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Sunny Liu – Fulbright Winner – Nigeria

Sunny graduated from UCI in 2015 as a magna cum laude graduate having triple majored in Public Health, International Studies, and Anthropology. Sunny was a recipient of the Chancellor’s Award of Distinction and awarded the School of Sciences’ Order of Merit Award. Sunny was awarded the Fulbright Scholar Program in 2015-16 to conduct public health research in Nigeria. Additionally, she served in the Peace Corps for the Community and Youth Empowerment Project in Fiji. Her research interests include immunology, epidemiology, disaster medicine, and the emergency response to Ebola. She plans to earn a doctorate in Global Health as well.

http://www.socsci.uci.edu/files/news_events/2015/liu,%20sunny_220.jpg

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Nigeria seems like an odd choice for those applying for a Fulbright Scholarship. The statistics says it all. The majority of Fulbright applicants choose their destination in the Western Hemisphere or in emerging economic powerhouses in the East. Additionally, Nigeria’s international reputation is tainted by news stories that reduces the country to a few keywords: Boko Haram, abductions, political instability, economic recession, and corruptions.

To have the words “Nigeria” and “good” in the same sentence is highly unusual. Therefore, I was not surprised to find many puzzled faces when I announced my departure to Nigeria in late March to embark on a journey of curious discoveries.

In my previous trips to Africa, I ventured on a life-changing journey to Kenya. Then, as a naive teenager, I was stunned by the beauty of Kenya and its people. Like many Americans and people from other parts of the world, I assumed that the word “Africa” is synonymous with disease, poverty, and suffering. My experience in Kenya was a life changing one where I found my passion and direction in life undergoing a paradigm shift. I longed to return to Africa with greater humility, knowledge, and skills.

My first impression of Nigeria came from Nigerian authors such as Uzodina Iweala and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. These author’s work challenged the West’s stagnant and biased view of Nigeria as the most populated country on the African continent.Iweala and Adichie told the true story of Nigeria through shedding light on the richness of Nigerian history, portraying the diversity within their culture, and highlighting the complexity of their social issues.

Following the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Lagos (a metropolitan center with a population of over 22 million), Nigeria became the poster child of the international public health community overnight. I arrived in Lagos with little expectations and much hope to learn about a country as culturally diverse as Nigeria. However, there were many obstacles awaiting me. Despite these obstacles, my Fulbright experience has become an opportunity for self-reflection, discovery, and character building.

Sara Arellano, Fulbright Winner, Blog Post #3: Research findings and reflections

Trigger warning: This post contains summaries of research findings on sensitive topics such as forced displacement and domestic violence.

In my prior blog I shared the sense of community between family, friends, and neighbors, and the willingness of a majority of the public to assist each other with directions when they are lost, and the common practice of businesses and people sharing food with those whom are less fortunate. Medellín rests within a valley surrounded by beautiful mountains. These are the qualities of Medellín that I absolutely love.

Sara’s friend Bladimir serves lunch with 5 different dishes

As beautiful as Medellín is, the topic of my Fulbright Scholarship U.S. Student Program Fellowship is violence against women. Violence against women is not a problem unique to Colombia, but rather a global problem that international and nongovernmental organizations have grappled with for decades. Another component of my investigation focused on how does race and ethnicity impact a woman’s access to resources, which was a challenge, because the entities in Medellín that collect data on victims of violence do not code race and/or ethnicity.

My research was conducted within the context of the Colombian internal armed conflict, where close to 8 million Colombians have been directly affected (Red Nacional de Información, October 26, 2016). Although a peace accord between the Colombian Government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia–Ejército del Pueblo was passed by Colombian Congress in December of 2016, forced displacement continues, as some demobilized armed actors have reformed, and/or joined criminal gangs (referred to as BACRIM for bandas criminals by the Colombian Government).

Conference with various womens’ organizations, including Ruta Pacifica de las Mujeres

I have interviewed Afro-descendant, indigenous, and mestiza women whom were victims of intra-familial violence, and also experienced forced displacement, and/or had relatives assassinated by armed groups. During my research I realized the revised 1991 Constitution of Colombia impacts the security of indigenous women, as Article 246 specifies indigenous communities have the right to self-govern. A consequence of protecting indigenous culture and tradition has resulted in confusion, as to when Colombian ordinary law supersedes indigenous internal law. Thus, laws designed to protect women from intra-familial, non-partner, or sexual violence often exempts crimes that were committed within indigenous communities (Escobar, Maria Roldån 2015, “In the backyard of indigenous justice-Weakness of communities” El Tiempo).

Comments from interviews I conducted with indigenous women organization leaders suggest indigenous community authorities (whom are usually men) do not resolve the issues of violence against women with consistency, or to the satisfaction of the victim.

Hilda Liria Domicó Bailarín from the indigenous community Embera Eyábida

Within the Afro-descendant population there is a strong culture of silence, which is similar to the indigenous culture. I was advised by several Afro-descendants that they do not speak about intra-familial or sexual violence with “outsiders” or those who do not share their same skin tone. Based on my research, I believe this is due to the exclusion of, and discrimination against generations of Afro-descendants, which has resulted in distrust of “outsiders”; furthermore, there does not appear to be equal employment of Afro-descendants in the entities that provide resources for victims, which may further exacerbate their unwillingness to use available resources.

I propose race and ethnicity does impact a woman’s access to resources. Race and ethnicity have a historical context in the social and political structure of each subpopulation, which has an affect on their decision to reach out to available resources after an assault. Based on participant responses, Afro-descendants and indigenous women do not encounter blatant discrimination when reaching out to resources within the Municipality of Medellín; however, my research involved a limited sample size (30 participants).

CERFAMI (Centro de Recursos Integrales para la Familía​) social workers

Providing statistics on race and ethnicity would provide important demographic data for research groups and organizations interested in understanding the scope and dimensions of victimization for a specific subpopulation. Disregarding this information underscores the ideology of “mestizaje”, where all Colombians are considered one mixed race (Wade, Peter 2005, “Rethinking Mestizaje: Ideology and Lived Experience”; Dulitzky, Ariel E. 2001, “A Region in Denial: Racial Discrimination and Racism in Latin America”).

Multiple dynamics exist within Colombian civil society that exacerbates the vulnerability of women. The intersectionality of the internal armed conflict, culture, socioeconomic status, and the politics of law compounds the realization for women to reach equality, equity, and a life free from violence.

The author, Sara Arellano, and her friend, the late poet Jhony Arenas

My Fulbright experience has impressed upon me the magnitude of the internal armed conflict, however, I have also witnessed the strength, resilience, and hospitality of the people of Medellín, Colombia. The friends I have made, and my positive international experience has enhanced my professional and academic development, for which I will always be eternally grateful to all who supported me (UCI professors & SOP, and friends & family).

Sara Arellano: Fulbright Winner, Blog Post #2: A Sense of Community in Medellín

Living in Medellín, Colombia is a wonderful experience. In the area I live, and where my friends live, there is a strong sense of community. The employees of the local stores and restaurants know their customers by name, and they greet each other warmly or chat about food, family, and/or politics. The people are very kind, and willing to offer their assistance to help each other. I have made many friends within the community where I live, as well as near the Universidad de Antioquia.

my-new-colombian-family-i-am-in-middle-my-daughter-is-to-rightSara Arellano (middle) with her daughter and new Colombian family

I decided to spend the holidays in Colombia to fully experience the Colombian holiday culture. In Colombia, approximately 80-90% of people are Catholic, which is evident in their Christmas traditions. Emphasis is placed on the Nativity scene. Also, it is the Baby Jesus who brings children gifts, not Santa Claus. Most families make natilla, which is similar to flan. I spent the New Year with one of my Colombian friends and her family. They sprinkle and toss lentil beans at each other to bring prosperity. There were many people in the streets cooking sancocho (a stew) in huge pots over open fire, while music played and some people danced in the street.

don%cc%83a-rosa-y-sancochoDoña Rosa y sanchocho

It is evident that many people are not living in the best socioeconomic situation, and they are acutely aware of the political problems of their country (based on numerous conversations). However, they appear to be enjoying what is most important in life, as I have witnessed the significance that is placed on cultivating ­­their relationships with their families and neighbors. Medellín, Colombia is an excellent location to experience a rich and rewarding cultural exchange, and there are many other beautiful pueblos that are 2-4 hours away by bus and are great to visit as well!

my-friends-fam-i-am-in-red-shirt-smSara Arellano (red shirt) with a friend’s family

Sara Arellano: Fulbright Winner, Blog Post #1: A Historic Day for Colombia

Editor’s Note: Sara G. Arellano is a recent graduate, past participant in the UCDC and Summer Undergraduate Research programs, and winner of the Fulbright Study/Research grant to Colombia. She was a transfer student and has lobbied state representatives as a Legislative Intern for ASUCI. She plans to conduct research on victims of domestic violence in Medellín. After Fulbright, she plans to earn a Master’s in Public Policy or Juris Doctorate and enter a government career.

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Wednesday, August 30, 2016, a historic day for Colombia. After experiencing over 50 years of an internal armed conflict between the Colombian Government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia–Ejército del Pueblo (FARC–EP) the two sides successfully negotiated an agreement for peace. President Juan Manuel Santos approved Decree Number 1390, which provides for the plebescito to be placed before the citizens of Colombia. The plebescito will have one question, “¿Apoya el acuerdo final para terminación del conflicto y construcción de una paz estable y duradera?” which translates to, “Do you support the agreement to terminate the conflict, and the construction to establish a stable and lasting peace?” (El Tiempo). The available options are “Sí” or “No” for the citizens to approve or reject the peace agreement between the Colombian Government and the FARC-EP. The plebiscito, which is similar to a bill/referendum, will be voted on the 2nd of October 2016. The actual agreement was finalized in La Habana, Cuba, and contains 297 pages—the product of four years of negotiations between the Colombian Government and the FARC–EP. The document mandates a bilateral ceasefire, addresses land reparations for those forcibly displaced, settlement of contested land titles, economic development, as well as numerous complicated and highly sensitive issues (especiales.semana.com).

SA - Blog Photo 3 - Ruta Tejendo

Coincidentally, Ruta Pacifica de las Mujeres, the organization that is collaborating with me on my research, held their monthly “plantón” on that same day, August 30th at Parque Berrio plaza in Medellín, Colombia. The “plantón” is a gathering of women who demonstrate for an end to violence against women and advocate for a peaceful resolution to the armed conflict. As I witnessed the demonstration, one woman sat silently “tejendo” (crocheting) as approximately seventy women, and several children and men formed a protective circle around her. At her side was a silhouette of a woman, and on the ground next to her was a large round sign made of raw corn kernels and beans that prominently displayed the word “SI” (Yes, for the plebscito). The woman “tejendo” symbolized the weaving of life, as well as the weaving of Perdón, Resistencia, Memoria, Verdad, Esperanza, Justicia, Reparación, NO Repetición, and Vida (translated as Forgive, Resistance, Memory, Truth, Hope, Justice, Repair, NO Repetition, and Life) which were the additional signs that were displayed one by one by different women, and subsequently attached to the “SI” sign. The demonstrators chanted slogans, and sang songs for a “SI” vote. After approximately one hour the demonstration ended peacefully.

Several Colombian citizens I have spoken with have questioned as to how the FARC–EP will be integrated into civil society, as well as concerns regarding the remaining armed paramilitary and organized criminal groups such as the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, Ejército de Liberación Nacional, and the bandas criminales, also referred to as BACRIM. However, several women whom I have spoken with advocate for a “Sí” vote, as they believe it is the best alternative. In the next several weeks leading up to the plebscito, there will be numerous peaceful demonstrations strategically conducted throughout the city by the network of women organizations based here in Medellín, as they advocate for a “Sí” vote. They strongly believe a “yes” vote will end the over fifty-year armed conflict in Colombia, which will allow the beautiful people of Colombia to begin a new phase, as they strive for a path for peace.

Sara Arellano - Blog Photo 1 - Ruta

Sara G. Arellano
Fulbright U.S. Student in Medellín, Colombia, 2016-2017
B.A. Political Science, University of California, Irvine

El Tiempo.com. August 30, 2016. Política. Proceso de Paz. “Oficial: esta es la pregunta para el plebiscito por la paz”.
http://www.eltiempo.com/politica/proceso-de-paz/plebiscito-por-la-paz-pregunta-del-plebiscito-por-la-paz-en-colombia/16686937

Semana.com. September 1, 2016. Recomendado del Editor. “El Acuerdo Para Terminar La Guerra”.
http://especiales.semana.com/acuerdo-para-la-paz/

 

 

Felipe Hernandez, Marshall Scholarship Winner: Blog #4, The Courage to Dream

FH at 10 Downing St

Felipe Hernandez at 10 Downing Street

“I grew up in the ‘belly of the beast’ in that old apartment complex right across the street. I was not the best student; I frankly didn’t care, but what I did have was music, and it changed my life. While the sound of gun shots and the smell of drugs pierced our one-bedroom apartment window, the guitar gave me a new window to the world; one where I could dream.”

This past week, I returned to Zamboni Middle School in Paramount, my alma mater, to speak to a class of sixth graders about where I had come from and, most importantly, where I had been since I left. While statistically I was set up to be another young man of color who would end up either trapped in poverty, in prison, or dead, I, along with others who attended Zamboni, upset the setup. Among many of our saving graces were our teachers and school administrators who cared deeply and gifted us with unconditional encouragement to dream big.

My journey since growing up in Paramount has been rooted in that quintessential activity: dreaming. While it may be obvious to some, for those born into poverty or a world that barricades opportunity, all we often have is the ability to dream of what may lay beyond. In middle school, it was simple: get a job and provide for my family. In high school it was attend a community college while pursuing a career as a musician. Later, a UCI Educational Opportunity Program representative, who would later become a mentor, Rudy Santacruz, dared us to boldly dream of attending a university like UC Irvine. While at UCI, the barricades were knocked down and I embarked on journeys that I never would’ve imagined possible: leading student organizations, managing community initiatives, studying abroad, working summers in Washington, D.C., teaching English in Colombia on a Fulbright scholarship, policymaking in Sacramento as a California Senate Fellow, and, most recently, pursuing graduate school in the United Kingdom as a Marshall Scholar.

FH in Scotland

Felipe Hernandez in Edinburgh, Scotland

Over the past year, my journey in Bristol has refueled my courage to dream. Every morning as I walk up the steep hills to reach Wills Memorial Hall to spend an entire day writing and reading, the hallmark British cold breeze that hits my face and the Bristolian seagull screams above are a reminder that this is not a dream; it’s my reality. The in-depth conversations with professors, fellow Marshall Scholars, and classmates have enriched my world vision and my role in it.

While in Bristol, I have worked tirelessly to research education policy and practices globally that uplift children from poverty and give them an opportunity to boldly go where their dreams go. At the same time, I worked on the core team to reelect Bristol’s first elected Mayor, George Ferguson. Through these experiences I have dissected local governance, politics, and city structures to understand how to help those most in need. Working in the Mayoral election gave me insight into the quirky, intellectually-stimulating, and passionate bubble that is local British politics (Editor’s Note: Ferguson was ultimately not reelected). This experience unearthed another passion of mine, listening to and collecting inspiring stories of people who go from struggle to triumph. What resonated most with me were the stories of recently arrived Somali families striving to gain a foothold in a new, fast-paced British city in the midst of increasing Islamaphobia and social inequalities. The resilience, creativity, and ambition of Bristol’s immigrant community reminded me of families in my childhood apartment complex in Paramount. When I spoke to the children, they reminded me of myself as a kid; struggling to grasp the ever-changing surroundings yet remaining excited, curious and hopeful.

FH with George Ferguson fmr Mayor of Bristol edit

Felipe Hernandez with former Mayor of Bristol, George Ferguson

These experiences have inspired my master’s dissertation. In partnership with Improve Your Tomorrow (IYT) and Valley High School in Elk Grove, California, my graduate work has centered around developing a ten-week summer program called I am Me: Strong, Capable, & Peaceful that seeks to break poverty’s psychological trap and reduce the impact of trauma induced by structural violence on a child’s sense of identity and self-efficacy.

As a kid, the chronic stress I underwent as a result of violence continually eroded my courage to dream, but music provided me with the will to fight back.  Similarly, the IYT program has noted that some young men of color who undergo chronic stress and trauma as a result of violence exhibit PTSD symptoms which wear away their self-efficacy to achieve their academic and life aspirations. In essence, these violent experiences construct psychological and physical barricades that appear insurmountable.

The ultimate aim of the intervention is to restore humanity and critical consciousness to the learning process while equipping the young men with mindfulness and coping strategies. The hypothesis is that, via a culturally-tailored curriculum, students may strengthen ethnic and social self-esteem and self-efficacy to help buffer against the effects of traumatic experiences brought on by violence. As historically-marginalized communities continue to experience segregation by income and ethnicity, political marginalization, and increasing violence, I am Me seeks to empower youths to resist and eventually reform these sources of violence and marginalization. To deconstruct or abolish the oppressive institutions and process that continue to marginalize so many, we must heal from within: decolonize the mind and the soul of a child to empower them to recognize and pave their paths towards freedom.

FH with IYT

Felipe Hernandez with Improve Your Tomorrow (IYT)

As I drive through the community where I came from, I realize that my graduate work is also a return. My first year as a Marshall scholar has been a personal journey to deconstruct my past and use it to develop ways to support children to have the courage to dream. As I look back at our family’s one-bedroom apartment, I say to the kid who spent hours with an old busted guitar in hand; keep dreaming and playing, your stage awaits.

Daniela Estrada, Truman Scholarship Winner: Application and Interview Process

Applying for the Truman has been an amazing experience. Prior to receiving notice that I was a Truman Scholar, I was already beyond grateful for all that I had learned throughout the process, which helped me grow significantly. This scholarship made me address very specific questions about my future in public service and ultimately made me more dedicated towards being a public servant and more confident in my ability to achieve my academic and career goals. Having gone through this process, I feel a lot more certain about what I want to do in the future and more importantly why I want to do it.

 The Truman Scholarship Application

After my professor told me about my nomination for the Truman Scholarship, I remember looking over the application and thinking twice over whether I was going to apply or not. The application is daunting at first. There are a lot questions and to make matters worse, they are really specific. The application requires you to sit and think critically about your goals, interests, and passions. The recognition and rewards of this scholarship are so high, I knew I had to apply.

You are required to start the application process months before it is due. The long process gave me ample opportunity to revise my application. I have never revised any of my writing this much before! The SOP office was extremely helpful at guiding me through the application by giving me suggestions as to how I could make my application stronger. All the time and editing paid off because I became a finalist.

Becoming a Truman Finalist

A couple weeks after turning in my final application, I was notified via email that I became a finalist. I was extremely excited and because the finalist interviews were a couple weeks away, the SOP office arranged mock interviews right away to help me prepare. I had two mock interviews.

I have to admit that my mock interviews were a lot tougher than the real one, mainly because the mock panel asked me questions regarding a variety of issues that did not necessarily pertain to issues I addressed in my application, while the Truman panel focused on issues only addressed in my application. I know that other Truman finalists were not as lucky. Many got questions regarding issues that they were unfamiliar with and that their application never addressed. The mock interview was especially helpful in preparing me to answer questions regarding how I would fund and enforce my policy proposal. The Truman panel grilled me on both of these questions and I was glad I was prepared with an answer.

Overall, I think after dedicating so many hours to preparing for the interview, the best advice I can give to others is to be confident and to know that the Truman panel does not expect you to be an expert. I definitely over studied, believing that I had to know everything there was to know about my policy proposal. Obviously it is essential to do your research, but it is also important to know they do not expect you to be an expert.

Truman Scholarship Dinner:

The night before the interview, I attended a dinner organized by past Truman Scholars for Truman Finalists. Both Truman Finalist and past Truman Scholarship winners attended the dinner. I was so glad I decided to attend; it was a great way to relax before the interview and to get advice from past winners. The dinner was optional, but highly encouraged.  There was about eight Truman Scholars that attended and almost all of the Truman finalists attended. It was a really casual setting and really fun.

I took this opportunity to socialize with Truman finalists. Everyone was a lot more at ease than the day of the interview, so we were able to chat more freely. The day of the interview, I did notice that those who attended the dinner seemed a lot less nervous than those who didn’t.

At the dinner, I also got great advice from past winners. Most of the Scholars were from 2006, but they still vividly remembered their interviews. They gave really sound advice that made me feel a lot less intimidated and more relaxed about the interview the next day. Many of them expressed how they did not have a perfect interview. One Scholar even recalled not being able to answer the first question asked and simply answering “I don’t know.” But they all stressed being confident and genuine. They spoke about the judges playing devil’s advocate and advised that you must defend your proposal with conviction.

Truman Interview:

The interview took place at the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco. When I arrived, I met up with the other finalists, we were given a nametag, and we were escorted to the room where we would spend the next eight hours or so. They placed us in a medium sized conference room and they provided snacks and beverages. Shortly after we were escorted to the conference room, the judges came in and introduced themselves. The interviews started immediately after. The order of the interviews was already predetermined. The judges gave us our interview times right after they introduced themselves. The judges themselves strongly recommended everyone to enjoy the process and get to know each other. For those eight hours I got to chat with the other finalists, which was extremely enjoyable. Most of us looked over our notes before our interview, but for the most part we were all chatting the entire time.

Editor’s Note: Daniela has graciously provided more details about the interview to SOP staff. UCI undergraduates who are interested in applying for the Truman Scholarship may contact the Scholarship Opportunities Program at sklrship@uci.edu to register their interest and learn more about our past winner and finalist experiences.”

Becoming a Truman Scholar:

Becoming a Truman Scholar was so unbelievable. I am overjoyed with excitement over what the future holds because I know that I can gain so much knowledge and opportunities from this scholarship. As of now, I look forward to the Truman Scholar Leadership Week held in Missouri which I will attend in May.

Truman finalist photo for blog

The 13 California Finalists. Photo was taken after the interviews at the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco.

 

Felipe Hernandez: Marshall Scholarship Winner, Blog #3

A World-Wide Community

I never thought I would be here today. As the first to attend college in my family, the hurdles seemed endless. After graduating from UCI, the road was full of endless possibilities but also uncertainties.

During the Marshall Scholarship orientation process, I kept my experiences at UCI close to heart. I remembered how nervous I was when I first arrived to UCI but also how amazing it felt when I graduated. I knew that these next two years would be similar. In two years, I would become the first person in my family, including extended family, to obtain a master’s degree.

I’ll be honest, I was seriously considering deferring or forgoing the Marshall. I had just finished my year as a Senate Fellow in California and I was not too sure about how I would do in the UK. I did not think I would be able to do well. Honestly, I felt like I would not belong. These were some of the same feelings I felt when I first came to UCI. Over the years, I’ve learned that the reasons for these feelings and thoughts are complex but common among first-generation students like myself. However, I kept on looking for excuses to not accept the Marshall. I would be thousands of miles away from my family once again and they relied on me for help. While they still struggled with accessing basic services and navigating the US as immigrants, I would be away traveling and attending school. I couldn’t help but feel guilty.

I even contacted the Marshall Scholarship Commission and asked them about deferment possibilities. I reached out to everyone I knew but no one affirmed my self-doubt. Instead, my friends and mentors all endorsed the decision to accept the Marshall. They all reinforced the idea that these next two years would be an incredibly rare opportunity to learn, travel, and grow. It is because of this community of mentors, friends, and family that I decided to stay with the Marshall. Like at UCI, a community of support is what would help me get through these next two years.

At orientation, I was nervous. It did not take long for the conversations to quickly become academic with a slight tinge of competitiveness. Immediately, I felt like I did not know nearly as much as the other scholars and the feelings of insecurity crept in. However, I soon found out that the other Marshalls were just as nervous as I was but everyone coped with their nerves in a different way. I was silent; others talked endlessly. After we all realized that everyone was just as nervous and excited, everyone let their guard down and started talking like old friends. Though our narratives were different, we all had a similar vision: to take these next two years to figure out how to make a positive impact in the world within our respective fields. At the end of the orientation process our community spirit blossomed and we were in this together.

When we arrived in London to complete our orientation the feeling was surreal. It then finally hit me that I would be in the UK for next two years of my life. Aside from leaving sunny California for the cold and gloomy UK weather, I constantly kept asking myself if I had made the right decision. I was preoccupied with thoughts of my family. Again, I couldn’t help but feel guilty that I had this incredible opportunity while they were still struggling to deal with various problems most immigrant families face. They were the reason why I went to UCI, to help them deal with these problems. My family was also a part of this Marshall journey and would also be making an emotional sacrifice. Though they did not understand the significance of the scholarship, they did understand that these next two years would be difficult for all of us. These are feelings that I am still dealing with today even as I write this blog.

When I arrived to Bristol the energy of the city was amazing. We were welcomed with great esteem and community. Once I started my course, life started coming together. My classmates were from all over the world, had inspiring stories to tell, and were incredibly thankful for being here. I was too. They were also nervous being away from home (some for the first time in their lives). Another community was formed. The best part of experience has been befriending these folks and learning from their experiences.

At the same time, the program is amazing! I am deeply engaging with issues of social justice, empowerment, and activism in education for students from marginalized backgrounds within the context of my previous work in Irvine, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Colombia. The opportunity to focus entirely on something that you love is rare and well worth the sacrifices. As I reached out to the Bristol student community, I came across amazing people. I’ve joined various societies including the expedition society which ventures out for weekend trips around the UK national parks. Being outdoors free from daily distractions and tasked with climbing/hiking mountains brings people together. We all share our stories as we hike and form a community of outdoor explorers who climb regardless of the rain and freezing cold weather (especially for a Californian).

I also happened to come into Bristol as the Mayoral elections for the city ramped up. I immediately reached out and I am now working on the Mayor’s reelection campaign. This has given me a unique perspective into the politics and government of the UK and Bristol. This is a great opportunity to make a meaningful impact, especially since the campaign team is only made up of four people (tiny in comparison to the US). I have also met incredible people in the community and I am learning a lot about the lives of Bristolians. I have drawn many parallels to my family’s and community’s experience in Los Angeles. As I’ve learned before from traveling, human beings are the same in the sense that one of their main priorities is providing the best for their families, themselves, and their community. Bristol’s diverse community has reinforced this. My conversations with Bristolians from wealthier areas to low-income neighborhoods have reaffirmed this perspective. For me, getting involved in politics in Bristol has been an unexpectedly life-changing experience.

Another exceptional and amazing opportunity has been traveling around (pretty cheaply) and meeting people from different regions of the world. As one travels, the world becomes your community and those in it become like family. Soon one cares for those communities as one’s own and for those in it as if they were family.

Community is what keeps me going. From my time in Colombia as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to working in Sacramento as a CA Senate Fellow to pursing two master’s degrees in the UK, none of this would have been possible without a strong and diverse community supporting in Los Angeles, UC Irvine, and around the world. Though I greatly miss my family, tacos in LA, and the beautiful sunny weather, I constantly count my blessings to be here.

My message to my fellow anteaters, particularly if you’re a first-generation student, is: accomplishing your goals will be difficult emotionally and physically, sometimes seemingly impossible, but always keep at heart your community for that will be your driving force. Also, whether you think you have your life figured out or have no clue what comes next, embrace every possible experience that comes your way in a positive light.

 

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Marshall Scholars Family Thanksgiving dinner.

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Felipe’s adventure in Morocco.

 

 

 

Christopher Galeano: Capital Fellows Program Winner, Blog #1: Motivations and Expectations

My motivations and application process

At the root of my motivation to apply for the Capital Fellows Program as a Senate Fellow was my research and community organizing experiences while at UCI. As I came to see it, researchers made policy recommendations for lawmakers and community organizers pushed policymakers to pass legislation. It was clear that an in-depth understanding of policy was pertinent to further advocate for policies that helped communities I had worked with throughout these experiences – including low income, migrant and working class people.

What further enticed me to apply was that the California State Legislature is one of the most progressive legislative bodies in the U.S. In many ways it is the most responsive to its communities’ needs in comparison to other state legislatures.

Upon deciding to apply for the Capital Fellows Program I knew that I could not do it alone. I reached out to prior and current program participants to ask them about their experiences and advice. I spoke with Senate Fellows who were alumni from UCI, Assembly Fellows whom I met in other fellowship programs, and even “cold” emailed Judicial Fellows who participated in the program more than five years ago.

In addition to asking prior and current fellows for feedback on my application, I asked the UCI Scholarship Opportunities Program (SOP), professors, mentors and peers to review my essays before submitting my application. When I found out I had made it past the second round of selection, I asked SOP and others if they would conduct mock interviews for me to help me prepare and give critical feedback for the real in-person interviews. As a result of this preparation, I was offered a spot as a 2015-2016 Senate Fellow – I was elated.

In this position I would either work as a Legislative Aide in a State Senator’s office or as a Consultant in a Senate Committee for the 2016 legislative session. After much consideration I accepted the offer. In terms of impact and reach, I saw that each Senator represents the most people per district compared to other state legislatures and can establish more meaningful connections with communities given their four-year terms. Accepting this position would also give me privilege to practical and institutional knowledge of how and why policy goes from just an idea to an actual law.

Reflecting on the first months, my privilege and community

A year passed since my initial application submission. Now, and after the intense, six-week long orientation, I find myself placed in a State Senator’s office as a Legislative Aide. While I am relatively new to the Capitol, I have thought much on my experience so far as a Senate Fellow. I have struggled and reflected on my community, the privilege of this experience, and the next nine months here in the Capitol.

 The first couple of months in Sacramento were challenging for me as someone from a low income, working class family. Indeed, it was financially challenging getting money together for a deposit, rent and food in order to move up here – thankfully with the support of my family I made it happen.

Furthermore, I carry with me, wherever I go and in whatever I do, my family and community experiences. Arriving as a Latino used to seeing people of color around them, I was not sure what to expect working in the Capitol – would there be people who looked like my community in around and the building? Fortunately, just as Sacramento has a reputation for racial/ethnic diversity, there too is visible diversity in the Capitol building.

Fortunately, through the program’s racial/ethnic and socioeconomic diversity, I have met people from all over California. Since the start of the program I have met people of color within the program, Capitol staffers, and state legislators. In many instances these individuals, especially the Capitol staffers, have been willing to share their experiences with me and offer mentorship. Surprisingly, I do not feel alone like I thought I was at the beginning of the program.

Outlook in the Capitol

I am cognizant of the privilege that comes with participating in the program as a Senate Fellow. More specifically, the program is consistently voted a top ten internship program in the nation, with almost 500 applicants and only 18 winners each year. Furthermore, I am one of only two Senate Fellows selected from Southern California this year. Since the start of the program I consistently reflect on this. I constantly think back to those in my community who are not afforded access to these kinds of programs because of numerous social, economic and educational barriers – and it humbles and keeps me grounded as I walk and work in the Capitol halls.

This month the state legislature will begin the second session of the 2015-2016 legislative year. Despite only being the beginning for me as a Senate Fellow/staffer in Sacramento, I feel I have grown from this experience. I have developed an appreciation for critical issues to California, such as health, criminal justice, and agriculture; learned about the political and legislative process with some practical experience already under my belt; and am placed with a highly respected legislator and staff. Reflecting on this experience so far, I am confident that I made the right choice in applying to and accepting this position as a Senate Fellow. I know that at the end of this experience I will not only have developed professionally, but will have personally grown tremendously.

Quick words of advice to potential applicants: Apply to all four fellowships within the program – logically, you increase your chances of getting into the program. Stay in CONSTANT contact with the individuals you ask to write your letters of recommendation – ask them two months prior to the deadline if they can write the letter, check in again one month prior to the deadline, and again two weeks before the deadline. Make it easier for them to write your letters by emailing them your (1) personal statement (as best a draft you can get to them and email them any updated version in a timely manner); (2) resume; (3) transcript; and (4) setting up a meeting/call to discuss qualifications/why you want to apply to the program. Remind them that they will need to write different letters of recommendation for each fellowship. Lastly, if you are accepted into the program, SAVE money ahead of time for the first three months of the program; they will be financially challenging, especially if you are considered a low-income student.

 

Felipe Hernandez: Marshall Scholarship Winner, Blog #2

Editor’s Note: After winning the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Colombia, Felipe returned to the US, filming a documentary with Road Trip Nation over the summer and then became a California Senate Fellow in Sacramento. In fall 2015, he traveled to the United Kingdom to begin graduate school as a Marshall Scholar.

The California Capital Fellows Experience

I am a Senate Fellow for Senator Richard Pan who represents the greater Sacramento area. I staff Dr. Pan on the Senate Education Committee because he is a voting member of the committee. I also staff issues in Banking & Financial Institutions and Transportation & Housing. In addition, I manage six bills for Senator Pan. This means that I am responsible for ensuring that these six bills successfully make it through the legislative process. I am responsible for helping craft the language in the bill, engaging stakeholders throughout the process, managing all support and opposition on the bill, and working to gather support from other legislators on the bill. This is a unique experience because we, Fellows, are in the belly of the beast in Sacramento. This has been formative for my career in public service and has also clarified my perspective on how government can facilitate or stagnate progress for Californians. At the same time, it has demonstrated the value in engaging a broad network of stakeholders for the sake of ensuring a comprehensive policy solution to a complex social problem. I have also learned what leadership can look like in the face of adversity and strong opposition. This experience has also reinforced my passion for public service and broadened my understanding of how all sectors of our society can work in concert to solve various policy challenges. As a fellow, I am able to observe and be a part of the unique public policy process in California under the mentorship of senior staffers who step out of their way to help you. The mentorship is the most enriching aspects of the fellowship because the culture in “the building” is to help fellows grow, learn from their mistakes, and help propel us to be effective public servants in government or in our communities.

This knowledge and experience will play a vital role in my studies at the University of Bristol and Oxford because I will contribute a unique understanding of California public policy to the classroom. California is the 7th largest economy in the world and home to more people than some countries. My understanding of social policy at this macro-level will compliment my learning of social policy in the international context.

While in Sacramento, I also serve on the Student Development Council for United Latinos, which focuses on increasing opportunities in key areas such as STEM, policy, business, education, and health for K-16 students from underrepresented regions in Sacramento. I also teach, and helped develop, the “Know Your History Institute”, a history course on the plight of African and Latino people in America, for Improve Your Tomorrow, a Sacramento based non-profit that provides mentorship, tutoring, and support for high school boys of color who are at risk of dropping out. I also serve as the Internship Coordinator for the Improve Your Tomorrow Capitol Internship Program which places ten junior and senior boys of color in legislative offices to serve as interns and provides the interns with educational seminars, brown bags, and career exploration trips meant to develop foundational communication, analytical, and professional skills. Finally, I am also founder and Vice President of the California Renters Caucus with the California Young Democrats, an organization that focuses on increasing the availability of median and affordable housing through policy and community initiatives.

Filming Road Trip Nation: First Generation

During the first couple months of my Fulbright, I started to plan for the upcoming year because I knew that the year in Colombia would go by very fast. So I started to research opportunities in California and opportunities abroad. I ended up finding two great opportunities that I knew I wanted to participate in. One of these opportunities was with Road Trip Nation, a California-based production company that provides the opportunity for young people to travel across the US in an RV interviewing leaders under a common theme. In particular the “First-Generation Road Trip” caught my attention because it reflected who I was, a first-generation college graduate out in the real world trying to figure it out. I and three other first generation students from other states were selected to travel across the USA to film a documentary of interviews with inspirational first-generation American leaders, like US Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan, Chairman and CEO of Starbucks Howard Schultz, and singer-songwriter and actor John Legend. In total we drove a total of 3,851 miles from Los Angeles to New York City and interviewed a total of 19 leaders. This was an amazing opportunity to ask leaders, who were also the first in their families to attend college, questions that we always wanted to ask. We also had to drive a 35 foot RV from Los Angeles to New York with only a day of training, and we had to live in the RV for five weeks with five other people (including the director and videographer). This was one of the most challenging things I ever had to do because I had to live with five other people in a cramped RV but also because the trip required a lot of soul searching and required us to ask a lot of difficult questions of ourselves. Throughout the road trip, I grew close to the other road trippers, and we became like family. Also we received important and powerful advice from other leaders across the country like Alejandra Ceja, the Executive Director of the White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for Hispanics. Alejandra said that we must “Dare to dream,” that we must dare to be bold to pursue our true passions and live in service of others. Throughout the trip we received valuable mentorship that helped clarify our vision and provided us with the motivation to take the next step in our lives, which for me was pursuing the Marshall Scholarship.

The special aired on PBS in spring 2015 and can be viewed for free here: http://whynotusfilm.com/.

Felipe photo

Felipe Hernandez answers student questions at the screening of the Road Trip Nation documentary Why Not Us? on April 14, 2015

Anna Tran: Strauss Scholarship Winner, Blog Post #1

According to the 2011 U.S. Census Bureau, over 40 million baby boomers reached the age of 65 in 2010. Within Orange County, approximately 360,000 individuals were 65 years or older in 2010, and it is predicted that Orange County’s senior population will increase by 94% by 2030. Seniors tend to have less control over their lives due to physical and mental degeneration such as impaired vision, hearing loss, and reduced judgment, which can result in negative emotions such as anxiety, lowered self-esteem, sadness, and loneliness. Chronic depression is a recurring and persistent illness that disproportionately targets seniors, especially seniors not living with family members.

In my experience with senior patients at Joshua Medical Group, a medical clinic located in Buena Park and Cerritos, I am constantly faced with seniors who suffer from many chronic diseases. However, a discomfort acknowledged on a daily basis by the senior patients is their mental and social health. In a research study in 2009, psychologists observed a significant relationship between depression and sociability. “Sociability plays an important role in protecting people from the experience of psychological distress and in enhancing well-being. Social isolation is a major risk factor for functional difficulties in older persons. Loss of important relationships can lead to feelings of emptiness and depression.”5 From my interactions with my senior patients and the research I have conducted, my solution to this growing epidemic is The Pay It Forward Program.

The Pay It Forward Program aims to enhance the lives of the elderly and bring generations together through three major goals:

  1. Companionship: A schedule of activities will allow seniors to interact and connect with the younger generation (reduce feelings of despondence and lowered self-esteem).
  2. Preventative Health: Health talks by trained medical professionals will provide seniors with a clear understanding of their health and actions that they can actively partake in, which will allow them to comprehend their medical conditions (reduce anxiety and misunderstanding).
  3. Active Learning: We will introduce seniors to activities that will improve their health, such as participating in non-strenuous exercises and learning how to browse the world wide web to keep in contact with family members and student participants (improve mental health and sustainability).

Thus far, I have appointed coordinators for the three senior homes that will partake in the project sponsored by the Donald A. Strauss Foundation Public Service Scholarship. I have been able to set senior activities with each senior home for the next three months. Over the summer, I was able to schedule health talks at each senior home with providers at Joshua Medical Group to meet the seniors and educate them on various topics such as depression, diabetes, antioxidants, etc. The senior facilities are requesting more health talks than I initially planned to provide to them. However, I have been very fortunate to have the support of Joshua Medical, a family practice located in Buena Park and Cerritos. My interns have all been very accommodating and enthusiastic about this project. The physicians at this clinic have also volunteered a lot of their time to shape and allow the intentions of this program to be met.

During the health talks, the seniors are a very inquisitive bunch, which makes the whole educational purpose even more worthwhile for my interns, physicians, and myself. The last 15 minutes of each health talk seminar is left to answer all the questions the seniors have relating to the topic (e.g. Stroke Prevention, Diabetes, etc.) or simply questions relevant to the senior’s personal health.

All of the activities have been very enjoyable for the seniors since it is the holiday season with many festive arts and crafts to do. It has been a delightful journey for my interns and myself to get to know all of these seniors during the past three months. We were recently able to purchase the laptops and computers to begin the technological aspect of this program. Last Friday was my first test run at one of the senior homes. I must admit I was a bit too ambitious with the agenda I had planned for my first computer’s activity. I did not know that my “first computer class” with the seniors literally meant FIRST computer class for the seniors.

After surveying the seniors to briefly understand their computer knowledge of laptops and Internet, I realize my agenda for that class should have been an introduction lecture. Usually, my events with the seniors last about an hour to 90 minutes, but for this computer activity, I ended up staying with the seniors for almost four hours. It was quite the challenge guiding each senior to use the mouse to navigate on the computer screen and answering all the curious questions that seniors had. Nonetheless, this was easily the favorite activity with the seniors. Their curiosity and lack of knowledge of how to use computers and its purposes further emphasize the need for this program.

During the last 30 minutes of this computer class, I introduced the seniors to Spotify, an online music application that is filled with all the songs that you can imagine. Each of the seniors took turns to call out an artist or song for me to look for them. This was the first time my interns and I have ever heard of musicians such as Chuck Berry or Bobby Day. Once the song went on, there were always one or two people shouting out, “I know this song!” or “Oh, I haven’t heard this song in ages!” Some would close their eyes, smile, and hum to the tune. It was such a precious moment for everyone. I look forward to making more memories like these with the seniors at these homes and growing this program to its highest potential.