Newest Fulbright winner credits study abroad with her success
Louisville native Maria Kennedy ’11, Centre’s most recent recipient of a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship, has exceptionally grand plans for her future. Helping ready her for achieving her many goals, she says, is Centre College.
First on her agenda is a year as a Fulbright Scholar in Vietnam, where she will be working as an English Teaching Assistant at a Vietnamese university.
“In my spare time,” she says, “I’ll be immersing myself in Vietnamese culture. I hope to do this by learning to play several Vietnamese instruments, joining a choir and simply befriending Vietnamese students and letting them show me around their beautiful country.”
Because she has had such strong preparation for life abroad, she says, she will be prepared to meet the challenges ahead.
“At its core, living abroad is about exposing yourself to new ideas and ways of life,” she says. “By emphasizing global citizenship—through such things as its study abroad program, unique class offerings and Norton Center performances—Centre introduces its students to those ideas and cultures, preparing us for success not only on the national level but the global level as well.”
The history major has been involved in a myriad of clubs and organizations during her four years on campus. She has worked at the College’s Writing Center, was a founder of the Art House (living-learning community dedicated to promoting the arts on campus), served as a senior representative to the Student Government Association and helped bring about the passage of a Medical Amnesty Policy, something she says “the College has needed for some time but had not yet implemented. I, along with the rest of the Student Affairs Committee, worked very hard on that, and I’m hopeful that it will protect future Centre students.”
In the spring of 2009, Kennedy studied abroad with the Centre-in-London program, where she took courses about Shakespeare, British politics, U.S. history and the cultural influence of museums.
“The highlight of the trip for me was seeing Pete Postlethwaite play the title character in King Lear—a magnificent performance and one I’ll never forget,” she says. “The fish and chips weren’t bad, either!”
Having spent three months abroad, Kennedy is eager to head back overseas, and she says she chose Vietnam as her next home “because I feel it’s one of the countries Americans most need to improve their attitude towards. Vietnam is a country, not a war, but many Americans conflate Vietnam the country with Vietnam the war, forgetting that it has its own distinct culture and cherished values. I hope to change this perception upon returning to the United States.”
Of the many new adventures she looks forward to, immersing herself in a vastly different culture from her own is at the top of her list.
“While Western European cultures are certainly different than American culture, we share far more political, social and economic similarities with those cultures than we do Vietnam. The chance to depart from that framework, the framework I’ve come to take for granted as an American, is really exciting—and a little intimidating!”
After completing her Fulbright year, Kennedy will return to the States to teach high school social studies in Kansas City, Missouri, as a corps member of Teach For America, the national organization that seeks to eliminate educational inequity in the United States.
“I decided to join TFA because I, like Centre, firmly believe that someone’s socio-economic background should not preclude them from obtaining an excellent education. TFA particularly inspired me because its corps members go on to help close the achievement gap in a myriad of professional sectors, such as law, policy, medicine and education.”
And after that?
“I’m not sure, and I like it that way,” she says. “I’m willing to follow wherever the road of life takes me.”