Over the coming months, planes carrying five UCF Knights will land on various runways thousands and thousands of miles from home. The five will stroll off those planes into the purpose of the Fulbright Program for which they’ve been selected: to work, live, and learn with others on the ground. For them, the ground will be in Belgium, Taiwan, Kyrgyzstan, Israel and Brazil.
“I’ve always wanted to live abroad and be immersed in someone else’s culture,” says Madeleine Smith ’21, who will get her wish when she learns Mandarin from middle-school children in Taipei while also “sharing American culture with them through folk music.”
That’s what makes the Fulbright so unique. It’s often described as the world’s most prestigious educational exchange program because it transcends academics. These UCF recipients, for example, will build bridges through their backgrounds in music, Spanish, environmental science, education and global studies. All five earned Fulbrights through English Teaching Assistant Awards, but the name of the award is the beginning and end of any similarities — and that seems like a logical place to begin the introductions.
Isabella Castro ’22
Degree at UCF: Bachelor’s in international and global studies
Originally from: Miami
Career vision: Serving as a foreign service officer (diplomat)
Fulbright destination: Belgium
What she’ll do there: Castro will teach English at a university in Brussels.
“I’ve wanted to be a foreign service officer since my freshman year of high school when I traveled to Managua, Nicaragua, to serve the people there. It led to my coming to UCF so I could gain a better understanding of the social, political, and economic dynamics in different countries. My mentors — (associate professors) Tyler Fisher ’02 ’03 and Barbara Kinsey and (Professor) Bruce Wilson — encouraged me to put my passion into practice through the Fulbright, and the personal stories from my McNair Scholars Family inspired me to dream big.
“Belgium will be a perfect for me. There’s a melting pot of languages, so I can improve my French and Dutch while teaching others English. And the location couldn’t be better because Brussels is home to NATO and the European Commission. I have no doubt the Fulbright will prepare me well for everything that comes next: a master’s degree from Georgetown and two internships as a Charles B. Rangel Fellow — one on Capitol Hill and the other at an embassy abroad.”
Henri Hodge ’21
Degrees at UCF: Master’s in Spanish and a bachelor’s in Spanish with a teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) certificate
Originally from: Sanford, Florida
Career vision: Working as a language coach
Fulbright destination: Brazil
What he’ll do there: Hodge will help Brazilian instructors who teach English at a university.
“Language learning has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. My grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from Peru, so it was always important for me to be the best speaker of Spanish that I could be, even though it wasn’t my first language. In high school, I made friends with international students and helped them learn English, which I really enjoyed. Still, the idea of declaring Spanish as my major at UCF was daunting because it isn’t my native language. I’m glad now that I overcame the initial fear.
“One of my professors, Alla Kourova, gave me confidence to design my own plans for teaching English as a second language, which also served me well in my Fulbright application. What excites me about Brazil? The music, culture, and some of the friendliest people you could ever meet. After the Fulbright experience, I plan to pursue a master’s in Spanish and a Ph.D. in romance linguistics. But first — Brazil.”
Madeleine Smith ’21
Degree at UCF: Bachelor’s in music education with a strings focus
Originally from: Audubon, Pennsylvania
Career vision: Teaching middle-school orchestra and performing as a freelancer
Fulbright destination: Taiwan
What she’ll do there: Smith will teach English and music to elementary and middle school students.
“From the time I started playing violin at the age of five, I saw myself being a music teacher someday. However, I never thought I’d go to college in Florida, let alone teach in Taiwan. Going to UCF has proven to be a great decision. My orchestra director, Chung Park, taught me about being a good musician and a good person. Without him, I never would have thought about applying for the Fulbright.
“Spending close to a year in a totally different culture will give me confidence to create music programs that connect people from all backgrounds. That’s what music should always do. It’s the whole purpose of my Fulbright experience. So, when I return to the U.S., I plan to earn a master’s in music education before using everything I’ve learned here and in Taiwan to foster a love of orchestra among middle school students.”
Carolyn Mitchell ’19
Originally from: Niceville, Florida
Career vision: Working in outdoor education, while also writing and shooting photography
Fulbright destination: Kyrgyzstan
What she’ll do there: Mitchell will teach English to students and help outdoor professionals understand risk assessment and Leave No Trace practices.
“My current job takes me into the wilderness for weeks at a time, so I enjoy adventures and being outside. It’s interesting because I enrolled at UCF to be part of a big school near a big city after being raised in a small town. The environmental program at UCF was a big draw, and around my junior year I began to miss the creativity of storytelling. So, I added a minor in writing and rhetoric.
“The Fulbright project in Kyrgyzstan is a way to intersect all my interests and meet the needs of the Kyrgyz people. They’ve already been so welcoming. One of my professors, Christina Torres, made me aware of Fulbright by telling us about her own experience with the program. She also invited guests to share what it’s like to teach English as a foreign language. Now I’ll find out for myself what it’s like.”
Originally from: Louisville, Kentucky
Career vision: Working in public diplomacy with the U.S. State Department
Fulbright destination: Israel
What he’ll do there: Losavio will work at a teachers’ college in northern Israel.
“Shortly after graduating with a bachelor’s in English literature from Cal Berkeley in 2009, I researched jobs to see what would allow me to use my skillsets around the world. It turned out that teaching English was most compatible with my interests. To get a taste of it, I taught English in refugee settlement programs in Kentucky and as a volunteer in Brazil. It all reinforced my plan to pursue a career in international relations. Having a globally recognized award like the Fulbright on top of field experience and a Ph.D. should open a lot of great opportunities.
“I’ve already done some work in northern Israel, so I’m excited to reconnect with friends there. The history is fascinating, and so are the regional challenges. Aside from the teaching, I want to try the awesome vegan food and hopefully make the U.S. and UCF look good. And then what will I do? There are hundreds of possibilities. Give me at least six months to figure it out. I’ll be able to explain over a cup of coffee.”
Students interested in applying for Fulbright awards or other major national awards should contact the Office of Prestigious Awards at [email protected]