by Pamela Young, Published June 03, 2014
YPSILANTI: Despite growing up in the rural town of Smithville, Ohio, Elaine Gurich dreamed big by traveling overseas numerous times. Now, the recent Eastern Michigan University graduate begins another phase in her life and it again involves traveling overseas while representing the U.S.
Gurich has won a prestigious U. S. State Department’s student Fulbright scholarship and will teach English to German students ages 16-21 for an academic year.
The Fulbright program, named after Senator J. William Fulbright, was established in 1946 by the U.S. Congress to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and other countries. The program is considered the nation’s premier academic exchange.
The program offers U.S. students an opportunity to teach or conduct research abroad for an academic year. The grant covers their travel, insurance and a living stipend. Students apply for the country of their choice. Gurich chose Germany to build on her previous experience in the country and her language skills. She recently graduated from Eastern Michigan with honors, majoring in music and German language and literature.
Gurich starts her new position Sept. 1 at the Theodor-Heuss School, a vocational school in Wetzlar, in the state of Hessen, near Frankfurt. In addition to teaching, she plans to take courses at Justus Liebig University in Giessen, where she studied abroad last winter.
There are a lot of things I like about Germany,” Gurich said. “I like how the culture varies from region to region, and I primarily like the trains. I’m ready to turn in my van keys for train tickets.”
“A Fulbright year abroad is a life-changing experience," said Carla Damiano, professor of German, who coordinates the Fulbright applications at Eastern Michigan. “It’s a prestigious scholarship because it is a springboard into graduate school and a job.”
“This competition was pretty competitive,” Gurich said. “I found out in January that I made it to the top 395 applications from around the country. The second round was sending the information to the host countries’ programs for approval.
“Out of those applicants, only 140 students were offered grants. I was surprised even though people kept telling me that there was no way that I wouldn’t get it.”
The actual process of applying for a Fulbright takes time. Students apply for the grant starting in May before their senior year. It’s a long process because winners are required to have a bachelor’s degree.
"I hope to see more students apply this year,” Damiano said. “ I look forward to guiding them through the submission process."
This year’s competition opened May 1. Judges look for resumes that are broad in scope, such as being an active volunteer in church or participating in a foreign language club on campus. A one-page narrative is also required.
Eastern Michigan University was named one of the Fulbright Scholarship’s “Top Producers” for the 2011-2012 academic year by the Institute of International Education and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
The designation is awarded to universities that are among the top producers of Fulbright scholarships in their academic category. Eastern Michigan was ranked eleventh out of only fourteen universities in the Master’s Institutions category for the number of awards received.
Eastern’s students have a successful track program for Fulbright awards, Damiano said, and they don’t have to be honor students.
“It’s who you are as a full person, and the judges need to know you can handle being abroad,” Damiano said. “Our students have character and goals and are passionate about going abroad. Fulbright students are ambassadors to the United States.”
“I didn’t think I was special enough or had enough unique things on my application to be considered,” Gurich said. “It turns out I was wrong and my experiences over the years had given me a competitive edge. It’s nice to know that hard work does pay off – even if it takes a while to see it.”
Although Gurich doesn’t know what her future will bring, she hopes to use German in her career plans.
“It’s been such a big part of my academic career, that it would be heartbreaking not to use it ,” she said.
Gurich added, “EMU’s German program is special. There are a lot of people willing to help you. I had support from the German department faculty as well as fellow students I met through the German club, tutoring or through other students of German. I feel like they (the faculty) have pushed me out of my comfort zone in just the right ways.”