Sitting at Fort Rosecrans Cemetery , she looked out at the skyline of the city that had become home. Life is good in San Diego—the stunning waters, the diversity of the city and weather that never drops below 65 degrees. Senior International Studies major, Megan Christensen, was not sure she was ready to leave.
Christensen had received an unexpected email that morning. It was not an email she had any warning about, nor an email she wanted at the time. Fear was the first feeling Christensen felt on March 20.
“The Fulbright Program is designed to build relationships between people of the United States and people of other countries that are necessary to solve global challenges,” said Elaine Clayton, U.S. Department of State public affairs specialist. “Students and early career professionals are able to spend an academic year in a foreign country interacting with local communities and teaching, researching or studying something that they are passionate about.”
Since its founding in 1946, the Fulbright Grant has been given to 325,400 people from the United States, according to their website. Fulbright alumni include poet Sylvia Plath and artist Jack Levine.
After attending a Microfinance Summit with PLNU and visiting Mexico City in August of 2014, Christensen felt the desire to return to Mexico City to begin to understand the culture further.
“There are so many cities in [Mexico City]. You feel like you’re in a different place when you’re in different neighborhoods,” said Christensen.
Although only in Mexico City for 48 hours, Christensen was enchanted by the diversity of the city and its culture.
“I had been thinking about [Fulbright] all summer. But after visiting Mexico City, I knew I had to do it. So I contacted Dr. Cordileone,” said Christensen.
The extensive application consists of an online form, two personal essays and an on-campus interview. Diana Reynolds-Cordileone, PLNU’s Fulbright adviser since 2000 and grant recipient to Vienna, assisted Christensen with her personal statements and the application.
“The application process gets busy and demanding. Crafting the ‘Personal Essay’ and ‘Grant Purpose’ is a difficult process and we have to keep working at it until we find the applicant’s voice and message,” said Cordileone via e-mail. “Megan was great to work with because she continued to work with her essays; she did not sit back and say, ‘This is good enough.’”
Christensen submitted her application and heard nothing. No “Thank you for your application.” No encouraging junk emails.
Nothing until February.
Christensen received an email from Fulbright with a set time for a Skype interview three weeks in advance with the Fulbright staff in Mexico City.
As she sat in her mother’s office, that of Rebecca Laird, in Smee Hall the day of her interview, Christensen made sure to tie back her hair to ensure she wouldn’t play with it—a product of nerves. The clock’s hands neared the hour of interview. And when the clock struck, there was no incoming call.
10 minutes passed. 15 minutes. Now 20 minutes.
Just as she was about to take out her ponytail, a Skype message appeared on the screen.
“Hola Megan, estás lista?” was her first interaction with Fulbright.
Rosco Williamson, chair of the Department of History and Political Science, is Christensen’s adviser.
“Lots of people want to ‘see the world,’ but fewer want to stop and become a part of it, he said via e-mail. “Megan has always been deeply interested in how people live in a variety of cultures.”
Driving away from the cemetery and thinking about the email she had received that morning, Christensen knew the answer to her life after PLNU.
“I was scared to go away,” she said. “I was scared of the expectation Fulbright brings. I know fear is what made me so scared to say ‘yes’ to Fulbright because I am so comfortable here. But as I process it, I get more and more excited. I have no idea what’s going to happen.