Spotlight: Fulbright Lotus

Fulbridge is happy to feature Fulbright Lotus, an organization that highlights and encourages Asian experiences in the Fulbright program. Parul Srivastava, a 2020-2021 Researcher to the U.S.A talked with Thanh Mai, a 2018-19 Fulbright ETA to Hasselt, Belgium and Amica Rapadas, a 2019-2020 Fulbright ETA to Taiwan, who founded Fulbright Lotus.

Fulbright Lotus logo

1. Why did you choose to apply for a Fulbright, and what countries did you opt for?

For my undergrad, I studied international relations and geography with a focus on the Asia-Pacific region. I studied Mandarin and spent time in China, so choosing Taiwan for Fulbright was a natural choice. I decided to apply for the Fulbright ETA grant because it provides an excellent opportunity for a more profound intercultural exchange and a chance to develop meaningful relationships with your host community. I thought that working as an English Teaching Assistant would give me insight on how Taiwan’s education system fosters its unique culture, pride, and principles of democracy. I could also help foster mutual understanding between Americans and Taiwanese through exploring the remarkable diversity of our countries’ cultures in the English language classroom.

Thanh (third from left) at the Fulbright Belgium and Luxembourg end of year gathering

Thanh: As a student at Loyola University, I studied abroad with the history department, which acquainted me with historical sites and cities throughout Europe and Belgium. I heard about the Fulbright grant towards the end of my time in college, and as soon as I learned about it, I realized it was something I wanted to pursue. I had previously spent a summer in Belgium, immersed in the culture, as a Benjamin Gilman Scholarship recipient, and was excited to return as a Fulbright ETA.

Looking back, I am honoured to have had the opportunity to develop both my professional and pedagogical skills in a country I felt so passionate about.

2. What were some highlights of your Fulbright Lotus experience? What were some challenges?

Amica’s Local English Teacher (on her right), a Japanese English Teacher, along with her co-taught an English class together when students from Japan came to visit the middle school where she taught.

Team Lotus: It was amazing to watch our community and e-board grow over the past year. The biggest challenge was figuring out how to even start an organization, and the next challenge was in learning how to move forward with so many different project ideas. Although it’s been difficult, we’ve enjoyed connecting and getting to know new people.

3. How did you initially get the idea for Fulbright Lotus?

After my grant ended in Belgium, I reflected on some of the issues I faced during my time in Belgium, particularly instances of overt racism that occurred. I thought about how awful it was that I didn’t have a support system or group to advocate on my behalf as a Fulbrighter. I desperately wanted to have a community of people that shared in some of my struggles of being an Asian person abroad.

Thanh during a presentation at PXL with PXL students on American History, Politics, and Culture

I reached out to another affinity group, Fulbright Noir, and they helped me brainstorm ideas on how to start my own affinity group. From there, I sent a message to the Fulbright of Color Facebook group, where I met Amica, the co-founder of my organization.

4. What does Fulbright Lotus do? What is its mission, and how does it accomplish that?

Team Lotus:
Primarily, Fulbright Lotus provides a platform to showcase the Asian diaspora within the Fulbright community. We also work to support applicants and grantees through their Fulbright process by answering questions and providing resources and potential networks.

5. Did you face any challenges when you started Fulbright Lotus?

Team Lotus:
Figuring out a name for the affinity group was our first challenge. The Asian diaspora is so diverse. We are not tied together by language, culture, religion, etc. It was challenging to find symbolism that could represent the diaspora as good as possible. That’s why we chose Fulbright Lotus. The Lotus flower is a well-known symbol in different geographical regions of Asia.
Working with people all over the world has also been difficult. We are all in different corners of the world, and haven’t really met in real-time before. It is hard to meet sometimes and stay on the same page. However, I think this also helps us have a better reach as an organization.

6. How have you seen Fulbright Lotus evolve since it first started, and what plans do you have for Fulbright Lotus in the future?

Team Lotus:
We are evolving into working more for providing support, not just a platform to showcase Asian Fulbrighters. Going forward, we’re hoping to expand our outreach through a mentorship program as well as getting involved in advocacy work.

Amica (second from right) during the Taiwan Pride celebration in Taipei after Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalize gay marriage.

7. What advice do you have for current or former Fulbrighters thinking of starting their own organization?

Team Lotus:
Don’t be afraid to reach out to people with your idea. Just jump into it, and be patient. Starting an organization is a lot of trial and error. An important part of building an organization is outreach and the best way to start is to connect with other people doing work similar to your own.

8. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

It’s okay to fail. I find that people tend to hesitate when applying for programs like the Fulbright because of fear of not being qualified enough or not being good enough to get the fellowship. I went through a similar thought process in my senior year of college when I got rejected from so many different fellowships and graduate programs. I was so afraid of another rejection letter that I attempted to quit an application mid-way through. I panicked after seeing the previous cohort for the program and emailed one of my recommenders that I was pulling out of the application. My recommender replied with, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” She was essentially saying if you want to achieve anything in life, you have to be open to failure.

Be sure to check out Fulbright Lotus on Instagram and Facebook to read more stories of Asian Fulbrighters and to share your own.

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