St. Thomas senior wins prestigious Fulbright grant

A dismal U.S. job market hasn’t dampened the spirits of at least one St. Thomas graduating senior.

Communication studies major Emily Kessel recently learned she’ll be spending the next year in Korea, courtesy of a prestigious Fulbright grant.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, the Fulbright Program is the nation’s flagship international exchange program offering opportunities for students, scholars and professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching and teaching in elementary and secondary schools worldwide. The program operates in 155 countries.

Fulbright grant recipients are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields.

Kessel, who was adopted from Korea as an infant and was raised right here in St. Paul, jumped at the chance to spend a year teaching in a high school outside of Seoul, the country’s capital city.  She’ll board a plane at the end of June, meet her host family in early July and get ready to teach English in the country of her birth.

“Last year I did a study-abroad in Korea and did some research on my birth family and on international adoption,” Kessel said. “But most of all, I really enjoyed learning about the culture – picking up some of the language and traditions like Korean drumming. So I’m really excited about this.”

Leaving her parents, Georgia and Dave Kessel, and her younger sister, Diana, behind in St. Paul, the adventurous Cretin-Derham Hall graduate also spent two January Terms outside the borders of the U.S. mainland, studying multicultural communication in Hawaii (2007) and theology in Turkey (2009). On campus, she was active in student government, wrote for the student newspaper and served as an international student mentor.

How tough is it to get a Fulbright?  “I did five or so drafts of the statement of purpose and the personal statement,” Kessel said of her application. “The hardest part of the process was self-discipline to start the process early and stick with it. But it wasn’t difficult or anything.”

Kessel’s advice to other students hoping for a Fulbright? “Just tell yourself that you deserve to apply and just see what happens.”

Only four other St. Thomas students have received grants from the U.S. Student Fulbright Program over the last 15 years: Kimberly Kremer ’95, who did research on the role of Swiss neutrality in Switzerland in 1995-96; Kathryn Canepa ’98, who studied economics in Germany in the 1998-99 academic year; Megan Powers ’99, who had a teaching grant to Korea in 00-01; and Jennifer Nielsen ’03, who did research in Egypt in 2003-04.

More than 1,500 U.S. students and 2,950 foreign students receive Fulbright scholarships each year; this year, about 25 grantees will head for Korea for teaching assistant positions.

Learn more about Fulbright grants from Dr. Sarah Stevenson, director of international programs at St. Thomas, (651) 962-6450, or visit the UST International Education Center, 44 N. Cleveland Ave. Or, visit www.fulbrightonline.org