Fulbright Recipients Speak of their Experiences

Marist Alumni Return to Inspire the Next Generation of Student Scholars

Swasdi” “Kia Ora” and “Namaste” are greetings from Thailand, New Zealand, and India, and at a talk for Fulbright scholarship students, three Marist alumni shared more than just these greetings from their countries of travel.

Kendra McKechnie, Nicholas Homler, and Robin Miniter, returned to their roots at Marist after spending the better part of a year abroad,  to discuss their work under the Fulbright scholarship. Each told their own moving story and with that, inspired the room of prospective young Fulbright scholars.

If the word “Fulbright” means nothing to you, don’t worry as there is still time to learn. Before signing up for the event I knew embarrassingly little about the program, as did anyone I asked about it. A few minutes into the talk, however, I realized there was a great deal to learn about this very competitive and prestigious award.  

According to their website, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program “offers research, study and teaching opportunities in over 140 countries to recent graduates and graduate students.” Essentially, Fulbright sends young professionals to work abroad for the duration of an academic year.

On location, these student scholars either work on individually designed research projects or work for English Teaching Assistant Programs. While they travel to their respective countries with a purpose,“Fulbrighters will meet, work, live with and learn from the people of the host country, sharing daily experiences,” as they complete their projects.

The presentations were all unique to the speaker since each applicant plans their own year in a “Statement of Grant Purpose.” They focus on their individual passions, through a specific research project, or on education, through English Teaching Assistant Programs.  

The first speaker, Kendra McKechnie, graduated from Marist in 2014, and just returned from Thailand three months ago. She went as an English Teaching Assistant and also hoped to study the Thai language. “It was a real challenge and a real pleasure to learn,” she says.

In her slide show, McKechnie projected pictures of excursions, her beautiful Thai residence, and the community of teachers and students. Her job was to provide as much of her English abilities as she could, and motivate them to take initiative in such a community-oriented classroom. “That’s where the shiny American comes in,” she laughs.

Kendra McKechnie did not expect a year of sunshine and rainbows. “It was not the happiest year of my life and not the best year of my life,” she said, bringing her presentation to a close, “but it was the most important.”

Next, we heard from Nicholas Homler, a Radio/TV/Film major who graduated in 2013. In his time at Marist, Homler discovered his passion for documentary filmmaking. He took his grant, and this passion to New Zealand, to make a documentary exploring the country’s relationship to Cinema.

Some may be familiar with the country’s relationship with the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, which featured New Zealand’s majestic landscapes. However, in his time there, Homler studied “The Reel People of New Zealand,” the name of his soon to be completed documentary. This also represents the cinema owners and film fanatics that keep theaters going in a country without the population to support the business.

Homler is a great example of how Fulbright projects evolve over the year. He developed the premise for his documentary as he traveled to different cinemas around the country, making short, commercial videos to show before the films. “I’d get in my little convertible, and get to see this whole country from a first-hand perspective,” Homler says, adding that this was the best part of his experience.

Along the way, he made connections, which inspired him to tell their stories. He also, as most Fulbrights do, developed his craft. “I couldn’t have pushed myself more as a filmmaker,” Homler concludes proudly.

The last presenter, Robin Miniter, stood before us as the veteran of the Fulbright grant, with an experience in which every piece fit together seamlessly. She graduated in 2011 with a degree in journalism, minors in global and women’s studies, and as a member of the women’s Rugby team.

In 2012, Miniter had finally fit all of her Fulbright pieces together. She traveled to India to research women’s Rugby and how, “this masculine sport is being translated to this country where the gender roles have no wiggle room,” she explained. Her project was able to incorporate her love of Rugby, with her study of women, all in her adopted sister’s birth country.  

As a “Fulbright veteran,” with much time to reflect on her experiences, Miniter passed down words of wisdom on applying for the grant and then making the most of it. She presented a list of things to remember while on location, intertwined with stories of the role of Indian women and the empowering Rugby players.

Her presentation, “How to Fulbright: Ten Tips and Tricks” included points like, “listen more than you speak,” “don’t be afraid to get into jams,” and “learn to eat everything.” In the end, she leaves us with the idea that “this is just a springboard for what you are going to do when you get back.” She explains that Fulbright gives its recipients the tools to cultivate the skills they already have and to continue doing so for the rest of their lives.

Written by Sarah Gabrielli '18

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