Nine Occidental seniors and alumni won Fulbright awards in 2018 to work and study in nine different countries, according to Director of Communications Jim Tranquada, marking the college’s 14th year as a top producer of Fulbright award-winners. This year, Occidental’s number of Fulbright students tied with Swarthmore College and Amherst College for tenth place nationally among all bachelor’s institutions, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education’s rankings.
“It’s a very significant national recognition to get on that list,” International and National Fellowships Director Jennifer Locke said. “It shows … how much Oxy students have been achieving, being able to prepare for these grants and be selected through a very competitive process by national selection committees and global selection committees.”
According to Locke, this recognition reflects not only the academic achievements of Occidental students but also the genuine interest of students in being a part of the international community.
“Fulbright funds a lot of different work … but ultimately it is a cultural exchange grant. It shows a lot about how Occidental students are interested in connecting with people across the globe and are able to successfully communicate how important it is to them and how able they are to do that work of connection,” Locke said.
Though many Fulbright awardees are concentrated in social science fields, the general perception that social science majors dominate the Fulbright field is not true. Locke said the 36 Occidental applicants for Fulbrights in 2018 represented 32 different departments. (These 2018 applicants have yet to receive notification of their acceptance status.)
According to Fulbright award recipient Sydney Bowman* ’18, the curriculum and community at Occidental lead to this widespread interest in Fulbrights.
“I think that the key that makes Oxy unique is this idea that, no matter what major you are … we are global citizens and we’re focused on world views and international perspectives,” Bowman said.
Bowman was a Diplomacy & World Affairs and Spanish double major and a Politics minor. Bowman arrived in Madrid six months ago through the Fulbright program.
“It’s a very chaotic process because you get off the plane and you have to immediately search for a new apartment, you have to find roommates, you have to set up a bank account, you have to figure out the metro system,” Bowman said. “It’s just a crazy blur of events.”
Since her arrival, Bowman has been teaching English to students ages 14–15 at a local high school and coordinating a “Global Classroom,” a version of Model United Nations. Bowman participated in Model United Nations at Occidental as well as the Kahane UN Program in New York City.
“[I’ve been] preparing [these students] for a conference which we had last month in which all the students from local schools in Madrid gather to debate a lot of really important topics, such as youth violence and gender violence,” Bowman said.
According to Bowman, that conference marked the end of her work with Global Classrooms, and she is now teaching over 300 students ages 12–18 in a variety of subjects including history, chemistry and physical education.
“Diving into something completely new like teaching has been a really fulfilling opportunity for me,” Bowman said. “I never really considered teaching as something that I might be doing post-grad, but I had decided my senior year that I really wanted to branch out and challenge myself by trying something new while still getting real-world experience and practical skills that I could use in any field.”
Fulbright grants vary greatly, and while Bowman received an English Teaching Assistant grant, Theresa Edwards ’18 received a Fulbright grant to conduct research in Bolivia and Peru. Edwards was a Diplomacy & World Affairs and Spanish double major.
Edwards is researching the application of international human rights law to the indigenous human rights regime, specifically studying Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). According to Edwards, FPIC is a non-binding soft law that requires governments to go through a consultation process with indigenous peoples before approving a project that might affect their right to their territory and resources. A ‘soft law’ is one that is non-binding but indicative of the objectives and principles that states may be willing to support publicly, according to the New York University Law Library.
Bolivia and Peru both ratified UN Convention 169 in the 1990s, which outlined the rights of Indigenous peoples. In 2007, both countries adopted the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which recognizes the rights of indigenous populations by making FPIC mandatory for any activity affecting their ancestral lands, territories and natural resources. However, according to Edwards, there is a gap between the adoption of these international instruments and their actual implementation. Edwards studies this gap by conducting field research into the practices of FPIC in both countries.
“Ratifying them is not really enough,” Edwards said. “Just because they recognize that that is what they should be doing, doesn’t mean that they do.”
While Edwards has learned a great deal about her research topic, 90 percent of what she has learned has been non-academic, Edwards said.
“For me, it’s been a lot of firsts. My first time ever renting an apartment on my own in Bolivia, I recently learned how to ride a motorcycle and that was a first,” Edwards said. “Just crazy things like how to get myself out of dangerous situations, how to speak up for myself, all of that. It’s been a lot of learning.”
Looking back at her time at Occidental, Edwards said she is glad she had the opportunity to study abroad in Bolivia. The research she started when she was abroad her junior year turned into her senior comps, which eventually developed into the research project she is currently conducting through Fulbright.
“For my research now, I actually brought some of the articles that I used for comps that are all scribbled on and torn up, and I refer to them constantly,” Edwards said. “All of this is to say that if you’re interested in research, why not try it out? Write your comps about something that you’re passionate about. Who knows, it might take you places.”
*Sydney Bowman ’18 is a former news editor for The Occidental.