In the aftermath of World War II, the United States Congress established the Fulbright Scholar Program to, in the words of chief proponent Sen. J. William Fulbright, "increase the mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries."
Believed to be the first student to attend St. Ambrose University on a Fulbright Program for Foreign Students Scholarship, Atik Aprianingsih received her Doctorate in Business Administration on Dec. 15th at the River Center in Davenport with an increased understanding of herself as well.
Aprianingsih, 33, was one of 309 degree candidates. Arthur Serianz, PhD, professor and chair of the St. Ambrose Chemistry Department, gave the commencement address.
Aprianingsih said she returned to Bandung, Indonesia, in mid-December with more self-confidence than she brought to St. Ambrose in January of 2010. She said she also took home an awareness that the United States is not entirely the problem-free country she grew up admiring through the movies. She said she also gained a much keener understanding of how it feels to rank as a minority.
Aprianingsih is among the 80 percent of Indonesians who are Muslim and she also is Javanese, by far the largest of 300 or so ethnicities native to her island nation.
"I am a majority there," she said. "I used to think the minorities should go along with whatever the majority thinks. But now that I came here, I don't think that is the case. That is the most profound lesson for me."
It is a lesson she chose for herself in deciding to pursue her doctorate at St. Ambrose from among a list of schools provided to her after the U.S. State Department awarded her a Fulbright scholarship.
Aprianingsih did not know much about the Quad Cities or Midwestern weather when she made that decision, based on the school's size, affordability and the chance to achieve her DBA within three years.
She knew she would be joining a small, private, Catholic university in an area with a sparse Indonesian population.
"Most of my friends went to bigger cities and schools where there are some Indonesians," she said. "Here, I relied on the support system provided by International Student Services. That helped me blend into my American life quicker than other Indonesians."
Seven St. Ambrose students have been awarded Fulbright Scholarships within the past decade and a handful of former graduates have been named Fulbright Scholars after moving on to graduate schools elsewhere. But St. Ambrose Professor of English Barbara Pitz, PhD, the university's Fulbright advisor, said the Indonesian DBA candidate was the first Fulbright scholar to enroll here in Pitz's 27 years at SAU. Tomas Koziak, a professor from Slovakia, was a Fulbright Faculty Scholar in Residence at St. Ambrose and Black Hawk College in Moline, Ill., in 2006-2007.
"It is really quite an honor," said Pitz, who was awarded a Fulbright Faculty Scholarship to serve as a senior lecturer in American Literature and American Studies in Osijek, Croatia, in 1990-91. "To have a Fulbright anything - our students going, our faculty going, students coming here - is a tremendous honor."
Aprianingsih said she was a bit taken aback by the Midwestern winters when she arrived here just under three years ago, but she also was relieved to discover her initial concerns about being Muslim at a Catholic school were unfounded.
She had to make allowances for diet and was taken by surprise when someone expected her to be able to explain the motivation of a Muslim terrorist whose arrest made news. Still, Aprianingsih said, "I didn't have any problem with my religion. I found tolerance here. Most people didn't know I was a Muslim."
She discovered the St. Ambrose grading system was a bit more stringent than those she knew in her homeland. And she said the English she learned by watching those American movies she loved as a child wasn't quite up to academic standards. "Here there are no sub-titles," she said. "I had to adjust."
She handled the academic challenges just fine and said a penchant among St. Ambrose faculty to encourage students in multiple ways helped to boost her self-esteem.
"My experience in the classroom here is that every student has a right to say what they think," she said. "That's a good thing for me."
Aprianingsih wants to be precisely that kind of encouraging teacher when she begins her role as a lecturer in the School of Business and Management at the Institut Teknologi Bandung in February.