This week marks the 19th annual International Education Week (IEW), a joint initiative between the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education, which celebrates and promotes the benefits of international education and exchange programs worldwide. Initially created so that America could inspire its students to travel abroad, IEW now encourages and supports foreign students interested in making the leap to study in the United States. Today, IEW is celebrated in over 100 countries, including New Zealand.
Join us as we profile kiwi student experiences in America this week. Today we chat with Melissa Derby…
Name: Melissa Derby
University: Colorado State University
Location: Fort Collins, Colorado
Course of Study: Visiting Student Researcher
Award Program: Fulbright-Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga Graduate Award
What encouraged you to study abroad?
I was fortunate enough to spend 3 weeks in the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University in 2016, and loved my experience in the US. I was keen to return for a longer period of time so I could learn more about elements of American history, which I see as being of benefit to New Zealand universities and society in general. My PhD supervisor encouraged me to apply for a Fulbright Award, so I did!
Tell us about the Fulbright-Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga Graduate Award How did you hear about the award program?
I attended a seminar at the University of Canterbury in NZ where I learnt about the award program and what it has to offer. I was really excited to apply, and hoped I would be successful. Thankfully, I was, and I am in the USA for one year immersing myself in the culture and lifestyle in Colorado. I am housed in the College of Liberal Arts at Colorado State University, and I’m particularly interested in learning about the history and implications of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 60s. Early in 2019, I will be conducting an extensive research project following the civil rights trail in the south-eastern part of the US. In addition to that, I am putting the finishing touches on my doctoral thesis.
Describe your school/program socially and academically. How does it differ from your studies in New Zealand?
Campus life in the US is really exciting. I am a member of the Fulbright Association at CSU, which is comprised of Fulbright recipients from all over the world. We get together socially, and in a more formal capacity to advance the message of the Fulbright program with regard to creating mutual understanding across cultures. On campus, there is always something going on, and the student body is very active.
What is it like being an international student on campus in America?
I love being an international student in the US. I have had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world – some from countries I had never heard of! We have shared with one another about our home countries and culture, marveled at our differences, and found plenty of common ground. People often laugh at my accent so I have to speak slowly even to people from the US!
What has been your biggest challenge and biggest highlight since living in America?
The biggest challenge was getting used to being in unfamiliar situations. In New Zealand, I take it for granted that I know how things work and what to do. In the US, so much was unfamiliar and it would take time to get things done. Even going to the supermarket takes three times as long because I have to check all the food packaging so thoroughly to make sure I’m buying what I think I’m buying! The highlight has definitely been exploring the country, and connecting with people from all sorts of walks of life. I love learning about other cultures, so the Fulbright orientation was incredible. 55 or so people from 35 or more countries. I was the only one from NZ, and it was wonderful!
What are your plans after the program? How will your time in America help your career?
After I finish my Fulbright, I will return to NZ, and commence an academic career. I will be using the knowledge I have gained in the area of civil rights history to teach about this movement, and how it has immense relevance to our contemporary society. Without my time in the US, I wouldn’t have been able to contribute in this way to the NZ academy and beyond.
What advice can you offer to any students hoping to study abroad or go on exchange in the future?
DO IT! It can feel overwhelming when you come to apply for various exchange programs, and there is a lot of paperwork! But it is worth it. 100% worth it. My time in the USA is already proving to be a life-changing experience.
What is something you wished you would have known before going abroad for study?
That you can’t buy Marmite in the USA! At least not in my town. I can’t really think of anything I wished I had known. Perhaps that time goes so fast, so you have to make the most of every opportunity when it comes up. Get out there and see things, meet people, join in, say yes to the invitations.
Did you engage in any extra-curricular activities, and if so, which ones and why?
Yes, I do quite a bit of hiking, and Colorado is the perfect place for it. I’m also part of the Fulbright Association at CSU, and really enjoy my interactions with other recipients from all over the world. I see these activities as helping me to make friends and to learn about other cultures while being a good ambassador for my own country. I also love the landscape in Colorado, and hiking is the perfect way to get a good study/life balance while surrounding myself with some incredible scenery.
Finish the sentence: I believe international education is important because…
through connecting with other cultures we learn about ourselves, about others, and ultimately come to see our shared humanity – and that can only be a good thing!
Follow #IEW2018 to participate in the virtual conversations happening online around International Education Week.
Additionally, are you thinking about studying in America? There are thousands of opportunities for motivated students! Connect with EducationUSA New Zealand on Facebook (facebook.com/educationusanz) and Twitter (@educationusanz), and be sure to check out our free resources (nz.usembassy.gov) available to help you get started!