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NIU students in music, communication win prestigious Fulbright grants to Southeast Asia

May 14, 2013
SarahEmily Lekberg

SarahEmily Lekberg

Two NIU students have won prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student Grants to teach in Southeast Asia.

SarahEmily Lekberg, an Indianapolis native who will earn her master’s degree from NIU in world music this summer, will begin a 10-month teaching assignment in August at a university in Vietnam. Matthew Ropp, a graduating senior from Oswego majoring in communication, will teach for 10 months in Malaysia, beginning in January.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program provides grants for individually designed study/research projects or English teaching assistantships. During their grants, Fulbrighters meet, work, live with and learn from the people of the host country, sharing daily experiences.

“Getting funded for a Student Fulbright is a distinct accomplishment,” said Deborah Pierce, NIU associate provost for International Programs. “The application itself is arduous, requiring excellent critical thinking skills, and the competition is stiff. This year only 26 percent of the proposals were funded. SarahEmily and Matt, our two Huskie Fulbrighters, prove once again that NIU students can compete successfully with the very best in the United States.”

Lekberg found out she won the award late this past semester.

“I’m so, so excited,” said the 25-year-old, who specializes in ethno-musicology. “I couldn’t stop simultaneously screaming and crying for 10 minutes after I got the email.”

Lekberg visited Vietnam once before during a study abroad program as an undergraduate at Millikin University in Decatur. She hasn’t learned exactly where she’ll be stationed in Vietnam but expects to be assisting in a college-level classroom and conducting community outreach.

Fulbright logo“I’d like to have students go out into the community and conduct mini-crash courses in English for anyone who’s interested,” she said. “You can learn a lot by teaching, and I think it would benefit students to use what they learn to help others.”

Lekberg has long had an interest in Southeast Asian cultures and music. She chose to pursue graduate studies at NIU because of its outstanding world music program and internationally known Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

“I learned about NIU’s center as an undergraduate and knew it was one of the best in the nation,” said Lekberg, who has worked as a teaching assistant at NIU. Her master’s thesis is on Vietnamese music.

“I’ve been interested in Vietnamese protest music since my undergraduate studies, and I want to follow up on that work, possibly pursuing the topic in a Ph.D. program,” she said.

“The Fulbright provides a great opportunity to further my teaching skills,” Lekberg added. “When Americans learn English, we often rely on musical memory, such as the alphabet song. So I hope to utilize musical strategies in my classroom as well.”

Matthew Ropp

Matthew Ropp

Meanwhile, Ropp, 22, a newly minted graduate of NIU, will visit Malaysia this summer on a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowship, then return early next year for his Fulbright assignment, co-teaching English to students in high school or junior high.

He also received a FLAS fellowship in 2012, when he studied for six weeks at the Universiti Malaysia Pahang.

“I had a great experience,” Ropp said. “I got to meet a lot of other students and make a lot of connections.”

While Ropp’s major in communication focused on media studies, he also took Malay language courses and minored in Southeast Asian Studies at NIU.

“I’m really interested in that region of the world and in the Malay language,” said Ropp, who plans to study linguistics or cultural anthropology in graduate school. “I applied for the Fulbright so I could continue to learn the language.”

He hopes to become an expert on the culture and language of a country that many Americans are unfamiliar with.

“I definitely have to point it out on a map to a lot of people,” Ropp said “I think my family, especially my mom, at first was a little apprehensive about me traveling halfway around the world. But she has warmed to it and is really proud and happy that I got the Fulbright.”

Deborah Pierce

Deborah Pierce

Both Lekberg and Ropp were grateful for the assistance they received from NIU during the application process.

“Fulbright program adviser Janet Hathaway was very helpful,” Ropp said. “Having won a Fulbright before, she shared her own experiences and was able to tell me what to expect from the application process and the time in country. Deborah Pierce was really helpful at providing information on when to apply and what to include in the application.”

Pierce said she is excited for both students.

“While teaching in Malaysia and Vietnam, they’ll have the chance to get to know their host nations on a very authentic and engaged level,” Pierce said. “The Fulbright program certainly enhances Global NIU and provides great opportunities for our students.”