“When people hear Fulbright, doors open for you.” That’s what Wen-kuni Ceant, Fulbright alumna to Senegal (2017-2018), told 19 bright students from DC International School (DCI). Wen-kuni, along with fellow Fulbright alumni Ashley Morefield (Côte d’Ivoire 2018-2019), Mycal Ford (Taiwan 2012-2013), and Leland Lazarus (Panama 2013-2014), shared their Fulbright stories with these 9th and 10th graders.
It was part of the Fulbright Association’s “Fulbright in the Classroom” (FIC) initiative, where alumni across the nation encourage students from diverse backgrounds to consider studying abroad, learning languages, and applying for Fulbright later on in their academic journey.
DCI was the perfect host, given its mission to create global citizens through advanced language learning, student agency, and the International Baccalaureate curriculum. DCI is the only IB-for-all, advanced language public school in Washington, DC, and serves a diverse student body of middle and high school students. The goal is that, by the time the students graduate, they will be fluent in Mandarin, Spanish, or French.
“Because international mindedness is the cornerstone of our academic programming, Fulbright in the Classroom was an amazing opportunity for DCI students to learn about the benefits of studying abroad, learning languages and traveling internationally,” said Ezra Miller, DCI’s IB Diploma Program Coordinator. “Many of our students want to pursue careers in global politics and international relations, but prior to the Fulbright in the Classroom event, they were unaware of the many awards and fellowships available through the Fulbright Program. We are so grateful to the Fulbright alumni who visited our school and shared their stories with the DCI community!”
Wen-kuni shared her own journey, coming from Miami, graduating from Howard and Drexel universities, before applying for her Fulbright to Senegal, where she researched that country’s public health infrastructure. She remembered how a specific faculty member provided constant mentorship for her throughout the long application process. “Make sure you seek out mentors who will pour into you and really help you succeed,” she advised. Wen-kuni is also the Co-Founder of Politicking, an organization that encourages young people to get out the vote. “Voting is one of the greatest things you can do as a citizen of this country,” she stressed.
Mycal Ford shared stories of cross-cultural misunderstandings during his time living in Asia. “When I first traveled to Japan, my host family served me tea, but I thought it was too hot and not sweet enough, so I asked for ice cubes and sugar”, he explained. At that time, my sense of cultural awareness was quite limited. When he lived in China, many of his Chinese friends just assumed that he was good at basketball, just because he’s Black. “For me, it was always an opportunity to change local people’s idea about what an American can look like,” he added. Mycal, who leads an organization called the Black China Caucus, also encouraged students to consider other exchange programs, including the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y), Critical Language Scholarship, and the Boren Fellowship.
Ashley Morefield discussed her academic journey from Dickinson College, spending a year studying in France, and traveling all across Europe, all covered by her university. “Make sure that you do a study abroad program that is covered by your student aid,” she advised. Ashley did her Fulbright in Côte’d’Ivoire teaching English, and she is now a graduate student at Georgetown University and a Thomas R. Pickering Fellow, which means she will become a U.S. Foreign Service Officer upon graduation. Ashley is also one of the chairs of the executive leadership of Fulbright Noir, an Affinity group established to support Black Fulbrighters.
Leland Lazarus began his presentation to the rapt audience with a Chinese proverb: a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. He went on to share each step in his own journey: teaching English in Panama on his Fulbright, receiving the Pickering Fellowship and serving as a U.S. diplomat in China and the Caribbean, working in the Department of Defense, and now leading a team as an Associate Director at Florida International University. Along the way he visited remote areas in China, encouraged young people in both China and the Caribbean to study in the U.S., and met stars like Jackie Chan and Rihanna. “You hear all of our backgrounds and stories of traveling around the world,” he said, “but remember that we all started just like each of you. It all begins with a single step; with what you’re all doing right now at DCI, you’ve already made that first step.”