Durbin '18 seeks ‘authentic experience’ in Sri Lanka with Fulbright award

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May 30, 2018

By Mike Killeen

Editor’s note: This feature story on Morgan Durbin ’18 is the second of six feature stories that will appear this summer on the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University website featuring graduates who received awards from the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.

Morgan DurbinAs a mid-distance runner on the College of Saint Benedict track team, Morgan Durbin knows her way around a track pretty well.

But it’s a more uncertain process earning an award from the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, sponsored by the Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board as an English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in Sri Lanka.

Durbin knew it wasn’t as easy as turning left on a track every 100 meters or so.

“I am still reeling from having received the Fulbright award,” said Durbin, a 2018 graduate of the College of Saint Benedict with a degree in environmental studies. “Honestly, it hadn’t even been on my radar until Dr. Jeff Anderson suggested I apply as a kind of ‘Why not? You’ve got a good shot.’ ”

Indeed she did. Selecting Sri Lanka to serve as an ETA was “a very multifaceted answer and probably the most difficult decision I made during the application process,” Durbin said.

She studied abroad during spring semester 2016 in India and was intrigued by the culture and the people she met. Still, she was searching for a new environment – making a right turn on the track, if you will.

“The very basic purpose of Fulbright is intercultural exchange, and I felt that for myself to have a truly authentic experience, I needed to be in a place where I could use the skills and tools I gained in India, but in a new environment,” Durbin said.

Enter Sri Lanka, an island country southeast of India. It shares a Buddhist religion and similar topography to northern India. Durbin also wrote her senior thesis on alternatives to paddy rice farming, focusing broadly on South/Southeast Asia, but conducting a case study on Sri Lanka.

“Teaching and becoming integrated into the community will give me an opportunity to further pursue this research and discern if my conclusions are viable … of if they are not,” Durbin said. “I cannot wait to experience the successes and inevitable challenges that will unite and separate these two countries in my mind.”

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program places recent college graduates as English Teaching Assistants in schools and universities overseas. The ETAs improve international students' English abilities and knowledge of the U.S., while enhancing their own language skills and knowledge of the host country. ETAs may also pursue individual study/research plans in addition to their teaching responsibilities.

This year, six CSB and SJU graduates received the Fulbright awards. Since 2013, 29 students or graduates from CSB and SJU have earned Fulbright ETA awards.

Durbin will leave in November to work at Tea Leaf Trust surrounding the Maskeliya area of Central Province, Sri Lanka. She will teach at schools in either Nuwara Eliya or Maskeliya.

“I cannot wait to create and foster new relationships,” Durbin said. “The people in my life who have taught and challenged me the most are often those who can provide a perspective and lifestyle different from my own, both in and out of the United States.

“Clearly, I will encounter countless news perspectives in Sri Lanka, and this will no doubt challenge my own assumptions and encourage subsequent growth as an individual.” Durbin said. “I want to go into this experience, not blind to the culture I am integrating into, but without unattainable expectations.

“I want to be flexible, and I want to be surprised,” she added.

CSB and SJU students interested in applying for a Fulbright Award for the 2019-20 academic year should contact Phil Kronebusch, professor of political science and coordinator of competitive fellowships at CSB and SJU, or Lindsey Gutsch, program assistant for undergraduate research and competitive scholarships at CSB and SJU.

Learn more about undergraduate research opportunities