“Who do you think is the better candidate for the Fulbright Scholarship: you or your twin sister Hellen?”
This is the question that one member of the Fulbright Selection Committee asked one of us over two decades ago during the interview stage of the selection process in our country, Costa Rica.
The answer: “Well, I think that we shouldn’t be judged on the basis of our twin relationship but rather on the basis of our qualifications as “Fulbright Material.”
That simple question may have well paved the way for what was going to become the most spectacular and extraordinary ride of our lives thus far: The Fulbright Ride. Ever since we were born, we have had to face the often-uncomfortable discourse people use when talking to twins: Which one is the nicest? Which one is the smartest? Which one is the strongest? Thus, when confronted with the question regarding which one of us was a better candidate, we simply answered what we had learned from our parents early on in our lives: “We are both nice, we are both smart, we are both strong” and as of August 28th, 1990 we are both Fulbrighters!
We both applied to the same year, the same university, and the same program. We knew it was a long shot. Thus, when we were told that we had been accepted, we were thrilled, deeply grateful, and strongly committed to giving our very best 24/7. It was then that our Fulbright Journey truly began; we wanted to give our very best, and we wanted to learn about what every country, and every culture had to offer. The Fulbright seeds of excellence, commitment, mutual understanding, and respect were already planted; the germination of those seeds depended on us.
When we joined the “Fulbright Family” in 1990, we were fully aware of the relevance and prestige of the Fulbright Program; yet, little did we know that what started as a prestigious scholarship award would become a life-changing event that has impacted and continues to impact our lives, our country, our world!
The Ohio University in Athens was our next destination. The Linguistics Department at Gordy Hall was going to be our home for the two following years. The first day of classes (September 1990) was a real eye-opener. We walked into the classroom, and had it not been for the desks, the board and the professor, we would have thought we were in a session at the United Nations. There were students from Saudi Arabia, Japan, Argentina, China, Turkey, Palestine, Colombia, Swaziland, and the United States. An academic excellence scholarship has given us the opportunity to pursue graduate studies in Linguistics. Yet, the Fulbright Scholarship granted us the opportunity to learn about the world, its peoples, and its cultures. The Fulbright Scholarship was, has been, and will always be our bridge to the world: a better world.
The vast array of nationalities fostered a multicultural atmosphere in which students, and professors alike exchanged views, experiences, customs, and languages. Social, and cultural ties were strengthened, geographical borders disappeared, and friendships were created: It was indeed “The Fulbright Experience” at its best. When we first walked into the classroom in 1990, we saw a score of desks with people representing geographical locations. When we left Ohio two years later, after completing our Master’s Degree in Linguistics, we bid farewell to scores of close friends from all over the world.
The Fulbright experience turned what used to be distant and unknown countries into close and dear friends. Each geographical location now matched a friendly face, and THAT is the essence of the Fulbright Program.
We could go on and on about the Fulbright Program and its impact in our lives, our country, our world; yet we believe that what is truly essential is the impact the Fulbright Program: study abroad, learn about other people’s culture, respect their differences, cherish their similarities, and then, once you are back in your own country, transmit your knowledge to others, create a multiplying effect of mutual understanding, and help create a BETTER world.
Isn’t that what Senator Fulbright envisioned all along?
Evelyn Aguilar-Murillo – Fulbright to Costa Rica 1990