Photo courtesy of Dana Huffer
Rebecca Manseau and Dana Huffer (C’15), a future Fulbright researcher and English teaching assistant, have officially become a part of the Fulbright Program, of which fifty-three members have won Nobel Prizes while seventy-eight have won Pulitzer Prizes. Of 8,000 grants annually provided to graduate students, two of this year’s participants are from Sewanee, a great honor and privilege for the diligent recipients.
After she discovered her Photo courtesy of Lai So Lyn passion for asylum politics, Rebecca Manseau (C’15) applied for the Fulbright with hopes to conduct research for at least a year. “I knew I wanted to do something on immigration, and I came across this term of ‘compassion fatigue.’ It’s the idea that people eventually get tired of helping other people, especially with these humanitarian crises. In the news, we’re inundated with all these tragedies. What do you do after a while when you feel like you can’t help people? It’s generally used in psychology as a term of study, but I came across it in Politics of Human Rights by Sabine C. Carey, Mark Gibney, and Steven C. Poe. I was thinking more about German politics, and there have been recent movements even since I applied for the Fulbright. There have been resistance movements against asylum applicants. They say, ‘We’re tired of taking these people on.’ When I was coming across the term of ‘compassion fatigue’… it really helped hone my focus.”
When she returns to Germany, Manseau will pursue immigration policy research at a University: “I’ll be based in Berlin, working with a professor who focuses on domestic German politics. I’m doing both archival research and interviewing members of the German Bundestag Parliament about policy that has to do with immigration, specifically asylum politics so that people who come to Germany, declare asylum, and are seeking safety from being politically persecuted. The research has to do with changing policy within the coming years with economic asylum, so those escaping dire poverty can come to Germany.”
During her application process, she realized how important the Biehl internship was to her focus. “What was most instrumental [to my experience] was the Biehl… It was a pivotal point because I interviewed a man, and it was one of the most moving interviews I had while I was there. This man had escaped from Turkey, where he was tortured in prison. He was actually a member of the PKK (The Kurdistan Workers’ Party), a terrorist organization recognized by the U.S, and he was a journalist. He and his family were actually about to be arrested by the police, and his son was holding onto his leg while the police officer was trying to arrest him, saying, ‘Don’t take my dad, don’t take my dad.’
The police officer said they had ten days to leave the country. So they went by foot through Europe to get to Germany, and he was staying there underground, and the immigration police found them. He has now declared asylum… He has a whole new life now. That, to me, was so moving and so amazing to go from one little corner of the world to somewhere else, to have an entirely new life, one that allows you to do whatever you want. And it’s not like he was living in the lap of luxury, but he was free to pursue his own interests. It was a moving story, and after that I got really interested in asylum politics.”
Dr. Mila Dragojevic said, “Rebecca took my writing intensive class Ethnicity and Political Violence, where she demonstrated her dedication to research and to academic excellence. She also worked on an independent research project that built on her previous research interest in immigration policy in Europe. She developed this research interest as a result of her previous research trip to Germany. All of this previous experience and her focus on this topic for several years contributed to her success in winning the Fulbright.”
Huffer, on the other hand, will be an English teaching assistant in Russia. Although he originally received a letter delivering the news that he was an alternate, on Monday, April 13, he discovered he was moved from the alternate list to an official recipient of the prestigious scholarship: “I found out on April 3 that I was an alternate. I was in another program, and I was getting ready to get set up with them,” he says. “Then, I was in Nashville with my girlfriend, and I was at a Decemberists concert, and I checked my phone ‘cause apparently there was something at the Russian House earlier that day where there was a clogged toilet. I wasn’t there, so I was like, ‘Oh great, this is wonderful.’ So Dr. Preslar messages me, and he says ‘Dana!’ and I thought, oh my gosh, it’s about the toilet issue… He said, ‘Check your email. You got the Fulbright.’ It was literally fifteen minutes before the concert started, and we had a great time. It was a total shock because I was resigned to the fact that I wasn’t going to get it.”
“I lived in St. Petersburg for five months… with a Russian family, and they became like a second set of parents. By the time I left, I definitely felt like I had grown up there because my family was so great. I also taught English in Ryazan, but I’ve traveled all around Russia in the meantime, since I had time to travel around last summer.”
During the application process, he says, “One of the highlights for me was writing the essays for it. They’re incredibly tough essays to write: they’re one-page, single space, 12-point font, standard margins. And you basically have to describe how your whole life leads up to a Fulbright in one page… I went to my academic advisor, Dr. Elizabeth Skomp, and she was incredibly helpful.” After he submitted his rigorous application, he played the “waiting game”: “From October until January, it’s kind of nerve-wracking. You can’t let it eat your conscience. In January, I found out I got through the second stage, the American portion, and at that point your application goes to the country you applied to.”
His first Russian class, taught by Dr. Preslar, introduced him to the possibility of declaring a major in Russian: “I’ve always been interested in Russian history, but I never studied the actual language. I sort of taught myself the alphabet as a senior in high school when I discovered the poetry of Yevgeny Yevtushenko.” When he got to college, he took Dr. Preslar’s class and fell in love with the language and the department. After spending both a semester abroad and a summer internship in Russia, he fell in love with the challenge of living in a new environment. “I’m one of those people who craves being in places that are different. You can say I live on first-world problems; I love going places that don’t have Wi-fi. There’s so much in immersing myself in another culture. The unfamiliarity is interesting to me.”
Manseau, who has lived in Germany twice during her college career, looks forward to returning to the sites of the country during her year-long research project on immigration policy in Germany: “There’s park in North Berlin, and I may be sharing an apartment with a friend there. I can’t wait to go back to the park and see the seasons change.” A Politics major, she found her passion during her Biehl internship, which she thanks Elizabeth Wilson for encouraging her to pursue. Huffer, on the other hand, lived in Russia twice during his college career. While living in St. Petersburg, he was inspired by the kindness and hospitality of his host family. He spent late nights talking to his host mother, whom he mentioned as an instrumental part of his development as a Russian major. He thanks his host mother, Asja Amirovna Yazykova, Ned Babbott of Knox College, his parents, his grandfather, Bill Flynn, and Jeremy Rios, who received a Fulbright and encouraged Huffer to apply, for cheering him on during the nerve-wracking process of applying for the scholarship.
When asked to give advice to those pursuing the Fulbright, Huffer said, “It’s very important to show who you are in the application. You can’t pretend to be someone you’re not, and you want to be able to show them what you’re passionate about. Let them know who you are. As for the waiting process, it’s pretty stressful, but if you really stick with it and just keep a Buddha brain about it, it’s a very rewarding experience either way. A third piece of advice is that if you’re on the fence about applying, go ahead and do it. It’s better to try and fail than never to try at all.”
Manseau said, “Really, it has to come from within. You can’t just apply for it and think, ‘It’s just a really prestigious scholarship.’ It should be the epitome of your undergraduate career, and so it’s sort of the tipping point to the next phase of academics. It’s such a great opportunity, and I encourage anyone to apply if they’re really moved by something they want to study or if they want to teach English in another country and be cultural ambassadors.”