While studying at college in her native Latin America, Estefany Arenas immersed herself in her own ancestors, including her roots in Mexico, but also in Spain.
“It sparked my interest in this part of the world,” said the 2019 Stetson University graduate and teacher at Lake Wales High School. This resulted in her receiving a Fulbright US Student Program Scholarship, which enables her to teach and study for an academic year in the Asturias region of northern Spain.
She begins in September and joins two other new Stetson graduates in the prestigious intellectual and cultural exchange program established in 1946 to promote world peace.
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Two more Stetson students are jetting to South America: Malina Morales, a graduate of Psychology and Digital Arts, is going to Argentina; Fred Lee, who majored in Spanish before graduating in 2017, will go to Brazil.
The three Stetson Fellows in the past two years have nearly doubled the list of DeLand University’s four other Fulbright student awards in the past six decades.
“It’s an incredible result,” said Bill Nylen, professor of political science and Stetson’s campus coordinator for the Fulbright student program, in a university press release. “For many, many years, Stetson had no Fulbright Student Rewards. Well, three in two years! I look forward to being back in the game next year to see if we can get more of our students on the Fulbright train. “
Of the Volusia County’s colleges and universities, Stetson also has the largest number of Fulbright US Scholar and Visiting Scholar programs at 41. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University follows with 15, followed by Daytona State College with four and Bethune-Cookman University with three.
No Volusia school other than Stetson has produced recipients of the US student program.
Opportunities from Albania to Zambia
Winning a Fulbright takes an extensive process that begins with selecting a type of award. All three Stetson Fellows will teach English. Other awards are given in the fields of arts, business, journalism and communication, public health and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Students can apply in 140 countries, from Albania to Zambia, and suggest research areas that they want to pursue locally.
As part of their application process, Arenas contacted non-profit organizations in Spain that help refugees and immigrants, people who want to learn English. “I made a lot of phone calls and researched a lot about the different regions,” she said.
She has made contact with people in Spain through Reddit, Facebook and LinkedIn.
In her application, she formulated her ambitions for the year.
“My desire to understand Spain and my dedication to helping others on their travels have shaped my passion for education,” she wrote. “In Spain, I would finally immerse myself in the world of my ancestors through teaching, art and service and I would also work for a better exchange of ideas and perspectives between American and Spanish culture.”
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Morales, who graduated from Stetson in 2019, chose Argentina among other things because it was the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage.
“When I learn more about the people’s view of the LGBT movement, I can understand the laws and influences of my country as they move forward,” she said in her application.
She expects her experience to inform her when starting a psychiatric practice.
Lee, a 2017 Stetson graduate, won his award in 2020 but delayed his Fulbright year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his application, he suggested integrating music into his teaching methods.
“Singing and listening to music could improve skills such as pronunciation, grammar, and cultural understanding in language learning,” Lee wrote.
For Arenas – who is interested in a university degree that incorporates her interests in international relations – a stay in Asturias, with its rugged coastline and picturesque mountains, will offer perspectives for people “away from the metropolitan regions”.
She expects to be surprised.
“You grow up thinking that Spanish-speaking countries are similar,” she said. “But it’s going to be a culture shock for me.”
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