Fulbright scholars hope to make a better world
Lauren Woodard, Drew Firmender carve their niche in Kazakhstan, Brazil
Every little kid has a dream he or she hopes to achieve some day.
Each of the college graduates was recently named a Fulbright scholar and now are engaged in respective endeavors in Kazakhstan and Brazil.
The prestigious Fulbright Scholarship program presents awards based on merit for international educational exchange.
About 8,000 grants are awarded annually to those who show high academic achievement, a compelling project proposal, a demonstration of leadership potential, and the ability to interact successfully with the abroad community.
The purpose is to create understanding between the United States and other countries.
These two scholars are no strangers to working well with people in other countries.
Ms. Woodard, a graduate of Smith College in Northampton, Mass., has studied at Oxford University in England, worked with ENESCO doing graphic design, and traveled to Russia, Finland, Spain and Estonia.
Each found her or his purpose through foreign languages and has followed that throughout the world.
Even though there have been challenges assimilating into new cultures, each has been successful in doing what the Fulbright Scholarship intends for it's scholars to do.
Ms. Woodard focused on Russia, as her major was Russian language, and traveled to the country.
Although she "didn't actively choose Russian" as a major, she attributed a part of her reason for finally picking it to the first Russian class she took at New Milford High School.
"I started in high school and chose to do it in college," Lauren said. "Somehow I realized I'd found a major."
She said even though Russia possesses many social and cultural differences from the U.S., people there were very willing to help her with anything from getting around to buying food.
"The Russians welcome you in and they are very excited to hear about faraway places I've experienced," Lauren said, "especially the younger people. They were interested and wanted to be my friend."
Ms. Woodard recently headed to Kazakhstan to research "The Impact of Identity Formation and State-building on Kazakhstani Autonomy" as part of her Fulbright experience.
Meanwhile, Mr. Firmender focused on Brazil.
"I have chosen Brazil because I have a deep affection for the country and its people," Drew said, "and wish to further engage through language and education."
Mr. Firmender's plans called for work for a Brazilian-American company where he lives in Rio de Janeiro.
The two area college graduates hope to continue to connect with their two host countries under their scholarship, which supports them financially as they travel abroad.
"The honor of receiving a Fulbright Fellowship is the realization of serving others abroad as an American," Mr. Firmender said, "and opening a discourse which seeks to improve other cultures."
The quest for both of the scholars would be to have a positive effect on international relations in coming years.
In the process, perhaps Mr. Firmender and Ms. Woodard could inspire other area students to pursue big dreams such as earning a Fulbright Scholarship.