31 alums start Fulbright work

While her friends were receiving job offers and graduate school acceptance letters in the winter of her senior year, Sarah Cannon ’06 knew she would have to wait several months before solidifying her post-Yale plans. Her patience was rewarded in April when she received a Fulbright grant, and this Friday she will leave for Ghana to monitor U.S. infrastructure building in local communities.

Cannon is one of the 31 Yale seniors, graduates and graduate students who received Fulbright grants in 2006, including 17 members of the class of 2006. Many of the winners are beginning their time abroad this month, pursuing plans ranging from studies of the effect of globalization on textile workers in Mauritius to disability in a village in the northeastern Himalayas of India.

Yale topped the list of research institutions in the number of Fulbright winners last year, while Harvard took second place with 25. There were 94 Yale applicants in 2006 to the Fulbright program, which is the largest U.S. international exchange program offering opportunities to study, research and teach abroad. Last year’s 17 senior winners mark an increase from 12 undergraduate award-winners the year before.

Cannon will be in Ghana studying the efforts of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, an initiative for democracy promotion that President George W. Bush established in 2005. Cannon aims to determine whether the planned consultation with local communities and construction of necessary institutions like hospitals will actually be effective in Ghana.

Cannon said she believes the experience will be extremely valuable in directing her professionally.

“I have learned, the more I’m getting into development, that having private sector experience is important, which is something I wouldn’t have thought at school,” she said. “I know I want to do development and private sector work long-term.”

Nachy Kanfer ’06, whose Fulbright proposal is to translate the work of the famous Syrian novelist Haydar Haydar, is using his time in Damascus to address the problem of environmental degradation in rural Syria as well. Since arriving on Sept. 10, he has combined an environmental internship at the United Nations with his literary study.

Kanfer said he would encourage other students not to shy away from the possibilities of traveling to more unconventional destinations like Syria.

“The people here are incredibly hospitable,” Kanfer said. “I have also had great experiences with environmental fieldwork where we’ve gone into rural areas and worked with tribes [that have been] so welcoming and interested in what I had to say.”

The Fulbright Program awards more than 1,200 grants each year for U.S. students to study abroad in more than 140 countries. Congress has appropriated funds for grants each year since the program’s establishment in 1946, and in 2004 spent more than $250 million. Seniors apply for the Fulbright Grant in the fall, and then are notified in January about whether they passed the first cut. Final acceptances are mailed between March and April.

Linda de Laurentis, the Fulbright program adviser for Yale College, emphasized Yale’s consistent performance as one of the top five Fulbright universities each year. She said much of the grant’s attraction lies in its flexibility.

“The Fulbright can accommodate many different types of projects,” de Laurentis said. “Students can study abroad in the traditional sense, but can also do internships or total independent study and research, depending on the country.”

Henri Benaim ’06, whose research in China will compare the influences of museums in Beijing and in the western Xinjiang Province on the local Chinese identity, provides evidence that a Fulbright grant can give students a unique kind of hands-on learning experience.

“The way I hope to go about doing [the research] is through a lot of interviews,” Benaim said. “I’ll talk to people going to the museums and the people who run the museums … and I also want to incorporate a little historical element into the research and look into the museums’ founding.”

De Laurentis credited the increase in winners at Yale to the growing interest among Yale students in international travel and study.

“I think in an age of globalization it’s not unexpected,” de Laurentis said. “More and more students are feeling they would like the experience of living and working in a foreign country.”

The deadline for the 2007-2008 U.S. Fulbright Competition was Oct. 20.

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