Fulbright Academic Grant, 2015–2016
When I talk about my Fulbright research experience with others, what surprises them the most is the independence it offers. Whether it’s your research question or the time you’re given to pursue the answers to that question, the program offers young scholars the freedom to explore innovative ideas of their own.
As a Fulbright Grantee fresh out of college, that independence was jolting. Even though I had studied and volunteered in my host country before, being halfway across the world without the everyday structure of scheduled classes and a built-in community was unfamiliar. Yet, it was invigorating to start each day knowing that the day’s experiences would lead me closer to answering a research question that was near and dear to my heart.
My project focused on understanding how accessing healthcare impacted rural migrant families in Eastern China. As a foreign researcher trying to reach out to a marginalized population about their healthcare experiences, I learned to navigate the country’s health systems by consulting with healthcare workers and administrators. Oftentimes this led me on unexpected experiences across the region, ranging from spending the Lunar New Year with a nurse’s family in her hometown to hopping on the back of a local official’s puttering moped to visit village clinics.
The most meaningful of these encounters were those that allowed people from across the healthcare system to interact during group interviews. Gathering together patients, providers, and administrators, I provided a space for dialogues about their different experiences in the health system. In one case, upon hearing that an elderly migrant worker couldn’t afford to pick up cold medication for his wife, a community administrator told them she would personally stop by their home to drop it off for them. Going into my Fulbright, one of my goals for my research was to contribute to the academic discourse on this subject. I never expected my research would be able to facilitate local community exchanges so directly.
Experiences like this helped me understand who I was beyond my former identity as a student. Who I found was someone that loved exploring the unfamiliar through small daily exchanges and using those exchanges to build a new community for myself.