Where Are You Going?

I am going to take a moment and explain what I am doing, why I am going to South America, what I plan to learn from my experience, and what I’m doing to prepare for my year abroad.

Rotary International, Inc. offers Ambassadorial Scholarships. As stated on their website, “The Ambassadorial Scholarships program promotes international understanding and friendly relations among people of different parts of the world.

The scholarships sponsor undergraduate and graduate students, as well as qualified professionals pursuing vocational studies. While abroad, scholars serve as goodwill ambassadors to the country where they study and give presentations about their own culture to Rotary clubs and other groups. Back home, scholars share with Rotarians and others the experiences that deepened their understanding of another culture.”

I learned of the scholarship from a friend, Austin Dunn, with whom I worked at Marquette. He had applied for a scholarship through his home Rotary District in Illinois and encouraged me to apply. I did, through the Milwaukee Rotary Club. David Buck is in charge of the scholarship process, and I met with him during October 2010 to discuss the scholarship. After learning more about it, I was immediately interested and began the application, which I submitted in May 2011. My first interview was with the Rotary Club of Milwaukee in June 2011, and I made it through to the next step. The final interview was in July 2011, with Rotarians from all over Southeastern Wisconsin, as well as one returning Ambassadorial Scholar. In a hot room in an un-air-conditioned building at Mount Mary College, I was grilled with questions. “Why do you want this scholarship?” “What makes you a good choice for the Ambassadorial Scholarship?” “What are your plans for a service project while in-country?” “What do you plan to do in the Milwaukee area after you’ve returned?” “Describe para nosotros una experiencia que te cambió.” (Yes, a good chunk of the interview was done in Spanish).

A few days later I got a thin envelope int he mail. Immediately I thought “I didn’t get it. Oh well.” I opened the envelope while standing next to my mom in our sunroom. I started to read the letter explaining that I didn’t win the scholarship. But as I kept reading, the tone of the letter was NOT one of denial. It read something like “It was a pleasure interviewing you…” Then I got to the line. “Congratulations on being selected as the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship for 2012-2013.” I won.

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Since that point, I have felt like a part of the Rotary family. I get e-mails from Rotarians checking in on my preparations (namely from the wonderful David Buck (pictured above) and Richard Muirhead). I meet with them for coffee, go to Milwaukee club functions, and feel so welcome. I was even featured in their newsletter!

After winning the scholarship, I got my final acceptance letter from Rotary International which explains my placement, and is a letter for me to send to my university that states (in Spanish) that I have a fully-funded education. I was assigned to Universidad Mayor de San Simón in Cochabamba, Bolivia, my first choice. I chose this university because it is the leading university in South America for research on Bilingual Education, and I will be able to do a summer practicum in an indigenous community in Bolivia to (hopefully) pick up some Aymara or Quechua.

I was so excited. And then July 2012 happened. I was looking on the school’s website to determine when I could apply, when I saw something strange. It said they were accepting applications for graduate students to begin in August 2013. This doesn’t sound like it would be a big deal. But unfortunately my scholarship is only valid in the 2012-2013 academic year, meaning I have to begin studies by June 30, 2013 per Rotary requirements. I freaked out. I called Rotary International and they told me there was no way to defer so that I could begin in August 2013. I consider this “The day my life fell apart.”

From that point on, I frantically researched other universities in South America. The northern half of the content wouldn’t work because they follow the American school calendar, and I would’ve had to leave in one month (not possible, not enough time, for those of you who don’t know much about the paperwork involved to study in a foreign country).

So now it’s November, and I still haven’t decided where I am going. I have it narrowed down to 2 cities, and 2 (and maybe a third) universities. I will not be studying bilingual education at any of them. La Universidad Nacional de Salta in Salta, Argentina has a Master’s in Language Sciences. This basically means I will be studying language acquisition, a topic very applicable to my future (and current) job as a Spanish teacher. La Universidad Católica de Valparaíso in Valparaíso, Chile has a Mastster’s in Education, which will be similar to any master’s in education here in the US. The third little possibility is La Universidad Católica de Salta, also in Salta, Argentina, but I haven’t heard back if they are accepting new students for the spring.

And now I wait. And fill out forms. Lots and lots of forms. And worry and wait. Eventually I’ll have an answer, right?

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