The Fulbright Association is grateful to have exceptional women from across the globe in our community. This year we want to take the time to feature their stories and adventures. While their travel locations differ, they share a passion for the Fulbright and the dimension it has given to their work. Please consider donating in honor of a Fulbright woman this International Women’s day, and the role that the Fulbright has played in expanding her international outlook and community.
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Sudha Bhagwat Haley, Ph.D.
The first thing you’ll notice upon meeting Sudha is her passion and commitment to pursuing justice and empowering members of her diverse community. She has served at the highest levels in the United States government, focusing on international labor issues. Since her recent retirement, Sudha tirelessly volunteers and advocates for several significant causes. She serves on AARP Maryland’s Executive Council, chairs the Census 2020 Complete Count Committee, serves as Vice President of the Maryland Federal employee and retirees’ association, is on the Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production Board of Directors and works with Blue Star Mothers and Veterans, among others. Born in Poona, India, Sudha came to the US for college, earning her Ph.D. She continues her Indian ties through her Kathak performance of Indian classical dance. For her Fulbright, she pursued study and research in Israel. Based in Jerusalem, she traveled from the Golan Heights to Eilat, also performing Kathak at the Rubin Academy in Jerusalem. She chose Israel for its religious significance in her life, and for her Fulbright objective to study their public administration, political system, and national elections, occurring during her Fulbright.
Sudha’s Fulbright experience has augmented her depth of understanding and sensitivity for her current initiatives. American Veterans, Seniors and legal Immigrants are among the undercounted in the U.S. census and therefore do not receive vital services. Sudha understands their issues and advocates strongly for their having access to equitable resources. As an Indian-American Fulbrighter in Israel, she was often welcomed like a native and consequently was able to network more closely with Israelis to achieve her Fulbright goal. Her Fulbright experience expanded the way she defines her identity as a woman. Reflecting on this, Sudha says, “Women in India and Israel have been Prime Ministers and national leaders. In America, as women gurus and pandits, we are paving the way with our vision, knowledge and hard-earned accomplishments, for the next generation of women. I was truly blessed to be mentored by a powerful, brilliant and caring American woman leader, Elizabeth Dole, and will follow her vision as I advocate for my vulnerable fellow Americans.” Today, as a Woman Fulbrighter, Sudha continues to serve as our “citizen diplomat.”
In May of 2016, Pauline left her full-time job at a nonprofit to work full time with Soukra, a company she started that shares artisan goods from across Tunisia with United States audiences. A passion project that launched out of her Fulbright, Soukra celebrates Tunisian designers and raises awareness of Tunisia’s rich design community. In college, Pauline studied abroad in Rome. She worked closely with a professor who took some of the students to Tunisia. During this trip, she learned about the Fulbright program. When applying for the Fulbright, she selected Tunisia not only because of her background in ancient Roman art, fluency in French, and studies in Latin, but also to challenge her comfort zone. She navigated unfamiliar territory, adapted to a different country, and embraced every opportunity.
She reminisces about her early experience in Tunisia with nostalgia. Beginning her Fulbright, she traveled to visit her roommate’s family in the south of Tunisia to celebrate the end of Ramadan. She described taking a louage to get there, which is a type of bus that takes you from city to city in Tunisia and departs only when the bus is full. While this was normal for the people of Tunisia, it was unlike anything she had experienced.
Pauline believes that if you are unable to travel to Tunisia, Soukra can still expose you to pieces of the culture. To support this goal, Soukra has been doing social media takeovers with her designers, so supporters can better understand how designers complete their work and find their inspiration. These efforts were made possible by the lifelong friends she made in Tunisia and the community she built with locals. Being in Tunisia taught her the importance of being okay with trusting yourself and claiming space. It has been some time since her Fulbright, but she takes the ability to listen to herself into all the spaces she occupies.
Growing up, Rita always knew she wanted to practice law. Born and raised in New York, she attended Hunter College and connected closely with a college professor who encouraged her to pursue a Fulbright, hoping she might become an academic. While Rita knew she would become a lawyer, the idea of pursuing a Fulbright was a strategic move to gain more education in an area that would open opportunities up for Rita. France used Napoleonic law codes. These law codes were the basis for law in most of Europe and other places across the globe. Rita also considered her fluency in French and the benefit it would be to practice using the language during her Fulbright. Rita says that for her “receiving a French law degree deeply informed what kind of lawyer she wanted to be.” Rita did her Fulbright at the University of Strasbourg and went on to receive degrees in France, along with law degrees from Harvard University and New York University.
Rita credits her Fulbright experience with making real change in the way the trajectory of her life evolved and grew. Being around French women, Rita could see the similarities of the status of women’s rights in the United States mirrored in France. Rita recognized commonalities between women and saw pieces of her experience in my colleagues and acquaintances. One of her best memories from her Fulbright was when she wrote her thesis for her Doctorate in France. She wrote the entire thesis in French and defended it to receive a degree. She thinks it was an important moment in proving her abilities internationally and showing that there are Americans who can be smart and achieve the high standards set by the French. It is these accomplishments that led Rita to serve as the United States representative to the UN Commissions on Human Rights and to serve as the United States delegation to the 24th Un General Assembly, among a long list of other accomplishments.
Gwendolyn Willis-Darpoh, Ph.D.
Gwen is a lifelong educator who seeks to expand access for marginalized students. She identifies with them, as it was her own experiences of marginalization as a student of color that led Gwen to work with this population, first as a special education teacher, and later, a professor. Gwen pursued her Ph.D. at the University of Pittsburgh. She applied to the Nigeria Fulbright Program while working at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. With a desire to help teachers learn how to bring multiculturalism into education spaces better, she carries what she learned from her time in Nigeria to educate others. She notes feeling like she was home and talks about the power of being in a place where everyone looked like her.
She later completed a second Fulbright to Germany. Gwen had studied the German language in elementary and high school and was able to practice speaking the language again during her Fulbright while there. She has fond memories of her adventures in Germany and laughs, thinking of the first time she had a Radler. You can hear the awe in her voice when she speaks about seeing the efforts to restore the Dresden Frauenkirche after the World War II bombing.
Her key takeaway from her Fulbright exchanges is her understanding of the importance of intercultural communication and respect, which became a lifelong pursuit in her career. Since then, she has Co-Founded the International Association for Blended Learning, an international non-profit organization. She’s also involved in educational projects in Ghana, where her husband is from originally. Having traveled the world, she recognizes the freedom that American women have, but realizes there is still much work to be done. Women in America have access to learn and earn, and that is something she does not take for granted. It is these lessons that have continued to expand the way Gwen sees herself in community with others globally.
Today we are celebrating Janice, a United States native who has worked in international education managing programs in the East Asian Pacific. Janice was an English Teaching Assistant in Malaysia in 2012. She selected Malaysia because she was interested in learning about how their three main racial groups were working together effectively as she had seen racial tensions within the United States. As an artist, the different styles of art in Malaysia intrigued her as well. One of her favorite Fulbright memories includes a celebratory practice where people are covered in flour, water, and raw eggs. When she first heard of the practice, she didn’t fully understand it. Once Janice’s Fulbright was complete, her students covered her in flour, water, and raw egg to celebrate the time that she had spent there teaching and learning. She speaks fondly of building a relationship with her students that brought them to celebrate her in this way and to see the tradition come to life.
She notes how her Fulbright was a primary reason that she got into the field of international education. She saw her Fulbright as a character-building experience and one that taught her about her global identity as a person of color. She’s learned the importance of supporting study abroad students, international students, and bringing the perspective of working overseas to everything she does. Living in a different culture taught her about traditional gender roles, freedom, and independence. It also helped her better define the kind of woman she wanted to be. In that spirit, she has used her experience to change how she thinks about access and identity, bringing a confident curiosity to all that she does.