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A year ago today, I was sitting at my kitchen table working on an application that would change my life.
I first learned about the Fulbright Summer Institutes through my university’s fellowships coordinator, who sent me an email encouraging me to apply. As a global politics major who had never stepped foot beyond North America, the program was the opportunity of my dreams: a fully-funded experience for students with a desire to explore new cultures and an interest in advocacy, service, and education.
Scrolling through the website, the Identity and Nationhood in Wales Summer Institute immediately captured my imagination. Being from a small Kentucky town myself, I loved the idea of spending three weeks immersed in the seaside small town of Aberystwyth, getting to know locals, exploring the countryside, and learning the culture of a region I had never studied before at the oldest institute of international politics in the world.
When I clicked “submit,” I had no idea what my chances were. It was an early morning in May that I rolled over to silence my morning alarm and saw my acceptance email from Fulbright. I couldn’t believe it!
It didn’t feel real until I touched down at Birmingham airport and found my soon-to-be classmates in an airport café. I had been nervous in the days leading up to my flight, having never travelled this far before, but once I saw my new classmates, I felt excited for the journey ahead.
On the drive to Aberystwyth, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the window. The beautiful mountains full of sheep, the small town cottages, the Welsh street signs: my excitement only built the closer we got to my new home.
As a Fulbrighter, each day was an adventure. From field studies at ancient castles to behind-the-scenes tours of the national archives, our education was hands-on. We didn’t just talk about Welsh identity; we took Welsh lessons, explored local and national museum sites, tried Welsh cuisine — we even spun wool to thread at an Iron Age settlement! My favorite experience was our visit to the Senedd (Welsh Parliament), where we spoke with the Speaker of the House about the very political topics we had studied in our seminars.
In a town with few Americans, my Kentucky accent was always a conversation starter with Welsh locals. From making friends with locals in line at a pottery festival to chatting with a local game store owner about our shared love of Magic: The Gathering, every conversation was a chance for a cross-cultural connection.
Whether we went on hikes, tried local restaurants, or had some Welsh ice cream at the castle ruins, I loved spending time with members of my cohort and getting to know students from across the country.
The Fulbright Summer Institutes taught me just as much outside the classroom as in the classroom, and since participating, I have grown as a multidisciplinary thinker. Two days after returning from Wales, I taught a high school summer program on American citizenship, where I was able to draw comparisons to current events in the UK and encourage students to think globally, just as Fulbright taught me. Additionally, after learning about the field of folklore studies for my Summer Institute, I am using folklore studies to inform my current research as a Geoffrion Fellow studying the culture of labor movements in Appalachian Kentucky.
Most importantly, the program gave me the invaluable experience of cross-cultural exchange, which has inspired me to think about working or attending graduate programs abroad.
Meredith Perkins, Fulbright Aberystwyth Summer Institute on Identity and Nationhood 2023.
Interested in embarking on a similar journey to the UK this summer? Applications for our 2024 UK Summer Institutes close on Thursday 1st February, don't miss the chance to immerse yourself in a brand new culture, learn from leading UK academics, and forge life-long connections. Find out more about each summer institute and submit your application here.