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Student Voices:
Nursing and Health Professions

Hear about some of the experiences of your fellow Drexel students about their experiences applying for and undertaking fellowships

Interview: Fulbright Student Grantee Brad Boehringer

July 2015

Brad B Group

Brad Boehringer (MS Nursing Education and Faculty Role ’14) just returned from his year in Finland as a Fulbright Student Grantee. We interviewed him just 48 hours after he landed, to get his fresh take on the experience.

What was the first thing you noticed when you arrived in Finland?

I remember very clearly a few things. That the pace of life was so much slower and that there was a real affinity for nature and the surroundings. There is a commitment to wide bike/walking/ski trails and public transit. In fact I am certain that the bike lanes rival or surpass the length of roadways in Finland! The days were long and although cool, the weather was splendid. Brad B Kayaking

On the other hand, everything that I needed to do took longer. Everything. It took me a week or two before a basic anxiousness subsided as I was always uncertain what I was going to encounter when I ventured out. Figuring out transit, my phone, how to weigh my fruit in the grocery store. Every day I felt a bit out of place but it was exciting and challenging. You have to be ready for that and OK with it. It is part of the process and fun J Every experience was new and made the subsequent ones easier. It made me feel alive as I was looking at a whole new world.

Were you able to carry out the project you envisioned?
Very quickly I realized that my project was not going to happen at all. "We didn't get the funding," I was told. And that was that. I was sort of ready for that though and didn't have my heart set on anything. I had been warned about it: "Don't plan on doing what you expected. Just go with it".

Brad B TurkuHow did you adjust?
By saying "yes" to every other offer that was presented to me. Do you want to teach this class? Give this lecture? Visit this start-up? Go to Kazakhstan? Yes, yes, yes. I certainly had some real professional challenges and experiences as a result but it was all part of the learning and the process.

What was a typical day like as a Fulbrighter in Finland?

In my experience there was no typical day, which was part of the beauty. Some weeks I would have a very rigorous, busy schedule and others I would have total flexibility. I read more, wrote journal and magazine articles, and planned for projects that I was working on. More importantly I networked with anyone and everyone who would talk to me and tried to get the word out that I was around and would love to have coffee with anyone. I became a spokesperson for Fulbright as well and met with students and gave presentations about the program. I sat on the Fulbright Commission committee to choose this year’s undergraduates that will come to the US from Finland. I made plenty of "work" for myself but I also had plenty of free time to socialize. There was a healthy balance for sure! I think it is important to remember that your "project or studies" are only a portion of what you are doing on your Fulbright. Reaching out, networking and meeting others and sharing ideas can happen during a train ride, over a cup of coffee, or on a hike.

Tell us about the community/friendships you were able to build there. Was it easy to make connections? What were the challenges?

I heard over and over that Finnish people are very reserved and hard to get to know. While that is partially true I found them to be quite warm and inviting and while a touch standoffish, they were always willing to reach out. The expectation for social interaction is different. You don't talk unless you have something to say and small talk is uncomfortable. In fact, you only say "Hi" once a day and not every time you pass someone. I found myself invited to people’s homes for dinner that I had just met and quickly introduced to family and friends around the country. I ended up living with a Finnish family (parents of a Finn that I met) in rural Finland near the Russian border for two weeks while I volunteered at the International Biathlon Championships. It felt more Finnish than any other experience all year. I sauna'ed nearly every day, ate salmon at least twice a day, ate porridge with fresh frozen berries that were foraged in the fall and learned how to make some traditional Finnish food. 

Volunteer! It’s another great way to meet people and better understand the culture. I also got involved in an international expat meet-up group called Internations. I ended up chairing two of the local meet-up groups and organized events throughout the year. It was a great way to meet other foreigners in my similar position!

Brad B

What were the best or most surprising moments about being a citizen ambassador?

I was immediately surprised at the doors that opened and the people that I met. I was surprised at the questions people asked and the thoughtful listening that they did to my responses. It was often a way to have dialogue about issues in a non-political way so that both parties in a conversation got to speak and be heard. There was no pretense, only curiosity about what makes our worlds, daily lives, and cultures different. Remember, in many regards you are their window to the US and have the capacity to help shape perception and opinion...a real live American!

Did you ever get homesick? BB Christmas in HelsinkiIf so, what helped?

There were only really a few hard things about being in Finland that occasionally reared their heads. November was one of the cloudiest months on record. I think the sun shone for only 12 hours the entire month. February was similar...winter never really came in southern Finland this year so it often hovered around freezing and sleeted and was cloudy. Coupled with drastically decreased light this was a hard month.  The way I overcame that was by getting outside anyway, having dinner parties, traveling to more snowy regions of Finland and, given its proximity to the rest of Europe, I traveled elsewhere!

The other challenge that made me just want to be home was not being able to find very many good food options and struggling to read packages. A normal 5 minute trip to the store would often take an hour as I needed to Google translate package after package. That made me miss home the most in terms of living functionality. I did become less timid and often just asked other shoppers for help J Food also tends to be less flavorful in Finland. Not bland per se just plain. That was tough for a food lover like me.

Brad B Tallin 

What was your greatest lesson from the Finnish people and culture?

I learned that silence is OK.
I learned that "rules are rules" and people obey them because it is the right thing to do. Talk about a civilized culture!
I learned that there is respect and equality for everyone and there exists a social expectation that you will be taken care of.
I learned that coffee break in the morning and afternoon was not some mandated break but a real place and time to connect with people. People took it seriously.
I learned that a different pace of life was completely functional and possible.
I learned that Finns struggle with many of the same problems we do; immigration, healthcare, same sex marriage, politics, etc. Their baseline understanding and beliefs tend to be left of center however.

Do you feel changed by the Fulbright experience? If so, how?

I think often times the magnitude of life events aren't fully apparent for months or even years after they happen. This has been anything but true for my Fulbright experience. From our orientation days onward I could feel how big of a deal this was and how grand of an opportunity I had been given. While not everyone knows what a Fulbright is, many do. When I say that I am part of the club eyebrows raise and I am seen in a different light. My networks both in Finland and at home are expanding with each week and new doors are opening constantly. This has been, without a doubt, one of the top three life changing experiences of my life and the journey is really just beginning.

Brad B Embassy

Any advice for this year’s Fulbright applicants?

Feel free to be creative in your proposal but regardless of how wacky your ideas are they need to be achievable. That said, remember that your project will change much like your course of study probably did or has in undergrad. Talk to other Fulbrighters...there are a lot of us and we tend to love to share our experiences and advice! 

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Update: Fulbright Student Grantee Liesbet Manders

Fulbright Student Scholar Elizabeth (Liesbet) Manders is spending a year in Germany conducting autism research at the prestigious University of Heidelberg. Liesbet, who is pursuing a PhD in Creative Arts Therapies at Drexel, is investigating if participants in dance/movement therapy can learn to coordinate their body movement with a partner and if this will improve their social interactions. Here’s what she’s been up to:

“I started my year in Germany with 6 weeks of language classes in Marburg with 28 Fulbright awardees.  It was both fun and hard work.  It did wonders for my German and was a delightful and supportive introduction to life in Germany.

I then moved to Heidelberg to work on my dissertation and learn from research in a prestigious international training network.  The interdisciplinary “Towards an Embodied Science of InterSubjectivity” (TESIS) network and the local research group are proving to be an amazing asset to my work.  In these groups I get to discuss my work with others who are studying related concepts from a variety of fields.   I am using discussions with some of the philosophers to strengthen the theoretical foundations for my study.  Others have given me feedback and further resources from the perspective of their field.  I attended a neuroscience workshop from the network in Italy and have been invited to teach a weekend class in Prague in the spring.  I will maintain and develop these interdisciplinary connections so that we can hopefully continue to support each other’s research for many years to come.

This fall, I worked on a variety of preparations for my dissertation research.  I watched the video materials available from the existing “parent” study in Heidelberg and attended therapy groups of the parent study, giving me a better understanding of the context of the video segments.  I learned video analysis software and adjusted my study design to match the available resources and video.  I worked on preparing the video for analysis and found raters for my study.  These raters will watch the video segments, rate these on movement and interaction scales, and write descriptions of the qualities of the movement and interaction.  I am excited and nervous as I move on to the next stage in the process: I train the raters next week.  When the raters finish in February, I will move into data analysis.  I am curious to see what I will discover about nonverbal movement qualities in interactions of participants with autism spectrum disorders.”

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