Harrison Crawford ’22 wasn’t sure what to make of the mini fridge delivered to his temporary home in Indonesia in August. He’d come to the country to teach English to curious school children and had gotten mildly sick. Food and gifts began to arrive from people he barely knew. “That’s the culture here in Indonesia,” Crawford says, shedding some initial light on why he’s there. Crawford is among 10 recent UCF graduates who were offered prestigious Fulbright awards to teach, learn, and integrate abroad. Seven nominees accepted the Fulbright offer to become conduits of a global language (English) and of diverse thought, much like their alma mater.

In fact, UCF is a Top Producer of Fulbright U.S. Students for the 2023-24 academic year, according to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Knight Nation is the only public institution in Florida to earn the designation. This is the second time UCF has received this honor, with 2020-21 being the first. UCF is also a Fulbright leader among Hispanic-Serving Institutions for a third straight year.

“I know what it’s like to struggle with a new language and a new culture,” says Noah Cabarcas, “and that’s what makes the Fulbright experience so meaningful. The struggle goes both ways, and it has a unique way of bringing people together.”

Sophie Brockell ’23


Degree at UCF:
Secondary education

Fulbright destination: Spain

What Brockell is doing there: Teaching English to middle- and high-school students

And then: Earn a master’s degree and Ph.D.

“Since early September I’ve been living and teaching in a region of Spain known as Galicia. It’s a unique place. The people take late lunches, drink a specific beer rather than wine, and eat a lot of seafood. The language is Galician, a blend of Spanish and Portuguese, which the local people are trying hard to preserve. During my Fulbright application, I proposed a cultural exchange project called ‘gastrodiplomacy’ to tie everything together. It’s using food experiences as a language to connect cultures.

“For example, I told my students about a rice pudding recipe. They said, ‘Oh, that’s just like arroz con leche.’ It reminded us that we have more in common than we might assume. Now we’re compiling a cookbook that includes recipes, family stories, and the history of this region. I’m also working with local food banks because no place in the world is immune to food insecurity. I learned a lot about that growing up in the Dominican Republic where my parents worked on humanitarian projects as missionaries. Meeting the needs of people while learning from them is a core value for me. That’s why the Fulbright has been such a great fit.”

Noah Cabarcas ’22

Degree at UCF: Political science

Fulbright destination: Brazil

What Cabarcas will do there: Work at a university as an English teaching assistant

And then: Teach languages wherever it’s needed

“I cannot remember a time in my life when I haven’t been learning or teaching a language. My mother is from Nicaragua. My father is from Panama. So, I learned Spanish and English from the time I could speak. Since then, I’ve taught myself Portuguese, studied Italian and French, and for fun I dabbled in Japanese and Russian. In Orlando, I teach English to immigrants. When I heard about the Fulbright during my last year at UCF, I knew it would be worth the rigorous application process to do what I’m passionate about in Brazil.

“After graduating from UCF, I decided to go to Brazil on my own for a few weeks while awaiting the Fulbright results. I’d meet people on nature trails, at food stalls, anything to integrate. The experience made me even more excited to be offered the Fulbright. My approach is to facilitate conversations in English through music, clubs, games and storytelling rather than to rely on textbooks. I once thought my major in political science would prepare me to be an interpreter for the World Health Organization, Red Cross or United Nations, but now I see my purpose more clearly: to help people on a personal level learn languages and improve their lives. The Fulbright is a natural step in that direction.”

Eliana Jacobs ’22

Degree at UCF: Interdisciplinary studies and sociology

Fulbright destination: Taiwan

What Jacobs is doing there: Teaching English in elementary schools

And then: Go to medical school

“I’m a young African American woman from Florida working in classrooms full of kids who speak Chinese and look nothing like me. They’re fascinated to hear about manatees and cars in America. I’m still curious about the rampant use of scooters here. We’re building trust through language barriers by showing genuine interest in each other. This is what I’ll need to do in the future as a pediatric endocrinologist — develop trust at the bedside with patients from all communities and cultures.

“When I was 14 years old, I was diagnosed with type-1 diabetes. During my research for the Fulbright application, I was surprised to find out about the high prevalence rate of diabetes in Taiwan. At the time, I was taking 21 credit hours, working on my honors thesis and working three part-time jobs. The Fulbright seemed like a longshot, but the thought of teaching children in another country while visiting medical schools and research centers motivated me. I’ve been here three months. My confidence is higher. My knowledge is deeper. And my desire to help kids is stronger than ever.”

Lilliana Ramos ’23

 

Degree at UCF: International and global studies

Fulbright destination: La Rioja, Spain

What Ramos will do there: Teach English to primary school students

And then: Foreign service

“My parents had to spread their wings when they left Cuba to start a new life in the U.S. For them, it was a necessity. For me, spreading my wings will be an honor. Coming to UCF after attending high school in Miami was the first time I ventured off on my own. Little did I know it would eventually lead to an immersive Fulbright experience in Spain, where I’ll get a taste inside and outside the classroom of what my parents had to learn: how to assimilate to a new culture.

“In La Rioja, students want to learn the English language and American culture for the same reasons I want to learn theirs — languages and cultures connect the world, and they open us up to a lifetime of opportunities. The work reminds me of growing up in a family where we had open discussions about important topics. My dad had worked in a consulate in Cuba before it closed, so he imparted the ideals of slowing down, listening, and being patient with people from different backgrounds. In Spain, I’ll be the one from a different background. I can’t imagine a better way to prepare for whatever comes next.”

Harrison Crawford ’22

 

Degree at UCF: Interdisciplinary studies

Fulbright destination: Indonesia

What Crawford is doing there: Teaching English

And then: Build a test prep tutoring operation

“Indonesia is one of the biggest countries on Earth, and arguably the most culturally diverse. At the moment, I’m in the city of Manado, where the motto is, ‘We are all family.’ Shortly after I arrived, word got out that I’d gotten sick. A parade of people showed up with food, medicine, even kitchen appliances. If one teacher hears I skipped breakfast, within an hour I’ll have a plate of avocado, fish and bread in front of me. I’m teaching English, and they’re teaching me what true kindness and generosity look like.

“I almost didn’t apply for the Fulbright, which would have been the biggest mistake of my life. It’s rare for Americans to collaborate with people in Global South countries as equals in a cultural context. I bring games so the kids have fun learning English and about parts of the world they might never see. Later, I’m hosting a storytelling competition, where students will have a chance to advance to the national level in Jakarta. It’s a big deal because most Indonesians don’t travel as easily as Americans do. Not long ago, I felt like I was meandering a bit. Today, I’m living a life with direction that would have once been unthinkable.”

Casey Corrigan ’19 ’23MA

Degree at UCF: Social science education

Fulbright destination: Taipei, Taiwan

What Corrigan is doing there: English teaching assistant

And then: Teach English to middle schoolers, high schoolers and adult speakers of other languages

“I never envisioned myself teaching English in Taiwan, but here I am on this adventure. The teachers in Taipei use different styles. My current school follows a Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) approach, which means the students learn English while I teach them music and art. I might discuss specific shapes and textures in English and then a Taiwanese co-teacher will explain in Chinese how to use them when creating artwork.

“The Fulbright program came to my attention during a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) class at UCF. Previous Fulbright recipients told me how the program helped them with visas, living arrangements, setting up a bank accounts, all the daunting details when you go abroad. Having a reputable program guiding my steps made me feel safe. Next summer I’ll come back to Orlando and pursue work as a teacher, but I know how plans can change. Whatever happens next, I will always be grateful for the people at UCF who helped make this life-changing experience a reality.”

 

Meghan Absher ’22, who earned a bachelor’s in integrative general studies student from UCF, also accepted a Fulbright award with the destination of Romania.

Students interested in applying for Fulbright awards or other major national awards should contact the Office of Prestigious Awards at opa@ucf.edu.