Mandarin language in Taiwan, COVID-related restrictions have made it necessary for Sill to develop an alternate plan.
“The program has provided funding to apply to a virtual language program in Mandarin through Tunghai University in Taichung,” Sill said. “As Gilman recipients, we have the freedom to determine how to use the funding and the place we choose to pursue our studies.”
Sill’s small-group study program starts in July and continues until the end of August. She expects to be working with about six other students from around the globe.
“I’ve had previous training in Mandarin, on and off,” she said. “I had Saturday language classes as a child, and I attended college classes on campus at the University of West Florida when I went to Booker T. Washington High School in Pensacola. I would like to continue becoming more proficient in Mandarin; my plans for graduate school are to study theology, and this will help by allowing me to read Chinese primary sources.”