I’m Rosalyn Kutsch (Fordham ‘19), and I’ve just returned from living in Madrid as a 2019-20 recipient of a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) award to Spain. At Fordham Rose Hill, I studied International Political Economy and Latin American and Latino Studies and was involved with the Model United Nations club, which eventually led me to an internship at the United States Mission to the United Nations. My positive experiences in diplomacy and international relations motivated me to apply for the Fulbright Spain program, as the primary role of an ETA in Madrid is to teach the Global Classrooms program.

Similar to Model United Nations, Global Classrooms (GC) is an education program that engages middle and high school students in diplomacy and international relations. Acting as UN ambassadors, my students learned how to represent a country while collaborating with their peers to address a global issue such as climate change or human trafficking. My GC classes met three times a week and focused on researching, debating, writing, and preparing for a city-wide conference held in January. I was so excited to lead this initiative at my school as I believe that it’s never too early to encourage students to explore solutions for the most pressing global problems.

The topic for this year’s conference was “Finding the Balance between Resource Efficiency and Economic Growth,” and I had to get creative about introducing the ideas of urbanization, overconsumption, the circular economy, and management of natural resources. It was a challenge figuring out how to make such complex topics clear and accessible, especially when English was a second, or even third language, for many of my students. Throughout my quest to make the lessons more relevant, I learned more about my host culture than I anticipated. For example, we analyzed the ecological footprint of their favorite Three Kings’ Day present, discussed sustainable crops and agriculture in the country, and planned the most sustainable way to travel over Christmas break.

This topic also forced me to explore the role of “ambassador.” For example, I was challenged when resident class clown Alberto refused to participate in the day’s debate practice because “it doesn’t matter what my country does, nothing will change unless the United States changes.” His remarks opened up a candid discussion about how small actions can still make a large difference, and why despite being in Spain, it was still important that I voice my concerns to my government as a US citizen and active voter.

Global Classrooms Award Ceremony for “Best Position Paper”

In January, the day of the conference, ten of my students joined over one thousand others to develop resolutions that would address the topic of resource efficiency. Their Instagram followers doubled as they made new friends and spent the day deep in discussion collaborating on resolutions that could have come out of the UN itself. I found myself tearing up as I watched my students “compete.” Regardless of any differences between the students, these teenagers worked together to craft intersectional and creative solutions to a very real issue—one that will inevitably affect them.

Since the experience, one of my more dedicated students has told me that she loved making friends and learning about the topic so much that she has decided to pursue studies in international relations! Students also had the ability to continue exploring their ideas about the topic afterwards in the school newspaper I established as my side project this year. Ultimately, working with my students and the Global Classrooms program has reaffirmed the importance and power of cross-cultural and educational exchange.

When I wasn’t in the classroom, I made it a point to enjoy the culinary diversity of Spain and found myself intrigued by the regional specialties as I travelled around the country––sherry production in southern Jerez, cheese and sidre in Asturias, and calçots in Catalonia. I also loved participating in Carnaval festivities in the small beach-side town of Stiges and backpacking through a blizzard in the northern Picos de Europa.

Backpacking at the Picos de Europa National Park in northern Spain

I found one of my favorite communities during the grant quite unexpectedly. Early on, after joining an ultimate frisbee team, I sustained a knee injury that required surgery. Instead of leaving, I underwent physical therapy 5 days a week for over 2 months. Through this process I met new friends, practiced Spanish daily over cafés after the sessions, and created a surprising community within my Fulbright experience. This was a serendipitous reminder that cultural exchange can happen anywhere and regardless of how much you “plan” your experience, the unexpected will find you!

As I reflect on my time in Spain, I can’t help but think about the process to get there. I was drafting my application around this time two years ago, and there are a number of things I wish I had realized at the time.

Here are a few tips for current applicants:

1.         Listen to your gut! As you narrow down the country or program you plan to apply to, it is essential that you can visualize yourself there. Can you picture yourself in the classroom? In the lab? Interacting with the community? If you can clearly see yourself in that role, it will be easier to craft a persuasive application that helps the selection board see you there as well. 

2.         Have confidence! You are applying for a reason. Write down that reason and remind yourself of it when you are in the tough stages of revising. A Fulbright grant is a chance to participate in meaningful cultural exchange, so ask yourself how your skills and talents best support the goals of the Fulbright program. Figure out what you bring to the table and demonstrate that value in your applications.

3.         Use (and listen to) your resources! Applicants are fortunate to have access to a wealth of resources at Fordham and beyond. Dr. Beskin and other fellowship advisors will help you craft your personal narrative and offer support along the application journey. They can also connect you with other Fordham Fulbright alumni who are more than willing to discuss their experience with you. Solicit advice on your applications and then apply it. Don’t get too attached to your writing and be willing to keep trying different things until you find what “shows” and doesn’t “tell.”

4.         Make yourself proud! Applying for a Fulbright is undoubtedly a lot of work, but you owe it to yourself to see the process through. Put in your maximum effort so that when you submit the application you know you did your best. Regardless of the outcome, it is a beneficial skill to be able to craft a compelling and clear personal statement.

Edited by Alex Finn-Atkins