Article by Chrissy Park, UCI
More than 200 Anteaters – 78 undergraduates and 129 graduate students – have participated in the Fulbright Program since 1992. The international academic exchange offers students the chance to study, conduct research or teach in over 160 countries; about 8,000 grants are awarded each year.
“The Fulbright Program connects people from different countries, cultures and backgrounds so that they can learn from and teach one another,” says Victoria Jones, chief global affairs officer in UCI’s Office of Global Engagement. “Students who are given a Fulbright can see the world from someone else’s point of view.”
In 2023, UCI was designated as a Fulbright Hispanic-Serving Institution Leader for the third year in a row. The university became an HSI in 2017.
“UCI is recognized as a leader among all Hispanic-Serving Institutions for promoting and engaging with the Fulbright Program,” Jones says. “The university’s emphasis on equity, diversity and inclusion enhances the experience of Fulbright alumni, who make a positive impact while abroad and continue to do so for the rest of their lives.”
Those interested in applying to the program are encouraged to visit the Scholarship Opportunities Program office, located in the Student Excellence Center in the Science Library, to receive guidance and individualized advising throughout the application process.
Here’s a look at UCI students, all of whom applied through SOP and are or were part of the Fulbright Program – Anteaters changing the world for the better.
Elizabeth Hafen, 2023-24 Fulbright recipient
After graduating from UCI in 2022 with degrees in political science and psychology and taking a gap year – during which she volunteered in social sciences professor Jeanett Castellanos’ Dream Keepers research lab – Elizabeth Hafen is now in Madrid, conducting research on Spain’s immigration policies. She’s specifically studying the working conditions and well-being of female workers from Colombia, with the goal of drafting and submitting policy proposals to Spain’s Ministry of the Interior.
Hafen – who was born in Hawaii, lived in Mexico for a couple of years and currently resides in San Diego – is passionate about policy and research that helps other Latino people.
“The Latina community needs support in any aspect, especially women who are coming by themselves [to Spain] to work. I can relate to that immigrant experience,” she says.
Though Hafen has grappled with imposter syndrome and homesickness since going abroad, her work in the Fulbright Program is rewarding, she says. And it adds to the resilience that Hafen, who graduated from high school as a wrestler and is now playing rugby, has cultivated her whole life.
“I’ve always felt like I’m a strong individual,” she says.
Hafen is applying to graduate school and plans to pursue a dual degree in public policy and law. She looks forward to continuing to advocate for both her community and other underrepresented ones.
Elizabeth Yanira Montoya, 2022-23 Fulbright recipient
Upon transferring to UCI in 2019, Elizabeth Yanira Montoya discovered the Fulbright Program at a scholarship opportunities event and decided to apply during her senior year.
“Fulbright aligns with my values of cultural exchange and building community,” she says.
Montoya graduated in 2022 with a B.S. in microbiology and immunology and a B.A. in sociology, plus a minor in medical humanities. Through Fulbright, she earned a fully funded master’s degree in global public health and policy at Queen Mary University of London in 2023.
Her interdisciplinary approach to undergraduate education set the stage for subsequent achievements at QMUL. Montoya’s dissertation focused on language barriers in North East London, addressing access to health and community resources through social prescribing. Collaborating with the National Health Service to analyze data, she concluded that translators and culture-specific health resources would alleviate those obstacles.
“My goal is that my research can lead to positive change and assist others,” Montoya says, emphasizing the impact of her work on NHS policies and the increased budget for translators in the region.
Growing up in Los Angeles, she aspired to lessen social disparities and better the world from a young age. Now, having returned from her Fulbright mission, Montoya expresses confidence in embarking on her next steps. She’s applying to medical scientist training programs, aiming to become a physician-scientist and conduct research to improve health outcomes in low-income areas after earning an M.D./Ph.D. in epidemiology.
“I want to create powerful change so that an individual’s lifespan is not based on their ZIP code,” Montoya says.
Her Fulbright experience, during which she traveled to over 10 countries and practiced Spanish and Italian, also fostered a deep appreciation for global connectedness.
“Fulbright opened doors and broadened my horizons. I learned more about myself and how to think outside the box,” Montoya says. “This is only the beginning.”
Audrey Garcia, 2022-23 Fulbright recipient
Audrey Garcia graduated from UCI in 2021 with degrees in comparative literature and philosophy, then worked as a private tutor and substitute teacher while completing the Fulbright application. She received a grant in 2022 to conduct research in Belgium as an intern with a Ghent University project on children in comics.
Her work focused on the role comics play in popular culture – in particular, colonization and self-image in the trope of the mythical West. Garcia was selected by the Fulbright Commission to present her research at Brussels’ U.S. Embassy in February 2023 and is continuing to develop it, with an emphasis on the projection of Belgian national values in comics.
Currently, she’s teaching English in Japan as part of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program – a decision largely motivated by her Fulbright-induced love of being abroad. Garcia will head to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the fall of 2024 to earn a Ph.D. in English and comparative literature.
“I feel prepared to tackle both of these opportunities in large part due to Fulbright,” she says. “The experience made me realize that I’m braver and stronger than I thought.”
Article originally posted on UCI News.