Friends of Fulbright Supports Future Success for Argentinian Scholars
- May 2, 2022
- Sophia Aitken
It had been a long, uncertain time, but in Fall 2021, Texas Global’s English Language Center (ELC) finally welcomed the Friends of Fulbright (FOF) back to the Forty Acres. Before international travel was restricted, the last in-person group hosted by the ELC had been an earlier FOF group—a fitting bookend to the much-anticipated arrival (delayed from the spring semester to the fall) of the 2021 cohort of Fulbright scholars from Argentina.
In partnership with the Fulbright Commission in Argentina, The University of Texas at Austin began hosting Argentinian students at the ELC in 2014. The partners’ collaborative commitment has allowed the program to flourish and make significant impacts on the students who participate.
FOF scholars enroll in English language classes at the ELC, then stay in Austin for about seven weeks (expanded from the original month) to study the language and audit UT classes in their respective fields of study. The ELC organizes numerous cultural activities and trips for the Fulbright scholars during their time in Texas.
Rachelle Bumgardner, senior student affairs administrator for Texas Global, leads the charge with FOF. Although UT Austin hosts several Fulbright programs, she says, there is no other quite like this one. The combination of English language learning and focused course auditing makes for a rich and productive campus experience. For some, it can be life-changing.
Customized Program Expands Opportunities for International Scholars
The customization aspect of the program allows the ELC to create partnerships in departments across campus with professors who welcome FOF students to their classes each year. Several UT Austin FOF alumni have since returned to the U.S. for graduate programs on Fulbright scholarships, including UT civil engineering master’s graduate Gabriel Carlosena.
Carlosena first arrived as an FOF student with the goal of improving his English and learning about American culture, but his time in Austin left an even greater impact on him.
“I was not interested in graduate school at the time, but thanks to the [FOF] program and my experience here, I became interested in pursuing a master’s degree,” he explained.
“One of my most memorable experiences from the program was the last day, when we wanted to say goodbye to all the people that we’d met. We were in a room with 50-plus people, all from different backgrounds, all from different cultures and countries. The amount and strength of the connections that we made only during one month here was pretty amazing.”
Agustina Setula arrived in Austin with the 2021 FOF cohort. An industrial engineering major in Argentina, she was looking to pivot into marketing and business but did not have that avenue available at her home university. As an FOF scholar at UT Austin, she took advantage of the option to audit courses in these topics, which have since been instrumental in launching her marketing career in Argentina.
“I found a job related to digital marketing thanks to attending classes at UT, so it really changed my life,” said Setula. “I was very interested in following marketing in the future, but I never thought it would come so quickly, and thanks to Friends of Fulbright and studying at UT, it came very fast.”
Bumgardner is quick to attribute successes like these to the initiative of FOF students, themselves. “They really maximize the experience. Every group that comes to the ELC, goes above and beyond,” she said. “You can tell that they really appreciate the opportunity to be a part of this program, that they know how special the Fulbright opportunity is, and they just make the most of their experience here.”
Sofia Armando did just that. When she arrived in Fall 2021, she was unsure of where she wanted to focus her studies, which spanned international relations and political science. Reaching out to UT professors who teach in these fields helped her clarify and narrow her interests, as well as make an important professional connection in Argentina.
“One UT professor I met with told me they knew a professor in my country who works in [my field], and I already knew who he was. He was, like, more famous than Justin Bieber to me. He made the connection, and now, that professor is my research director,” said Armando.
Since leaving Austin, Armando has completed an internship in Washington, D.C., and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Argentina with a focus on sexual reproductive health and religious liberty.
Study on the Forty Acres Fosters Global Connections
In addition to auditing classes, students improve their English at the ELC alongside other students representing countries from all the over world, giving this group a chance to not only interact with American students in their subject-matter courses but also engage in a global cultural exchange.
“It was amazing because attending the English classes not only gives you the ability to speak or to listen or write better, but also you meet people from all over the globe in the same situation as you,” said Facundo Miret, a 2021 FOF alumnus. “You are exchanging different points of view, different religions, cultures—and that's one of the most interesting parts of the program.”
FOF scholars agreed that their English improved thanks to these classes, and they gave a lot of credit to their ELC professors. “The professors made it easy. They had a way to let you learn and to, of course, make mistakes ... because you're willing to, without any fear of being judged,” said Miret.
But the scholars’ most passionate gratitude was reserved for Bumgardner. “It has to be mentioned that Rachelle was extraordinary,” Miret said, and Armando agreed: “I think that Rachelle is one of the best parts of the trip.”
“Rachelle was very helpful, and she always cared about us, how we felt, if we had any issues. Everything was great because of Rachelle and her team. They prepared for us to have fun and have a great time,” said Setula. “She's really perfect for her role.”
For Bumgardner, coordinating this program is deeply rewarding. “[The Friends of Fulbright students are] not just here for one thing; they're here for everything, and they want the whole experience,” said Bumgardner. “They become a part of the Longhorn experience, and they really lead with that pride.”
Fulbrighters Embrace the Longhorn Experience
Setula’s Longhorn experience reminded her of the U.S. media she grew up watching. “We were waiting for the bus, and the band from the football games appeared there and started to play in the street, and I thought, I think I'm in ‘High School Musical!’”
During the students’ seven weeks in Austin, Bumgardner organized weekly events and even took them on trips around Texas, including to Lake Travis, San Antonio and Houston. The students lived together in West Campus apartments, becoming a tight-knit group bonded by this special time together.
“From the beginning, everything was new. We were looking 360 degrees because everything was amazing—and, of course, we didn't want to lose anything,” said Miret animatedly.
The students recalled crying during their last dinner together, sad to be leaving but glad to have had the experience. “It was one of the best experiences in my whole life,” said Setula. “It was like a dream, being there.”
“I would say that this program brings you not only growth in your professional life, but also in your personal life. I would really like to highlight that, in particular, UT Austin made me a stronger person,” said Miret. “I went to an unknown place on my own, and it was a really big challenge.”
It’s safe to say the challenge paid off. Miret is now employed in Argentina in his field of study, petroleum engineering, prepared and bolstered by this unique experience.
The ELC recently bid farewell to their most recent FOF cohort, the scholars of Spring 2022, and will welcome another group in Spring 2023, continuing this fruitful relationship between Argentina’s ambitious students and UT Austin.