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kelly nielsen, INDONESIA, 2009-2010

Fulbright Year: 2009-2010
Country: Indonesia
Proposal Type: Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship
UGA Undergraduate Major: Theatre
Graduation Date: May 2009
Hometown: Brooklet, GA

Although she gathered a lifetime’s worth of memories in Southeast Asia during her Fulbright year, Kelly Nielsen will never forget her Christmas in Indonesia, or the effort — complete with hens and roosters — it took to enjoy it.

“Some of the other Fulbrighters and I traveled to a remote island off the coast of Flores to see Komodo dragons,” Kelly says of her first Christmas away from home. “It took two full days of ferries and buses to get there, but eventually we made it. The Komodo dragons were incredible, but we had to leave quickly in order to reach our next destination (Gili Trawangan) before Christmas. We had two more days of travel, only this time we were on the more economical buses, complete with a bag of live chickens underfoot, a pair of roosters shoved in my friend’s face, and two live goats strapped to the top of the bus.

“Miraculously, we made it to Gili Trawangan around 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve, completely exhausted, but alive. We stumbled off the boat and found ourselves in the strangest amalgamation of cultures I have seen. Huge groups of Indonesians were all wearing Santa Claus hats and yelling ‘Merry Christmas!’ Meanwhile masses of tourists were drinking and fist-punching the air, the sounds of techno reverberating around the island.”

Teaching English to 10th and 11th grade students in a vocational high school in the small Indonesian fishing village of Majene, Kelly says she also served as a kind of “cultural ambassador” by answering any and all questions the locals had about the United States.

Kelly adds that her Fulbright year had a profound effect on both her professional path and her personal life.

“My Fulbright year changed me in more ways than I can say,” she says. “It reinforced my belief in our common humanity, that despite very different cultures, we all have a great deal in common. I also learned that many of things I thought I needed in the United States (like internet, television, electricity) were actually not vital to my existence. It’s much more important that I have caring, understanding friends.

“Personally, it was an incredible year because I proved to myself that I could do things I had never dreamed of doing prior to that year. I gained a true sense of independence and confidence in my ability to take on the world. For example, after my Fulbright assistantship was over, I spent a month traveling solo throughout Southeast Asia, something I did not anticipate doing prior to going on the Fulbright.”

Kelly says she’s returning to school to continue to hone her language skills in anticipation of a life overseas.

“I gained a sense of freedom that I can design my life however I choose and that the options open to me are virtually limitless,” she says. “Professionally, it has also impacted my long-term goals. The Fulbright was such a positive experience that I will soon be starting Georgia State University’s masters program in Applied Linguistics /English as a Second Language in order to continue teaching English abroad. Intercultural communication fascinates me, and I look forward to having more experiences like the Fulbright.”

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