Checking in with Robin Whitford, Fulbright Scholar in Hungary

The next issue of Simpson Magazine will focus on studying abroad and will feature the experiences of a few of the hundreds of graduates and current students who have learned about other cultures firsthand.

It’s the reason why Simpson is listed as one of the top 100 colleges in the nation by US News and World Report for the highest percentage of students traveling abroad.

We thought this would be a good time to check in with one of those Study Abroad veterans, Robin Whitford, ’11, who is currently a Fulbright Scholar in Hungary.

 

What are you doing these days?  

Robin: For my Fulbright scholarship, I’m part-time in two places. I teach at the University of Debrecen. This semester I’m teaching two sections of an Advanced Writing and Composition course, which I absolutely love. It’s easy to complain about the thousands of papers we have to write in college, but writing is so important. That’s even clearer to me now that I’m conveying ideas to non-native speakers.

For the other part of my scholarship I work at the American Corner Debrecen. It’s funded by the U.S. Department of State in connection with the University of Debrecen. American Corners are based on spreading information about the United States. We also work with EducationUSA to spread information to those who would like to study in the U.S.

You studied abroad in London in 2009. Had you been overseas before that trip?

Robin: Yes. I opted out of my high school Spanish class trip to Costa Rica to go to Taipei, Taiwan instead. I had cousins teaching there who planned to leave that year and said I should come visit before they left. It felt like a now or never thing. I was really surprised how enthusiastic my parents were – probably because they knew one of my sisters would go with me! I remember bringing up the subject to my Mom, in a “isn’t that a crazy idea that will never happen” kind of way. She thought it was an awesome idea. She said I should go if I really wanted to. That was helpful when I brought up wanting to go to London.

What impact did studying in London have?

Robin: Going to London with that Simpson group was one of the best decisions ever. It taught me a lot about balance. I was in London with a bunch of amazing people, but I still had lots of work for classes. I wanted to do and see everything, which meant a lot of time management. It was so different being in England because of all the things our cultures have in common – as well as the differences. One of the biggest impacts was the kind of independence we had on the trip. You’ve got to make sure your priorities are in order, because you’ll be on the plane back home before you realize. Since I’ve been in Hungary, I’ve learned that lesson all over again!

Is studying abroad valuable?  

Robin: If you’re going to live in the real world you’ve got to understand how diverse the world actually is. The cultures, the histories, the people, the ideas, the experiences….If you really want to make a difference in people’s lives, at least try to understand them first. Understand that your world is absolutely not the only world. We may have a lot of shared history and culture with the United Kingdom, but London is such a massive, international city. You can see how delicate this balance is; you can really start appreciating how important it is to treat people like people. We forget that.

What else did you learn?

Robin: Traveling abroad can show us that appreciation of diversity can be forgotten on campuses, too. If you’re born in the Midwest, raised in the Midwest, go to college in the Midwest (like I was and did), and plan to live and work and plant more roots in the Midwest, it might be easy to expect everyone else to behave and believe like you do. Traveling abroad and experiencing something completely new will be a time you’ll never forget and that will broaden your life for the better.

 

What have you learned about yourself during your Fulbright experience?

Robin: I have found that I really love teaching. It’s great, because for the last few years I’ve been considering graduate school for literature to eventually teach. But it’s also creating a huge challenge for me. I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do after this experience, but I’m more aware than ever that teaching is something you really have to love, and love enough to deal with all the drama that comes with it. If not, you’ll be miserable and make your students miserable. I’d never trade this experience, but it’s definitely making my decision post-Fulbright more difficult.

How well did Simpson prepare you for this?

Robin: I’m so grateful that my Simpson professors demanded so much from me. They made me demand a lot from myself. Aside from working hard in class, the out-of-class relationships with my professors really shaped who I am. It was one of my favorite things about Simpson that I could wander into a professor’s office and have some great conversations and joke around, too. They supported and encouraged me, but they really pushed me, too. Pushed me to think deeper, consider other sides, write better and just be better. I definitely wouldn’t be here if not for them. My work studies really prepared me, too. I felt really devoted to the people I worked with at the athletic center and as a writing tutor at my beloved Hawley Center.

What advice would you give a Simpson student who is thinking about a Study Abroad experience?

Robin: Do it! You can’t understand how it will change your life, or where it will take you in the future. Why not Study Abroad with Simpson? They’ll even help you with the logistics.

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