UI student receives Fulbright Grant to study in Bulgaria

UI student Tom Bowman received a Fulbright Grant to travel to Bulgaria to be an English teaching assistant for the next year.

Kelsey Harrell, News Reporter

UI Fulbright scholar Tom Bowman will use his English teaching assistant award to live in Bulgaria and help students further their proficiency in English.

Bowman will live in Bulgaria until the end of June. While he is there, he will work in a high-school classroom and help students prepare for a national speech and debate tournament through the Bulgarian English Speech Tournament Foundation. He will also work with students to prepare for spelling competitions and teach private speaking lessons.

“My interest in working in international affairs caused me to pursue a Fulbright Grant in teaching,” Bowman said. “I wanted to experience what it’s like to work in a country where the language is not familiar to me.”

Karen Wachsmuth, the Fulbright Program adviser for the UI, helped Bowman through his journey to receiving the grant. She works with students from the time they are merely thinking about applying for a Fulbright to the time they submit their applications.

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Wachsmuth works with students to put together their professional and personal qualifications. She helped Bowman write drafts for his application essays and put him in contact with faculty members who were Fulbright mentors to talk to him about where he should apply.

Wachsmuth said 15 to 25 percent of the Fulbright Grant is grounded in community engagement, because those who receive the award are expected to become involved in the community in the country they study in. The program wants someone who will interact with people and do service in the community, she said.

“Tom was already a tremendous student with a lot of international coursework and was very involved on campus,” Wachsmuth said. “I directed him to think about how a Fulbright might be the next step in what he wanted to do.”

UI Ambassador in Residence Ronald McMullen was one of the UI faculty members who gave Bowman a letter of recommendation, helped coach him through writing his application, and helped him decide which country he wanted to visit.

McMullen aided Bowman in strengthening his position on why he should be selected to go to Bulgaria, given that he didn’t know how to speak Bulgarian and had never been to the country.

Bowman is an avid soccer player, and his role model when it came to the sport was a Bulgarian player. McMullen encouraged Bowman to use this connection in his application.

“When applying for the Fulbright, you have to think, ‘Is this something I want?’ It’s a year out of your life, the application process is long and hard, you’re not guaranteed success even when the application is complete,” McMullen said.

The experience of learning a language that is not commonly spoken by Americans will, hopefully, help in getting a job in the Balkans or anywhere else in the world, Bowman said, and connecting with people from all over the world will be helpful in the future.

“The Fulbright is a pretty prestigious award, and it will help me with applications for graduate school and to other careers,” he said.