Sometimes Camila Rodriguez takes the bus, and sometimes she walks to work through the streets of Aviles, a small, coastal Spanish city in the principality of Asturias.
During the week, she’s an English teaching assistant at two schools, working with 15 different teachers and more than 100 students — and on weekends, she’s an explorer.
Rodriguez, a 2019 Miami alumna, is one of 10 Miami students who earned grants from the Fulbright Student Program for the 2020-2021 academic year. The Fulbright Program is a cultural exchange program that sends its grant recipients to study and work abroad in foreign countries.
Ten grants in a year is the most in university history, certifying Miami as a top-producing institution for the Fulbright Student Program. The 10 students were selected from 29 Miami applicants, giving Miami a grant rate above many other schools’.
Karla Guinigundo, Miami’s global partnerships director and Fulbright Program advisor, said earning the top-producing distinction was no easy feat.
“It’s a challenge,” Guinigundo said. “Fulbrights are very competitive, and so it really is a testament to the strength of our students who are applying … It’s something that we can be very, very proud of.”
The distinction, while cause for celebration, comes in a year when travel has been restricted. The COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into the international nature of the Fulbright Program and some of its students.
Guinigundo said of the 10 Miami students who earned grants, six have begun their projects: Rodriguez in Spain, another alumna in Taiwan and four alumni in South Korea. The others have deferred or declined.
“The importance of being engaged internationally can’t be understated, so we are committed to making sure that Miami University is on the map,” Guinigundo said.
For Rodriguez, the process of helping put Miami “on the map” was unpredictable. She was informed of her Fulbright grant in April, one month after COVID-19 shutdowns.
“It was a lot of uncertainty, but [the Fulbright coordinators] ended up telling us maybe three weeks later that we were starting in January of 2021,” Rodriguez said.
She had to give it some thought, but not much. Rodriguez said travel is important to her. With three study abroad trips under her belt from her time at Miami, she took the chance.
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“I didn’t really know how I felt going with COVID and that situation, but it’s such a great experience,” she said after her first two months in Spain.“The skills that I’m picking up here, connecting with people that are different from me, creating bridges and being able to teach these kids English is going to teach me a lot.”
Rodriguez saw silver linings in the travel restrictions, too. She had originally planned to visit a different country every weekend but instead found rewarding experiences closer to her placement.
Asturias is known as a paraíso, a natural paradise, and Rodriguez said she found a list of beautiful nature sites and plans to visit all of them.
“I feel happy that I can really immerse myself here and really know what it’s like to live in Spain,” she said.
Rodriguez said she owes the experience to Guinigundo, through whom she learned about the Fulbright Program.
“Without her, I would not have won the Fulbright, safe to say,” Rodriguez said. “It’s because of her that Miami is a top-producing Fulbright institution.”
For Guinigundo, a Fulbright Scholar herself, the Fulbright Program is a “tremendous privilege.”
“My own life was transformed by global experience,” Guinigundo said. “I spent three of my high school years in Malaysia, and I came back and knew that I needed to find a career that had me engaged internationally, and I’ve been drawn to the Fulbright program specifically because it is completely focused on impacting global relations through people.”
She hopes the distinction means a bright future for the program at Miami.
“It’s just something that we’re very excited to celebrate,” Guinigundo said. “We’re really hopeful that this summer and fall we’ll be able to really re-engage in travel and help students get out again.”