As mid-terms approached last year, Jen Goldman ’07 did not expect to be spending the first week of the following October in an Italian convent. But 12 months later, she is in Udine preparing to begin her nine-month Fulbright English-teaching assistantship.

Goldman and the 19 other members of the class of 2007 who received Fulbright grants last year are gearing up this month to pursue projects ranging from her English teaching assistantship to a study on the long-term effects of health equity funds in Cambodia to an investigation of restorative and retributive justice in Argentine society. A record 62 Yale students applied for the grant last year, International Education and Fellowship Program administrators said, and of the 25 who were named winners, only five declined.

The Fulbright program, sponsored by the Department of State through the Institute of International Education, offers over 1,300 grants to U.S. students to study overseas in over 140 countries. The program has been funded by Congress every year since its establishment in 1946. The grants cover the cost of round-trip transportation, university tuition, necessary language courses, supplemental accident and health insurance and other living expenses.

IEFP Fellowships Program Director Linda De Laurentis said the nature of the Fulbright program gives winners a large degree of freedom in designing and implementing their proposals.

“The flexibility [is an advantage] in that the Fulbright can accommodate different kinds of projects from independent study and research ­— it could be degree work, it could be informal coursework or some countries will commit you to do an internship,” she said.

The teaching program in which Goldman is involved, for example, takes an unusual approach: Winners work part-time teaching English in schools in their home country and spend the rest of their time on another project.

Since she did not study abroad while at Yale, Goldman said she sees her fellowship as the opportunity of a lifetime.

“This is a chance to go off and explore another culture, to learn another language, to gain experience,” she said. “The Italian pace of life is completely different and much slower, and it’s been wonderful. It’s like coming alive again.”

Goldman said before she decides what type of project she will undertake in addition to her teaching responsibilities, she is waiting to get a feel for her schools and the region, as well as her responsibilities as a Fulbright Scholar representing her home country.

“I have to be very careful about how I’m reflecting our nation,” she said. “As the only American that people know, I have to go the extra mile to be polite.”

Melissa Doerken ’07 ­— who has begun her work as an English teaching assistant in Prato, Italy — said she agrees that being an ex-patriot will provide her with a unique opportunity.

“I feel I’m really going to be able to be a purveyor of American culture and ideas and reduce stereotypes,” she said.

In addition to providing the internship, Doerken said the Fulbright enables her to pursue her own research interests. By visiting art galleries and important artistic landmarks in the region, she hopes to investigate the relationship between Prato contemporary art and Italy’s medieval and Renaissance artistic tradition.

For many of the Fulbright winners, the program offers a valuable bridge between college work and future professional development. Doerken said she was heavily involved in the Yale University Art Gallery during her time at school, and since she eventually wants to earn a Ph.D in art history, she hopes her art research and experience in Italy on the Fulbright will prove to be helpful in achieving this goal.

Erin Lin ’07 is using her Fulbright grant to continue research in Phnom Penh, Cambodia that she had already begun on a summer fellowship sponsored by the Luce Foundation and the Center for Khmer Studies.

“As an underclassman, I think I was in the position similar to a lot of Yale students: I was interested in traveling, seeing the under-represented parts of [the] world, and helping them out,” Lin said in an e-mail.

The Luce fellowship gave her this opportunity in an academically-affiliated environment, she said. She returned to Cambodia the winter after the fellowship to finish her senior thesis research and is back again to try to prove that health equity funds reduce incidences of disease and improve the economic standing of Cambodia’s urban poor.

Similarly, Jess Heyman ’07, who will be using her grant in Argentina, is continuing research that she began on a Bates summer research grant, with which she spent two months interviewing locals and touring “Museums for Memory” — the common name for museums about the former Argentine dictatorship. But, left with many more new questions, she said she realized she wanted to return.

Other Fulbright projects include campaigning for greater availability of precoital birth control in Ukraine, studying the effectiveness of legal reform on women’s rights in Qatar, conducting experiments on visual perception in a Sydney psychology lab and working on atomic physics research in Germany.

This year, 52 Yale undergraduates applied for the 2007-2008 Fulbright grant. The Yale deadline was Oct. 8.