La Salle University Senior Claire Fisher has received a Fulbright Grant to teach English for a year in Azerbaijan.
“I was very excited when I heard the news [about receiving a Fulbright Grant] but also very relieved, as I was becoming very stressed,” said Fisher, a double major in Economics and International Studies and Political Science who was named the top Economics graduate at La Salle this year. She has also been accepted to several graduate schools and had to inform them of her going to Azerbaijan for a year.
“My academic interests are the economics and politics of transition, and the current political and economic development that countries in the former Soviet Union are undergoing,” said Fisher, as Azerbaijan used to be a part of Soviet Union. “I find Russia’s history and culture incredibly interesting, but I am now more interested in Central Asia and the Caucuses, as well as Russia’s relations with those countries.”
Last summer, Fisher received a fellowship to study Russian at the University of Pittsburgh’s Slavic and Eastern European Languages Department, where she had class five days a week for five hours a day. She then traveled to Russia to continue with language classes at Moscow State University for five weeks.
“It was challenging because my Russian was not fluent, but I learned a lot about the culture of Russia and picked up a lot of Russian as well as more confidence in my ability to speak with native speakers,” said Fisher. “My favorite part of the experience was visiting all of the historical sites I had learned about in Russian history class. What I gained from the experience was an increased world view which helped to shape my current academic interests.”
For this year’s Fulbright Grant competition, there were 9,700 applicants for 1,600 grants.
In 2011, La Salle University along with the Honors program formed a committee of professors to encourage and assist students with the Fulbright application process. Fisher was assigned a mentor, Dr. Bernhardt Blumenthal, Chair of the Foreign Language and Literature Dept., to help her with the process.
“Over the summer [of 2011], I had to work on drafts of a Personal Statement and a Statement of Purpose and fill out an extensive online application. I sent the essay to Dr. Blumenthal and Dr. Michael Boyle (assistant professor of Political Science), who was my unofficial mentor, and they critiqued them, and I re-wrote them about three times,” said Fisher, who lives in Harleysville, Pa.
“My personal statement explained my reasons for wanting to do the Fulbright as well as what qualities and background I have that would benefit the host country,” said Fisher. “My statement of purpose focused on my qualifications for teaching English, such as my job as a writing tutor and my majors. The statement of purpose also included my plans to volunteer at a non-government organization that works on economic development and women’s economic empowerment.”
Fisher will start teaching in Azerbaijan in October and finish in June. She also is re-applying to Master’s programs in Russian, East European and Eurasian studies. She had been accepted at Harvard University, Indiana University-Bloomington, and the University of Michigan.
“I am very excited to have the opportunity to live and work somewhere completely new for nine months,” said Fisher. She received a Title VIII Fellowship to study Russian at Indiana University-Bloomington in June and July. “I hope to spend the summer preparing by reading as much as I can about the history, culture, and current events of Azerbaijan and also hopefully starting to learn a little bit of the language. I think it will be very important for my future career to have such extensive in-country and language experience. It will be very difficult to be away from my family, friends, and fiancé, but I think the experience will be worth it in the end.”
Outside the classroom, Fisher was a writing tutor, worked for two years as a research assistant for the Economics Department, interned at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia in the summer 2010, and is Head Copy Editor for the Collegian, the University’s student newspaper. She was an active member of the University’s community service club, Circle K, for three years, and interns with Dawn’s Place, a residential yearlong program for women who are survivors of human trafficking.
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program offers fellowships for U.S. graduating college seniors, graduate students, and young professionals to study abroad or teach English for one academic year.