Paisajes-de-uruguay

4 Takeaways from the Fulbright Regional Enhancement Seminar

  • Kimberly Collins
Oct 12, 2017

There are innumerable perks to being a Fulbright grantee: travel, language, learning, new experiences. But one of the more unusual, and enjoyable, of those perks is a little slice of pampering we call the mid-year Fulbright Regional Enhancement Seminar.

Fulbright is funded and administered by the US State Department. But during our actual grant time, we as Fulbright ETAs operated mostly within our local Fulbright commissions or autonomously, but largely disconnected from the broader Department of State. While we were technically “cultural ambassadors,” or rather some lowly form of grassroots, person-to-person diplomats, we were light years away from the world of banquets, escorts, and security clearances. Mostly, we lived our little lives and they sustained our meager bank accounts.

 

But halfway through the year, for that one week, things got fancy.

The Regional Enhancement Seminar is essentially this: ETAs gather with other Fulbrighters in their region for a weeklong seminar. In Uruguay, we joined forces with grantees from throughout Central and South America to share strategies, listen to lectures, network, and otherwise be enhanced.

Full disclosure: it was not too shabby. Basically we got to meet and hang out with cool people for a week of pampering. Fulbright put us up in a swanky hotel right on the beach, complete with cloud beds, fitness center, and buffet breakfasts. We had a couple enlightening talks, we ate 4+ course meals of melt-in-our-mouths food, we toured the city, we took a day trip out to historic Colonia del Sacramento. They gave us a generous per diem allowance of which I didn’t need to touch a penny.

Again, I should reiterate that this was just my experience with Fulbright in Uruguay – in this case, for ETAs throughout Latin America (with the exception of Brazil and Argentina, which do their own internal seminars due to disproportionately high numbers of ETAs).

In short, gloriously pampered. In the scheme of things, it really probably wasn’t much. But considering the fact that we were a bunch of empathetic, curious, globetrotting 20-somethings living on stipends, some in developing countries, and all of us incredibly used to swapping high standards for good stories, it was comical. Nothing like telling tall tales of our rugged Fulbright adventures over a fine feast of salmon and wine.

But, pampering aside...

To this day, that was one of the most fascinating and uplifting groups I’ve ever been part of. Here’s some insight into what we did and what we learned from the experience.

For starters, we got tantalizing little information ahead of time. Seems to be a common theme with Fulbright – you have little tangible idea of what you’re actually getting yourself into. So you hop along for the ride in good spirits, make things up as you go, and realize it all turns out more interesting and instructive than you imagined.

We were told to prepare a 1-hour workshop with our fellow in-country ETAs to facilitate with the rest of the group. Plane tickets were bought. That was it. Then a few days prior, we received a rough itinerary and our lodging information. We arrived, had a meet and greet. We had several days of lectures, workshops, coffee breaks, lunches, enlightening conversations, and evening free times.

Now you may be thinking, that sounds an awful lot like a dozen other conferences I’ve been to.

 

 

Here’s what made it different

1. The people. You know how sometimes when you get hot shots together it turns into tiresome resume culture rank with one-upping? In this group of hot shots, it was nothing of the sort. Can’t even begin to say how refreshing it was to be able to learn and grow together without trying to tiptoe our ways around some zero-sum game rubbish.

 

2. The attitudes. In a similar vein, so much humility in all the conversations and exercises – despite the incredible bragging rights everyone should have had about the cool stuff they were doing: working with literacy, web development, indigenous groups, journalism, study abroad programs, recyclable art, don’t even get me started on the poetry. Yet even with all that sheer genius in one room, these cool Fulbright people would just ask questions and applaud other people’s efforts and put those talented brains together to ooze more cool stuff. Because even if we were already doing something great, there was always more to listen to and learn about from our fellow grantees.

3. The unhinged creativity. Unbeknownst to each other, over half of us designed workshops that involved some sort of exercise around improvisation, writing, or art. But beyond that, everyone was just so willing – willing to try a new activity, willing to invent things on the spot, willing to make a fool of themselves for the sake of those creative activities and the collective wellbeing of the group. For those familiar with Tina Fey’s advice to say “Yes, and…,” this group was a prime example. Apparently Fulbrighters and improv actors both need to know a thing about being willing, contributing something, and figuring it out as you go along.


4. The personal strength and stability.
In one exercise, we all had to draw a couple images that pervaded our everydays those days, and that symbolized things we would carry with us after we finished our grants. Literally every single one of us drew something that represented a place we went that grounded us when life spins out of control. Small, simple things – a garden, an old tower, a river. In the words of one grantee, “When my life is going to hell in a handbasket, I sit by this window and drink my coffee and watch the clouds go by and remember that things will be fine.”

I can’t personally attest to the selection process itself, but I will forever admire the Fulbright committees for being able to steadily select people who were not only academically and professionally capable, but incredibly personally stable. The mental and emotional maturity of this crew was among the highest I’ve ever seen, especially when you factor in that we were a bunch of wayward, rowdy 20-somethings neck deep in cross cultural tomfoolery.

So there you have it: some small insight into and takeaways from the Fulbright Regional Enhancement Seminar.

Disclaimer: This is not an official Department of State publication. All the views and information presented are Kimberly's own and do not represent the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, the Department of State, the Fulbright Commission, or the host country.

About the Author

Kimberly Collins

Raised in Indianapolis, Kimberly now writes and travels from Montevideo, Uruguay. After studying global politics, she worked for a small tech company until a 2016 Fulbright grant plopped her in Uruguay. She’s since finished the grant but opted to stay abroad, continuing to advance her Spanish, bop around South America, and soak up all the learning and dancing she can.

Read more of Kimberly’s blogs

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