‘A totally different cultural and spatial setting’: WKU student to attend Fulbright UK Summer Institute

Alexandria Anderson, Editor-in-Chief

Annie Whaley has never been abroad, yet, as an international affairs major, has always wanted to explore the world. This summer, Whaley will spend time in Northern Ireland after being chosen for one of the most well-known international programs in the nation. 

Whaley, a WKU junior who also majors in public relations, was selected for the Fulbright UK Summer Institute alongside approximately 60 other students from colleges and universities all around the nation.

The Fulbright UK Summer Institutes are three to four week programs open to first and second year undergraduates who have never or very rarely traveled internationally. They are exchange programs offering United States undergraduates from a range of disciplines the opportunity to study at a university in the United Kingdom.

Whaley will attend the Queen’s University summer institute in Belfast, Northern Ireland, which provides international students knowledge on the history, culture, political happenings and socioeconomic factors of Northern Ireland.

“It’s all about taking a really small lens to the troubles that happened in Northern Ireland,” Whaley said. “The civil skirmishes between religion and countries, the English and the Irish, talking about how that impacts community, how that impacts peacebuilding.”

Whaley said understanding the issues and agreements that have occurred in these communities is vital and something she is interested in, as well as knowing the “shadow of these troubles.”

“They [Fulbright UK Summer Institutes] really just want to build this mutual cultural understanding, so they want students who have never traveled internationally before,” Whaley said. “It’s a way for them [exchange students] to not only learn about the culture in the UK and bring it back to the US, but also bring some aspects of the US to the people you meet abroad.”

When returning to WKU, Whaley said her experience “looking at how communities formed” and seeing the advocacy and support in Northern Ireland will benefit her international affairs courses.

“I think curiosity is always really important to bring back, especially when you’re studying things like international affairs where you’re always comparing different elements throughout the globe together […] I’m really excited to bring what I learned back, especially when it comes to human rights,” Whaley said.

Whaley also said the program will show her how to better communicate with people with different cultural upbringings, as well as bettering how she relates to and learns from them.

“It’ll be really great to apply anything that I learned, both when I’m sitting in the classes and going about the community, but also just living life in a totally different cultural and spatial setting,” Whaley said.

To Whaley, the process of applying for such a prestigious program seemed daunting. She said the application was a learning opportunity in itself, especially after receiving guidance from the WKU Office of Scholar Development.

“[OSD] helped me find stories within myself that I wanted to tell, and then how to format that,” Whaley said. “It was super great to go into this maybe overwhelming application process, and then help them guide me through, and now I feel more confident when I want to do scary things in the future, like applications and all that stuff.”

Melinda Grimsley, coordinator of international scholarships at OSD, guided Whaley through the application process. She said the office looks for students with activities and experience that “point in the same direction.”

“You can tell that they’re chasing an idea, that they care about something and they’re following that energy into action,” Grimsley said. 

OSD staff members aid students in finding topics to write about and help them delve into life stories that make competitive essays.

“It’s our job to know what readers are looking for,” Grimsley said. “It’s our job to listen very carefully to students and ask them lots of questions to help us understand, what is their story, past or the future, so we can help them figure out how to present that story in the many different parts of an application.”

Whaley’s accomplishment is one that can encourage other students to apply to this program and other competitive national programs, Grimsley said.

“The idea of not being alone in an experience is very, very powerful,” she said. 

Grimsley explained many students feel like to apply for national programs and scholarships, they must have a definite plan for the future and for their career. She said this isn’t necessary and that the application process itself is valuable in this way.

“The application process is really about showing to you, selling to any student, what they actually can do, what they actually want to do,” Grimsley said. “I think that’s really the big picture of the work that we do, and we’re just super pumped whenever it results in a really competitive and prestigious scholarship.”

Timothy Rich, a WKU political science professor, acted as a mentor for Whaley after teaching her in two classes, one of which was a North Korean politics course.

“Annie [Whaley] was very quick to say, ‘oh, I see a pattern here. I see some comparisons with authoritarian regimes here,’” Rich said. “[…] I think it’s a good example, frankly, of getting out of one’s comfort zone, being willing to. No one feels like they’re an expert in that type of class. I think that really set the stage, and I remember vividly, she wrote up a fantastic final paper in that class, considering that she had no background in East Asia.”

Rich said Whaley’s experience in Northern Ireland will benefit her learning in political science and international affairs, as she will experience key aspects of the country that may only be visible “on the ground.”

“There might be some broad comparisons,” Rich said. “What worked, what didn’t, this is what officials say versus this is what people on the ground [say], how do they remember these things. I think those are really important skills.”

Rich agreed that other students will be inspired by Whaley’s accomplishment to apply for nationally competitive programs as well as get involved in other study abroad opportunities and research.

“I think it’s very important for students to see someone that’s from their class, that they identify with in some way, whether it’s from their high school, from the region, whatever it might be,” Rich said. “And I’ve done this in classes […] sometimes they’re [students] like, ‘oh, they’re from such and such place.’ Like they realized, ‘oh, that’s not just something whoever those people are [can do].’ They think ‘I could do that.’”

Editor-in-chief Alexandria Anderson can be reached at [email protected].