27/28.02.19 – fulbright orientation + gala

This one is hard to write, because the last two days have been so hectic and full and invigorating, but simultaneously exhausting and draining. There’s so much to say, but I think it’s been more difficult to put into words than anything I’ve done in Australia to date.

The Fulbright orientation and gala are done and dusted, and I have the same emotional response as I did after prom or graduation. A bunch of us scholars stayed out at the pub until 2am last night (WAYYYYY past my old lady bedtime) and it felt like it was because of that similar sense of just not wanting it all to be over.

The people I spent the last two days with were inspirational beyond words, each and every single one of them superstars in their own fields and doing things so unique and specific and important. Even the casual “fun facts” everybody shared at the very start of orientation blew me away – there were musicians and elite athletes, “condomologists” and interpretive dancers, and even someone who had shaken hands with an octopus.

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Every minute that wasn’t spent in a session or hearing from alums was filled with endless chatter, scholars talking to one another excitingly about their research and what they were doing in Australia or America. Though there was only a handful of Americans in the room, there were easily 70-80 Australian scholars who will be on their way to the states sometime next year. We’re part of the largest Australian-American cohort in history, but will be beat out by next year’s, as they’ll be adding 50 additional awards into the mix thanks to a generous private donation.

Being surrounded by 100 other professionals meant I had to go pretty far out of my comfort zone. Even though I spend a lot of my time in my practice and in life talking to people, I still felt very, very awkward walking right up to strangers, saying hello, and starting a conversation out of nowhere. Other people seemed to be experts at it. I’m incredibly thankful for the few new friends I made who came up to me first and eased that transition.

The big event was our visit to Parliament House for the Fulbright gala, which was similarly filled with conversation and just a generally amazing time. I was fairly nervous leading up to it, but once I got in front of my poster and shook a few hands it was smooth sailing. I even managed to nab two business cards of phenomenal contacts without even having to ask for them. I was told by a scientist that she was “speechless and humbled” that I was taking on the work that I am. I didn’t fall climbing up the stairs, crossing, or descending from the stage as I received my certificate, and I even got to meet the second ever female astronaut to command a space shuttle mission. I got to meet some of the faculty from WSU, who welcomed me as though I was there to stay.

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I’m an emotional person, and I felt on the verge of tears as I listened to the keynote speaker, Pam Melroy, recall her experiences looking down at the “pale blue dot” from space. Colonel Melroy was the second woman to ever command a space shuttle mission. She urged us to come together as a crew, to treat this planet as our own shuttle. I couldn’t help but look around at everyone in the room, some I had gotten to know fairly well, and some who I hadn’t had the pleasure to meet yet. But all of us were there with one common purpose - to work hard and achieve great things. But beyond that, and maybe even more importantly, to share not only those findings but also our personal, intimate, nonacademic, human experiences with the world as well.

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I have this overwhelming sense of stress and fear that I won’t do enough while I’m here, that the work might not be the greatest I’ve ever made or even make that big of difference. But the last few days with the other scholars, alum, and inspirational leaders has helped me to see that our work doesn’t necessarily have a deadline, and my project isn’t over when my grant period ends. At the risk of sounding like a summer camp cliché, I know that I’ll have these connections forever. I thought my Fulbright was the journey, but I’m seeing now that it’s just the first step.