The recent Golden Globe Awards ceremony got us thinking about how television programming has evolved…
“I moved to the Virgin Islands. I liked it,” says Eboh, now in the first year of her master’s degree work in the NIU Department of Geography. “I was working as a waitress when the earthquake happened in Haiti. I didn’t experience it, but I knew some Haitians, and I could see the impact on their lives.”
That experience, coupled with her own brush with Hurricane Earl – the island she lived on shut down completely – prompted some personal observations.
Some of her neighbors were quite cautious and prepared, she noticed, buying necessities and fortifying their homes in advance of the big storm. Others did little to prepare for the hurricane, perhaps not perceiving it as a threat or lacking the means to get ready.
Had the hurricane been stronger, she wondered, what would that have meant to those disparate groups?
Eboh is one of the three NIU students who have won prestigious Fulbright grants for the 2016-17 academic year.
All three will travel abroad for research projects or teaching opportunities.
Shannon Thomas, a second-year master’s degree student in anthropology, is headed to the Philippines. Ang Charczuk, who’s graduating this spring with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish, is bound for Spain.
“I’m very overwhelmed but also very honored and excited. I didn’t think it would happen,” Thomas says. “I would encourage anyone to apply for this.”
“It’s absolutely amazing,” Charczuk adds. “I ran downstairs and told all my roommates right away, and then I told everyone I knew. It’s ridiculous. It’s incredible.”
NIU Fulbright Program adviser Valerie Garver calls each of the three “the complete package.”
“I’m ecstatic for them and so proud. They worked so hard on their applications,” says Garver, who is also director of undergraduate studies and associate professor in the Department of History.
“They had to work very hard to get where they are now. It’s not just that they wrote good applications but that they have the kinds of academic records that made them competitive,” Garver adds. “These are three phenomenal students, and among the best students I’ve worked with in my time here.”
Garver, a Fulbright alumna who traveled to Austria as a doctoral student, says the program will provides “a unique opportunity” and “an amazing experience.”
“Fulbright really emphasizes interaction with the local culture – making connections with the people in those countries that are supposed to be long-lasting,” she says. “It can become a kind of lifelong experience in a way. They will presumably maintain those contacts and maybe go back to those countries to work collaboratively.”
Thomas, who leaves for the Philippines in August and will return next May, will spend her time in Palawan. The island of the country’s west coast is “a big hub for tourists” that welcomes about 4 million visitors and their money each year.
But “much of the environmental degradation these native people see is due to that tourism,” said Thomas, who also holds an NIU bachelor’s degree in environmental studies.
“I did an internship in the Philippines right after I finished my undergrad, and I loved the country, the natural areas, the beaches. I saw, unfortunately, a lot of these natural areas being degraded by tourists or from improper environmental management.”
That trip inspired her to link her background in environmental studies with her graduate work in anthropology for her Fulbright application.
“I decided I would focus on indigenous people in a particular area of the Philippines impacted by climate change,” says Thomas, who also found Fulbright encouragement from her adviser, Professor Susan Russell.
“I know from my reading that there are aspects of their natural environment that are sacred to them. I want to know how their cultural practices are helping to preserve their natural environment,” Thomas says. “What are they doing that is inimical to the preservation of their lands? They’re fishermen, so they obviously aren’t going out and damming any of the rivers or polluting. That’s part of their cultural well-being.”
Her new collaborators will accompany her on the eight-hour drive to the research area and make introductions on her behalf.
“It’s difficult being a foreigner and becoming affiliated with people who aren’t used to foreigners. Once they become a little more open to my presence there, I plan to interact with a few key informants – people who feel comfortable talking to me,” Thomas says.
“They don’t speak English, and I do have language capabilities, but I’m not a native speaker. A lot of the people don’t even speak Tagalog. They have their own native dialect.”
After her return to NIU, she will compile and transcribe her data as the basis for not only her report to the Fulbright Program but for her master’s degree thesis as well. She plans to pursue a doctorate in anthropology while continuing research into Filipino environmental management.
“My intention then is to go back,” she says. “These are good networking opportunities.”
Charczuk studied abroad in Spain after her sophomore year at NIU.
“I was there for five weeks, and I absolutely loved every second of it,” she says. “I came back, and all I honestly did was think about different ways to go back and spend more time there.”
Fulbright opens that door.
She will serve as an English-speaking teaching assistant in classrooms in and around Madrid, where she will help to teach all subjects, including social studies, math and science.
“This is not necessarily teaching English itself,” says Charczuk, who is minoring in psychology as well as Latino and Latin American Studies. “These students are either in a bilingual program or they’re at English schools where they speak English all day.”
Her Fulbright application also proposed a community service outreach program.
“I’m either starting, or continuing, a dance group. I used to be a dancer,” she says. “It’s something fun to get the kids moving and experiencing something different. Fine arts typically takes a back seat.”
Charczuk, who student-taught Spanish this semester at northwest suburban Huntley High School, has “wanted to become a teacher” since she was a little girl.
“This spring has been difficult, but I enjoy it. It’s definitely a learning experience for me as well,” she says. “I have 20-some kids looking at me every day, expecting me to teach them something. I’m still an NIU student. I still feel like a student. I don’t feel like a teacher.”
She reports to Madrid in September for orientation and training; her teaching duties will keep in Spain through next June. While there, she will also prepare her students to attend a United Nations conference in March.
And although her opportunity in Europe brings her near to members of her extended family – she was born in Poland – her parents are feeling a bit uneasy about the time and distance. “They’re proud, but they’re not super-thrilled about me being away for so long,” she says. “In my mind, nine months is not long enough. I would like to stay longer.”
Upon her return to the United States, she plans to enroll in law school.
“I did a volunteer project last year in Costa Rica, teaching English. I met some incredible people,” she says. “I thought that by becoming an immigration lawyer, I could help so many more people.”
For now, though, she’s unsure which career will win in the end.
“I’m so passionate about teaching and being with the students,” she says. “If I finish law school, and even if I don’t become a lawyer, I’d still be a teacher with a J.D.”
Riding the storm out
Motivated by her personal encounters with nasty weather, Eboh will conduct her Fulbright research in the Commonwealth of Dominica, about half-way between Florida and South America.
Disaster preparation plans often overlook the human factor of risk perception, she says.
“I’m actually interested in risk perception anywhere, but small island developing states have unique challenges. There’s a lot of things going on – hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes,” she says.
“Most people don’t have the option to evacuate if a hurricane is coming. They have to deal with the conditions they’re being exposed to. And it’s difficult to bring in relief,” she adds. “When people are unaware of the risks, or how they would respond, they’re more vulnerable. If they’re informed, they can respond in safe ways.”
Those “safe ways” would include providing knowledge on building materials and general locations of specific hazards, Eboh says.
“Certain materials are better to build with for different types of hazards. With earthquakes, cinder blocks are very deadly. But cinder blocks are good for hurricanes,” she says.
“It’s just being aware of what hazards you’re being exposed and knowing better ways to respond,” she adds. “In elementary schools here, we learn about tornadoes. You go to the hallway; you put your head between your knees. It’s just small things like that, and being able to apply them when necessary.”
Her trip could begin as early as August or as late as next April.
While overseas, Eboh will review maps prepared by the United States Agency for International Development to evaluate if the risks modeled on those documents are similar to perceived risks.
She also will conduct surveys that will show her how her test subjects understand disaster response. For example, who in a group or community leads the immediate efforts while waiting for formal help?
Finally, she will lead group-think exercises by proposing hypothetical disaster scenarios to representative samples of the population and asking them to map how they would respond.
“I’m going to watch who they turn to, and observe how the individuals who end up leading the group would react to the disaster I will also observe if there is general group consensus or disagreement during the mapping process,” she says.
“I’m trying to learn where people are getting their information on hazards. Is it something their grandparents taught them? Is it something they learned in elementary school? And are these hazards generally under- or over-perceived?”
While in the Commonwealth of Dominica, she will collaborate with colleagues at Dominica State College, teach a GIS class there and, she hopes, meet with emergency managers.
“Before I leave the island, I’d like to get together with people in the disaster management office and share my results,” she says, “and, hopefully, I’ll get to publish.”