Fulbright Grants Will Allow Graduates to Deepen Cultural Competency
Three young scholars win prestigious grants to diverse countries, where they'll teach English and conduct research
Three Colby students have been awarded prestigious Fulbright grants to conduct academic and cultural work abroad. Their broad-based Colby experiences have prepared them to meet the Fulbright Program’s high standards of creating meaningful cross-cultural dialogues and exchanges in countries around the world.
This year’s Fulbright winners will travel to a range of countries, including Austria, where Catherine duBoulay ’22 will be placed; Estonia, where Talamh Devlin ’22 will be stationed; and Sri Lanka, where Keerthi Martyn ’22 will be posted.
Having missed the opportunity to study abroad as juniors because of the pandemic, these young scholars are eager to become “Fulbrighters” and immerse themselves in a foreign country to deepen their cultural competency and language skills.
“The aim of the Fulbright Program is to promote cultural exchange and facilitate mutual understanding. This year’s recipients each crafted an application for a Fulbright Student Award that highlighted both their willingness and their ability to take on this important task,” said Colby’s Fulbright Program Advisor Kim Besio, also the Ziskind Professor of East Asian Studies.
“I find it particularly exciting that they are going to such diverse parts of the world,” Besio continued. “Informed by their past global experiences, and the classes that they took while at Colby, they’re prepared to make the most of their Fulbright year. And, like the Colby recipients before them, will each benefit from this life-changing experience in their own unique manner.”
Talamh Devlin (they/them) will teach English in Estonia, which they choose for its proximity to Russia. They hope to be placed in a city close to the Russian border to have the opportunity to interact with Estonians who still speak Russian, with which Devlin is conversant.
As a high schooler in Carlisle, Mass., Devlin developed an interest in Russia and its prime minister, Vladimir Putin. “I think he’s a really fascinating character,” they said, adding quickly, “Although as of late he’s taken more of a dark turn.” Devlin was told that learning Russian was the best way to understand Putin, so they started taking Russian classes in 2018.
At Colby, they declared a double major in Russian language and culture and in sociology with a minor in German studies. The tight-knit German and Russian Department supported Devlin as they built language skills and deepened their interest in Russian politics. Their advisor, Assistant Professor of Russian Elena Monastireva-Ansdell, encouraged them to apply for a Fulbright early on.
Another reason Devlin chose Estonia is that the Baltic nation is forward-thinking in regard to LGBTQ issues. It’s socially progressive, they said, but still has some connection to the Soviet Union, which is something they’re interested in sociologically.
In Estonia, Devlin will embark on a research project exploring the differences between the two languages and how each expresses history. “I’ll be looking at different monuments in Estonia and in Russia [if conditions allow] and seeing how they portray events similarly or differently.”
Improving their language skills is a goal too. Devlin is currently learning Estonian, a Balto-Finnic language ranked one of the five hardest for English speakers to learn. “It has 14 cases and 36 diphthongs, so it’s very different,” they said. “I hope to make some progress on that. I’ll see how it goes.”
With an interest in a career in education, Devlin believes that a Fulbright teaching position will allow them to experience an educational system while also participating in an immersive language experience. The opportunity to grow as an individual also has a strong pull.
“Personally, I just love traveling, and I love being alone in different countries,” they said. “Those experiences are really centering for me because you have to figure it all out, to rely on yourself. That helps me build confidence in myself.”
Catherine duBoulay (she/her) came to Colby intent on studying biology and neuroscience. But a single course changed that plan and altered her life’s path.
This fall duBoulay is headed to Eisenstadt, Austria, to teach English to high schoolers in two technical schools, an opportunity she never could have imagined four years ago.
“Being at a liberal arts college was really helpful in the sense that I got to take a bunch of different classes that poked and prodded at my interests and guided me, and let me guide myself, toward the humanities,” said the Bunche Scholar from Westport, Conn. She graduates in May as a double major in German studies and history.
In high school, duBoulay took French classes, but she couldn’t make them fit into her schedule once she arrived on Mayflower Hill. To fulfill her language requirement, she took a German course during her first Jan Plan. That class was the beginning of what turned into an exploration of not just the language but German culture and history as well.
Within just her German major, duBoulay studied issues related to race and gender, she said, as well as many other topics. Several German classes focused on film and art, fueling her growing interest in media and media law as fields of professional interest.
Her proficiency with the language became so advanced that the German Department trained her as an apprentice teacher, enabling her to create lesson plans for beginning language learners. And during Jan Plan 2020, she worked as an English teaching assistant at a school in Bremen, Germany. Both of these experiences prepared her for the Fulbright application.
Added to her list of accomplishments are accolades from the Maine section of the American Association of Teachers of German, including a Study Abroad Award in 2020 and a nomination for this year’s Collegiate Outstanding Senior Award.
Now, she’s ready for Eisenstadt. She’s pleased to be placed in a small city, where she expects there to be less English spoken than in a bigger city like Vienna. She wants to obtain a higher level of proficiency with German, she said, and feels that Eisenstadt will be a “super unique opportunity to be confronted with German on a daily basis.”
duBoulay reflects back often on the chance she took with that first German class. It’s a mindset of risk-taking that she’ll call on as a Fulbrighter. “That’s also going to be so important when I go to Austria,” she said. “Kind of stepping out of my comfort zone and really just engaging with the town itself and the people in the town.”
Before duBoulay leaves for Austria later this summer, she plans to take the LSAT exam in anticipation of going to law school a year or two after her Fulbright experience.
Keerthi Martyn (he/him) has lived his life straddling two cultures, American and Sri Lankan. As a Fulbrighter, he will investigate these countries through Fulbright’s Open Research Study option in Sri Lanka.
While stationed in the capital Colombo, Martyn will conduct research in international relations, investigating the “strategic relationships between the U.S. and Sri Lanka in the areas of economics, security, and geopolitics amidst the rise of China,” said the senior from Oneida, N.Y.
Martyn is curious about Sri Lanka’s role in navigating the complicated relationship between the U.S. and China. Can the U.S. maintain its influence without antagonizing Sri Lanka? What do both countries have to gain—or lose?
In pursuit of answers, Martyn will draw on resources at two Sri Lankan institutions: the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies, which advises the government, and the Institute of National Security Studies, a think tank under the Ministry of Defense.
Martyn will interact with policymakers, academics, and experts at both institutions. His goal is to write a report outlining what he sees as avenues for cooperation between the U.S. and Sri Lanka.
Personal interest and intellectual curiosity drew Martyn to a Fulbright in Sri Lanka. His parents both came from Sri Lanka, so the Fulbright opportunity will allow him to embrace his heritage and express his Sri Lankan-American identity. Academically, the Fulbright is an exceptional opportunity for a career in international relations and foreign affairs.
A government and global studies double major, Martyn cited his coursework for deepening his interest in America’s position in the world. Especially inspiring were Government Department courses in international relations and international law taught by his advisors, Milan Babik ’01, a visiting assistant professor, and Ken Rodman, the William R. Cotter Distinguished Teaching Professor of Government.
Martyn eagerly anticipates living in Colombo for an extended period, partially to learn Sri Lanka’s primary languages, Sinhalese and Tamil, which are the country’s two main ethnic groups. Martyn’s family is Tamil, and he grew up hearing Tamil from his parents. He can understand his mother tongue, but he can’t speak it—at least not yet.
While graduate school is in Martyn’s future, he wants first to gain real-world experience on a global scale. In addition to the Fulbright award, he won a six-month fellowship with the Asia Foundation’s LankaCorps, which he’ll start this summer before his Fulbright.
“There’s a value of getting a year or two of life experience after college,” he said. “Just traveling, being yourself, finding yourself, representing your identity, and then finding your identity abroad.”
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