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Focus on Fulbright: Q&A with Brent Paterson

group of people standing in front of a mural of a city landscape

Brent Paterson, back row, center, at National Ciao Tung University in Taiwan.

To celebrate Fulbright alumni at Illinois State, Brent Paterson, assistant to the President, talks about his International Education Administrator Fulbright to Taiwan.  #Fulbright@ISU #FulbrightPrgrm

How do you believe your Fulbright experience changed your work after you returned?
I was one of 11 administrators from U.S. universities selected for the Fulbright International Education Administrators Seminar in Taiwan.  During the two weeks in Taiwan, we visited 14 universities across the country and met with officials of the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the President of Taiwan.  We learned about the universities’ missions, academic programs, international student programs including Chinese language instruction, and opportunities for partnerships with our universities.  I returned to Illinois State University with an understanding of higher education in Taiwan, a new appreciation for the Chinese culture, insight into the politics and relationships between countries in East Asia, and a love for the people of Taiwan.

As international enrollment increases through our partnership with INTO University Partnerships, my experience with the Fulbright Seminar in Taiwan will help in understanding the needs of students coming from East Asia and other countries and be able to communicate with recruiters assisting students find universities like Illinois State University. Since the Fulbright experience, I have had the opportunity to interact with faculty from Southwest University in China who are here on campus, greet representatives from Shanghai Normal University visiting campus, and interact with recruiters from around the world who were on campus for a familiarization trip in partnership with INTO.  I found that I could have more extensive and informed conversations given my Fulbright experience.

Travel can be referred to as the gift of the unexpected. What was the most unexpected thing you saw or experienced?
When traveling to a foreign country, you always find some of the food to be strange to the American palate. Stinky Tofu and squid sausage on a stick are a few foods that stand out.  I was pleasantly surprised at how welcoming the Taiwanese people were.  I was also surprised that Taiwan has a very high literacy rate, 97 percent. Everywhere we went, we met faculty, administrators, and government officials who had studied in the U.S.  It had never occurred to me that so many Taiwanese including the country’s president has a degree from a U.S. university.

What do you most wish people could understand about the Fulbright experience?
The International Education Administrator (IEA) seminars are two-week programs which are different than Fulbright Scholar experiences which tend to be a year in length. So, I can only speak for the IEA experience.  It truly was a transformative experience.  You will get to know a country and its people in ways that a typical tourist cannot experience.  You will interact with leaders of government agencies and universities across the country.  You will have the opportunity to explore ways to bridge the geographical and cultural divide between the countries.  You will also develop lifelong relationships with fellow participants who are great sources of information.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of applying for Fulbright?

  • Talk to others who have participated in the program.  It is not a vacation.
  • Carefully read materials about the specific experience you are considering on the Fulbright website.
  • Use available resources – Erin Mikulec and Lea Cline on campus, Fulbright website, Fulbright webinars for applicants, Fulbright Scholar Advisor, etc.
  • Determine programs of interest and be sure you would be available to participate if offered.
  • Secure support from supervisor and references.
  • Have a Fulbright Scholar review your application materials and suggest improvements.
  • Be patient.  It takes several months for applications to be reviewed and decisions reached.  The notice of acceptance came six months after the application was submitted and six weeks before the start of the program.
  • Be open to experiencing a new culture.  Be a sponge.  Learn all you can.
  • Enjoy the moment because it is over too soon.