Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Guest Post: Catherine Stecyk in the Ukraine and Advice for Fulbright Applicants


Where & Why:
I was a recipient of a 2010-2011 Fulbright Student Research and Study Fellowship to Ukraine. My host institution was the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, and my self-designed research project examined the evolution of the health system in Ukraine as well as the impact of foreign aid NGOs in-country. I was inspired to research this topic after I participated in a volunteer trip to orphanages in central and southern Ukraine sponsored by the Children of Chornobyl Relief and Development Fund.
Some of the greatest moments of my grant year included learning the ins and outs of daily life in a new country. Seeing Ukraine from west to east and seeing the state of Ukraine about 20 years following the collapse of the Soviet Union was fascinating, and meeting new friends and colleagues and experiencing their hospitality was great. Taking ownership of my research project and delving into it one step at a time was a major learning experience-- by meeting expats and Ukrainians, networking, interviewing key stakeholders, working in my host university’s international department, and traveling to new cities and regions to meet with professionals and organizations. I increasingly developed a sort of cultural competence and understanding of etiquette that allowed me to conduct effective meetings and collect quality data for my research. My time in Ukraine was not without its struggles, but my experience there has continued to impact me in numerous ways. As a graduate student, I returned to Kyiv, Ukraine to work for a HIV/AIDS NGO and had the chance to serve as an international election observer in Donetsk, Ukraine for parliamentary elections in October 2012.
Overall takeaways:
The learning experience of a lifetime, specialized knowledge on my own original topic, insight into a country that operates very differently than the United States, and personal relationships with Ukrainians and the international community in Ukraine were major takeaways from my Fulbright year.
Advice for Students:
Keep an open mind, meet as many people as possible, and explore topics of interest! I left the United States knowing far less about international education, global health, and the intricacies of Ukraine as a post-Soviet country than I did after my Fulbright year. The time flew by and I am still drawing on my experiences professionally and personally years later. It might seem daunting to create a research project from nothing, but if you’re interested in a topic, run with it and see where it takes you! My Fulbright year opened many doors and allowed me to meet hundreds of interesting people from all over the world.
Check out Catherine’s Fulbright blog at

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