Not one but four times I applied for my Fulbright award. Only one from 14 annual awards was given to the communication and arts fields’ candidates. Imagine how intense the competition was!
I recall jumping in the air when I received the congratulatory letter getting the Fulbright. Perseverance had paid off. I had just applied for tenure at Universidad de Lima where I was an assistant professor in the Communications School.
Coming from a chaotic and buzzing metropolis like Lima to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a campus in the middle of corn and soy fields, was quite a change.
My first four months in the American Midwest were exhilarating. But towards Thanksgiving my culture shock had manifested more visibly. I remember when I was asked if we had French fries in Peru. “We invented the potatoes,” I answered with a chuckle. Thank God I have a sense of humor, so useful to lighten up some exchanges.
Before departing Peru we were told we shouldn’t discuss politics, sex and religion. But being a journalist and an artist, I couldn’t go through life without considering all subjects. Besides, I am curious. As a Fulbrighter I had also been awarded the opportunity to inform, discuss and share everything I knew. It was my duty to absorb everything so I could share it. That’s how I could really foster intercultural understanding.
I got back to Lima to my tenured teaching job and a newly Design Director position at El Comercio, the main Peruvian daily. They called me “the guy from the United States,” how funny! Fulbright and other contacts I made in the U.S. had opened such a singular opportunity. I redesigned the paper establishing a visual culture and starting the digital infographics revolution in Peru. I also renovated my teaching in my Alma Mater. My Fulbright experience was influencing my work.
Two and a half years later, the Tribune Co. relocated me to Chicago to art direct its publication in Spanish. Then I moved to the Detroit Free Press as a features designer where I also wrote stories with a Latino angle, always with the goal to share my original culture. In 2005 I went back to academia to teach visual journalism at Columbia College Chicago. There, besides my main expertise, I have taught Reporting in Spanish; my students have had over 60 stories published by the professional media. I have also taken students three times to Peru while teaching Travel Writing. The exchange continues.
I needed to give back to the local community. Since 2008 I have been a board member of the Chicago Chapter of the Fulbright Association managing its blog and organizing dozens of events for association members and foreign Fulbright students and scholars. In 2013 I was presented with the Fulbright Dee Sarelas Service Award for “the significant impact on the development of internationalism for the Fulbright Association and the Chicagoland community.” In 2017 I was named Fulbright Faculty Liaison to promote the program in my university.
Fulbright opened my eyes to a world that I keep exploring. Next year I will be teaching at Universidad de Málaga in Spain through a Fulbright Senior Award. I guess I am a “senior” now.
If I were to succinctly describe myself I’d say: I am a native Peruvian, naturalized US citizen, and a Fulbright scholar. That’s how much it means to me.
Elio Leturia – Fulbright to USA 1990