After graduating magna cum laude with a degree in elementary education (and an endorsement in special ed), Erin Larson will head to Malaysia as St. Ambrose's eighth Fulbright Scholar in the past 11 years.
The Mokena, Ill., native, who will teach English, earned the honor in early April after a six-month application review period.
"It is an honor for students to be singled out from a large pool of excellent candidates from schools nationwide," said Barbara Pitz, PhD, professor of English and Fulbright Program adviser. "In the past decade St. Ambrose Fulbrights have garnered scholarship-placements in Austria, South Korea, Germany, Trinidad and Tobago, India and Egypt."
Larson knew she wanted to teach abroad after graduation and it was a suggestion from a professor that nudged her to apply for the prestigious award.
The spark of exploration
The desire to learn more about other cultures has been an ongoing thread in Larson's life.
However, "If you look at my family history, traveling and living outside the Midwest is simply not there," she said. But Larson has already traveled to India, Ecuador and Peru.
It was a camp counselor she met while in high school who sparked her imagination for exploring the world. "She had traveled extensively and I admired that."
Finding one's place
The process of applying for a Fulbright begins months before submitting the application, according to Pitz.
"We look for the best fit," she said. "Because they can apply for only one country, the process of looking for that fit is very important."
In Larson's case, looking for a country that would also offer the chance to observe special ed classes was important.
"Erin came back from doing a lot of research about Malaysia and was very excited," Pitz said. "That kind of excitement is just what we want to see. It indicates that this will be an excellent opportunity for our student, as well as the kind of cultural exchange envisioned by Fulbright program founders."
"Most developing countries do not have special education," added Larson. "Malaysia has committed to creating special ed programming in its educational system and I want to see what they're doing and be a part of it."
When the Fulbright year is over
An avid cook and baker, Larson plans to become a seasoned Malaysian cook. More importantly, "I hope I will have helped those I work with to develop effective ways to teach English," she said. "I'm sure I will also learn a lot, and that the Fulbright experience will only increase my respect for other cultures and differences."
Looking down the road a little further, Larson has a vision that would merge her experiences, learning and passion.
"I would like to open my own special ed school in a developing country," said Larson.
The Fulbright Program is a highly competitive, national grant program that offers students, scholars and professionals the opportunity to teach and study in more than 140 countries. Its purpose is to foster empathy between cultures, and to develop and prepare America's future leaders for a global environment.
According to the website, Fulbright U.S. Student alumni populate a range of professions and include ambassadors, members of Congress, judges, heads of corporations, university presidents, journalists, artists, professors and teachers. Bose Corporation founder Amar Bose, actor John Lithgow, composer Philip Glass, opera singer Renee Fleming and economist Joseph Stiglitz are among notable former grantees.
Read about SAU's past Fulbrights.