Fulbright spotlight: Unwanaabasi Abasiurua ’21

The Fulbright English Teaching Award provides practical experience and transformative cultural exchange for this Mount Holyoke College alum.

After graduating from Mount Holyoke, Unwanaabasi Abasiurua ‘21 moved to Andorra to embark on her Fulbright English Teaching Award (ETA). Life in Andorra has allowed Abasiurua to gain the kind of valuable experience with teaching and languages that will move her toward her career goals, and, what’s more, it grants opportunities for cultural exchange that have proven transformative.

Abasiurua provided insight into how a fellowship can be a uniquely valuable experience and gave advice on preparing a solid application.

How does a Fulbright ETA in Andorra connect to your goals?

I’ve always taught informally; I taught my youngest brother to read and love to educate others. Fulbright provides a formal, practical experience through which I can hone my teaching skills since I didn’t pursue teacher licensure at MHC. And since Andorra is a multilingual country, I am able to improve my French and Spanish. I eventually want to get into translating on a large and official scale, so being able to understand the culture and the nuances of the languages is indispensable.

What have you found most valuable about participating in a fellowship in another country?

In addition to language exposure, Fulbright is also a cultural exchange, and there are numerous ways in which this experience allows for self-exploration. As I have navigated the wildly different and sometimes challenging Andorran education system, there have been so many people who have brought me into their fold, ensured I was being supported, and taken the time to get to know me, despite my contract being for only a year. In addition, I have been able to give and receive love and observe different emotions in ways that aren’t often seen in U.S. society, and that has been eye-opening and transformative. These days I’m focusing on enjoying moments with friends and doing all the things I’ve wanted to do without reservation. I’ve been trying out new hobbies like downhill skiing and rock climbing! All in all, I think this experience has helped make me a more vulnerable, strong and daring person.

What was the most challenging aspect of the application process, and how did you overcome it?

I was most challenged by essay writing as I had not yet honed that skill as much as I would have liked. I am immensely thankful to Ryan Lewis, fellowships advisor, who worked with me to plan each aspect of my application and ensured my essays were as good as possible. My fellowships team — professors and mentors who could speak to different aspects of who I am — provided feedback throughout the process. Together, they helped me think about my “why” and articulate the reasons I wanted the fellowship, helping to ensure I had a competitive application.

I would advise others to go for a fellowship! Make sure you plan well, gather the support of your community and work to determine your “why” and the strengths you bring to the specific program. As they say, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, so it’s best to pursue multiple opportunities. Regardless of which one you choose, it will open you up to new and probably unexpected experiences that will influence your career trajectory and, most importantly, you!