When Marta Polovin, Tania Cardona and Lindsay Haacker enrolled in a seminar class led by Ann Kerr in winter 2011, they had no idea that this classroom setting would have such a strong impact on their world views. Now, the second-year student are hoping to give other UCLA students a similar global experience, albeit in a casual and non-academic environment.
They are currently getting set to host the inaugural meeting of Speaking International, a club designed to bring students from all parts of campus together to meet Fulbright scholars and learn about their personal and academic experiences. Their first meeting will be held April 20 at Glorya Kaufman Hall beginning at 5:30 p.m.
“The idea is to have informal conversations that aren’t structured, but instead are free-flowing,” says Cardona, a student in UCLA's Global Studies Program, adding that meetings will be held every other Friday throughout the spring, fall and winter quarters. “We might get together in a café or have a picnic outside where everyone can come and share a bit of their culture. Fulbright scholars can meet one another and network, and students will have the chance to be exposed to countries they may have never even heard of.” UCLA currently has Fulbright scholars hailing from Germany, Argentina, South Africa, Indonesia and Macedonia, to name a few.
The class that inspired this club was “Perceptions of U.S. Abroad, Discussions with Visiting Fulbright Scholars,” which is part of UCLA's popular Fiax Lux program that was initiated in 2002 as a way to encourage freshman students to explore the post-9/11 world. Kerr, who is coordinator of the Visiting Fulbright Scholar Enrichment Program for the Los Angeles Metropolitan area, designed this seminar to help first-year students develop a more international view of the world through personal contacts and perhaps become interested in studying abroad. The key feature of this class is that it brings in a different Fulbright scholar each week to talk to about his or her country, share cultural information, discuss general perceptions of America as seen from someone from abroad and answer questions from students. Students express what they’ve learned through writing and submitting weekly reflective papers for grading.
“It was an entertaining way to learn,” says Polovin, a social sciences student. “The Fulbright scholars present their stories in a way that’s fun and amusing. I think it allows you to learn more than you would just sitting at a desk.”
Club meetings will also be a great chance for students to also network with scholars from diverse fields and to ask questions related to their areas of interest. Cardona has already found this to be true, after developing a connection with a Fulbright scholar who recently helped her land a summer internship at a NGO in India that provides advocacy for labor and gender rights.
“UCLA is always advertised as being super diverse, and we want people to use this as an opportunity to step outside of their everyday circles and into new ones,” says Cardona. Adds Haacker, a physiological science major: “We want to make this fun and be something that Fulbright scholars and UCLA students look forward to because it will provide unique interactions that may enhance everyone’s academic experiences.”
The Fulbright Scholar Program was established to increase mutual understanding between people of the United States and people from other nations. Since its creation in 1946, some 310,000 participants — chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential — have participated. Each year, 800 students travelled to 155 countries to lecture, conduct research or participate in seminars.
For more information about the club, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or seach for "Speaking International" on Facebook.