I won a Fulbright fellowship!

Sometime in late 2019, Abbey encouraged me to apply to the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching Research Program, which allows US teachers to spend 3-6 months conducting educational research in another country. I didn’t think that I had much of a chance but Abbey has that special teacher skill of making others think they can accomplish difficult things. So I carefully researched my proposal, prepared my materials, and sent my application out into the world without the burden of heavy expectations. “It’s good to put yourself out there sometimes,” and “The process itself was valuable,” I told myself that.

Even months later, when I received an interview with the Colombia Fulbright Commission, I still tried to keep hopes low. The pandemic was building into its first wave, undoing lives and plans across the world. Traveling abroad felt unlikely, unimportant, and reckless. Late in the summer, however, a happy little email arrived with my acceptance and, against my better judgement, I couldn’t help but feel a little optimistic.  

After a few delays, more than a few doubts, and a couple of vaccine doses, I am now almost ready to go. I still have worries, but overall I’m incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to spend time in Colombia (hopefully, safely, virtually?) observing new spaces, thinking about education, and growing as a person. Thanks for pushing me to apply and for always supporting me, Abbey!


Shifting Mindsets

At this point, I am eagerly and nervously anticipating a number of changes and challenges related to my upcoming fellowship. As a human, I hope that the experience helps me grow more nimble, more empathetic, and more capable of imaginatively exploring possibilities. As an educator, I hope to cultivate the insights and skills needed to foster healing, liberatory learning spaces. Those personal and professional goals are framed by two big changes to my daily routine: moving to Colombia and taking on the role of an education researcher.

Bogotá, my home for six months.
Shifting Countries

I’m going to live in Colombia (mostly Bogotá) for six months! Mentally, moving from the cloistered existence of quasi-quarantine to a foreign country is a bit overwhelming. Life has just been particularly guarded and distant over the last year. A new country means a new culture and context, which will inevitably be felt and experienced more immediately, even from six feet away. I’m pumped, of course, but also nervous and sad to leave behind mi gata, Pretzels.

Moving to Colombia also means living (and hopefully thinking) en español. I started studying Spanish in the summer of 2017, right before I started working as a teacher in San Jose, California. I knew my school would have a lot of Spanish speaking families and I wanted to be able to communicate smoothly with them. After three summers of intensive study and, more recently, dozens of hours spent on iTalki, I have an upper intermediate-ish level of Spanish that allows me to watch TV in Spanish without subtitles, read newspapers without a dictionary, and communicate in casual situations without much difficulty. Living immersed in Spanish will help me escape the indefinite, intermediate purgatory of language learning so that I can finally read the original Spanish texts of Gabriel Garcia Márquez and maybe even Jorge Luis Borges. Or, more realistically, I will finally be able to understand the more nuanced memes I find on Reddit. 

Shifting Work
Me diving into research.

Another set of adjustments comes with shifting from a teaching mindset to a research orientation. Research is, of course, a key component of being a teacher, from perusing lesson plan ideas to searching for transformative connections with students. We are accustomed to exploring, reflecting, and testing theories. But all of this usually happens as we are working directly with students within inequitable systems, enmeshed in the relentless churn of an educational machine that demands constant and immediate attention to reduce harms for all involved. Shifting to research means more time and mental space to envision different ways of learning, teaching, and living. Moving between research and practice is, I think, an essential dynamic that helps educators stay energized, creative, and hopeful. So I am looking forward to breathing new life into my imagination. 

Lastly, a key goal of my Fulbright inquiry project is to discover relationships and dynamics that inspire us to think deeply and differently. I will be working with an innovative organization called Escuela Nueva to observe learning spaces, interview members of those communities, and document as much detail as possible. I’m not quite sure how that will look with all of the bioseguridad measures that are still necessary but I’m eager to find creative ways to safely and respectively pursue my research.

The plan is to then use all of that data to write case study narratives, known as portraits. Like literature, good portraits draw us into stories, worlds, and perspectives. These bridges of empathy lead to new ways of seeing and transforming our own realities, or at least that’s the aspiration at the center of my inquiry project! 


This Blog

Thinking about my upcoming research project and all of the adjustments it brings to my personal and professional life, I am grateful for the opportunity, eager to dive in, and more than a little nervous. I started this blog as a response to those feelings. We get better at the work by doing the work, goals are achieved through intentional practice. So in order to become a better writer, which is important in portraiture, here I am writing. Reflection is also vital to growth. This blog is a place for me to reflect on what I’m experiencing, reading, and thinking, which will facilitate and cement my learning. Making everything public like this allows me to share that journey, adds a bit more pressure for me to follow through, and opens myself up to additional feedback. 

Anyways, thanks for joining me this far!


Note: All views expressed are my own, they do not represent the Fulbright or any other organization.

4 Responses

  1. Congratulations Justin! I’m excited to read about your experience and reflect on any crossover from what you learn for the higher education space. Thanks for sharing and best of luck in your travel.

    1. Thanks! That’s an interesting angle – I think COVID has interfered with life and education for everyone to some degree and so I am excited to study an organization committed to working with marginalized students who often have interrupted schooling. Hopefully you find something interesting in the posts. I’d love to hear more about your work and any ideas you have in this area.

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