Komal Kumar

Koko speaking on camera

Fulbright Academic Grant, 2017–2018

BEFORE: “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” –Nelson Mandela

Applying to the Fulbright Grant is an arduous task that forces you to answer probing questions about yourself and your career that are easy to avoid. But applying was just the beginning. I remember making a video the day before my flight to Cape Town to try to capture my emotion but when the camera started rolling, I had no idea of what to say. As an avid planner, it was in that moment I realized that nothing was planned other than my flight ticket. Lesson learned: expect the unexpected.

DURING: “As long as poverty, injustice, and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.” –Nelson Mandela

In a country layered with complex and heterogeneous identities, an environment segregated by race and social status, the Fulbright challenged me. It challenged the skills I had previously acquired from working in the field of public health and epidemiology. It challenged my relationships, my core beliefs, and my identity. From these challenges, I am embarking upon unknown territory and creating a documentary film on HIV-to-HIV kidney transplants in South Africa. Lesson learned: be comfortable being uncomfortable.

AFTER: “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” –Nelson Mandela

Adaptation. Resilience. Courage. Innovation. Resistance. These words now have new definitions for me. Innovation does not have to come from an abundance of resources, but rather the opposite. Working in a resource-limited setting has shown me the other face of innovation. The Fulbright afforded me the opportunity to experience this growth and catapult my career from opportunities locally to globally. Lesson learned: challenge the status quo.