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University of Pennsylvania's 2023-24 Fulbright grant recipients include, from left: (top row) Anuj Amin, Ella Atsavapranee, Rebecca Bean, Rachael (Viola) Bordon, Erin Brennan, Mia Cheung; (second row) Allison Chou, Teresa Christensen, Sabrina de Brito, Ashley Fuchs, Zacharia Hamdi, Nilesh Kavthekar; (third row) Vincent Kelley, Lauren Lamb, Esther Lee, Beyoncé Lightfoot, Colin Lodewick, Lea Mangifesta; (fourth row) Vanessa Martinez Penn, Anya Miller, Marissa Mojena, Priyamvada Nambrath, Trevor Núñez, Sriram Palepu; (bottom row) Kyra Schulman, Laila Shadid, Ingrid Sotelo, Sally Thomas, and Erin Wrightson (Photo from Penn Today).

Twenty-nine Penn students and alumni have received grants from the Fulbright United States Student Program to pursue graduate study, conduct research, or teach English in one of its over 140 partner countries.

The Fulbright Program, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, has been awarding grants to students with the purpose of fostering global academic exchange since 1946. Around 8,000 students around the world are selected each year to receive full funding for international study, research, or teaching for up to 12 months.

To be eligible for the program, students must hold a bachelor’s degree by the start of their grant period and meet language requirements for their host country.

This year, Penn Fulbright recipients will be carrying out grants across 21 countries. They come from a wide range of academic backgrounds, from linguistics to political science to business. 

2023 College graduate Allison Chou, who majored in neuroscience and minored in chemistry, will be researching the impacts of slow-wave sleep on human protein activity at the University of Bern in Switzerland.

“Sleep is such an undervalued topic,” she said. “So many people struggle with it, but no one really talks about it.”

Chou said she was grateful for the numerous opportunities at Penn that allowed her to pursue the study of sleep, from a chronobiology course with Neurology professor David Raizen to a variety of labs, workshops, and initiatives across campus. Through these experiences, she found mentors who inspired her to expand her learning globally by applying for the Fulbright grant.

“It really is a chance to engage in a different setting with different people, from both a cultural and scholarly perspective,” Chou said. 

2019 College graduate Zach Hamdi will use his Fulbright grant to conduct research in Ecuador. He will spend 10 months interviewing business owners, producers, and consumers to understand the effects of the country’s new antitrust law regime. 

Hamdi majored in international relations with a minor in economic policy and currently works for the Federal Trade Commission. 

“Something I want to follow in my career is creating as fair of an economy as possible,” he said. “I think antitrust is a step in the direction of economic justice.”

Beyond his research, Hamdi plans to immerse himself in the surrounding culture by joining a soccer team, engaging with the local religious community, and working with high-impact startups.

“Fulbright really encourages bridge-building and community engagement,” he said. 

In addition to those pursuing graduate study and research, 13 Penn Fulbright recipients have chosen to teach English across the globe.

2023 College graduate Laila Shadid, who majored in modern Middle Eastern studies and sociology, is one of two recent graduates who will be teaching English in the West Bank-Palestine territories. According to Shadid, 2023 marks the first time two Penn affiliates have been offered the English teaching assistantship there in the same year.

Shadid, who spent the previous summer in the West Bank as a Pulitzer Center reporting fellow, saw the Fulbright grant as an opportunity to continue working with children in the region. 

“The English language is so important to be able to advocate for oneself,” she said. “To have that kind of knowledge can really change people’s lives.” 

Shadid added that she views advocacy in connection with her own Lebanese American identity. She is the founder of Fenjan, Penn’s student-produced journal on the Middle East, as well as a member of the Penn Arab Student Society. 

“I want to learn so much from the communities that I’m going to be living in and the people I’m going to be working with,” Shadid said. “The more connection that we have cross-culturally, cross-globally, the more connected we are as people — and that’s what the Fulbright is."