The year is 2015, and in a middle school world history class, the country of South Korea is randomly assigned as Jess Melvin’s class project. Working in a group, she learns about the KPop scene, the culture, the customs, the fashion, and the food of South Korea. Jess was told of her acceptance into the Fulbright program as she graduated in Spring 2023, and couldn’t help by think of her assignment that inspired it all. Jess’s journey is beginning to come full circle, and in this Fulbright Scholar Profile, we look to her journey as inspiration for all of our students and their individual journies to success.
“Maybe it is a funny and corny story,” Jess says in an interview, “but I was hooked. I was doing my research for the project and I thought the culture was so interesting, and I love the way they’re able to integrate traditional Korean culture into their global exchange. They’re very progressive, and they push their products as authentically Korean.”
But what is a Fulbright and how does that allow Jess to go to South Korea? The Fulbright Program in the United States is a program that allows students to be awarded scholarships that pay for education in different countries around the globe, often employing them as cultural ambassadors or graduate students. Students across the nation are eligible to apply, but very few receive this very competitive offer. Jess’s major in Anthropology and minors in French and Fashion inspired her to combine her passions through the Fulbright, which allows her to teach English in South Korea while independently experiencing first-hand how fashion, history, and culture combine in a non-Western society.
The general goal of the Fulbright is to not only provide a student with experience in the country of their choosing or research specifications but to also utilize that student in a way that positively impacts that country. Many times this means that students from the United States are conducting research into the country or teaching English in the school systems. As Jess says, “It was a way to go anywhere in the world for free and help other people.”
When it comes to the application process, Jess did not even know of the scholarship until meeting with Dr. Barb Stedman, the Director of National and International Scholarships for Ball State University. Even then, Jess thought it was something out of her reach, inaccessible. However, Dr. Stedman helped to provide her with information on what the Fulbright is and how the application process functions.
Jess talks of her process, saying, “Honestly, the application process was stressful but really, really invigorating. Lots of writing and rewriting. I worked with a faculty member, assigned by Dr. Stedman, to edit my application essays and make them more authentic to me. A lot of the process focused not only on what the Fulbright could give to us but what we could give to the Fulbright and the exchange country.”
“Not only was I selected by The Fulbright Program for this opportunity, but I was also chosen by TWO governments to receive a grant to help others and expand my education. Something about this is just so incredible I can hardly believe it.”
Finding out she was a Fulbright recipient was a major surprise to Jess, and she recounted the circumstances almost to the minute: “I was in the sewing lab for my senior thesis when I got the call. I immediately called my sister, who works at Cardinal Central on campus, and I was taking such deep breaths. I didn’t even know what to say, I was crying, it was such an amazing experience. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in myself, it was just such a rare opportunity that was so affirming.”
Jess, who worked as a Student Assistant at the Honors College during her senior year, has remained humble and grateful throughout her entire interview. She focuses a lot on how grateful she is for her supporters and those who encouraged her to apply. She also talks about the Fulbright from a unique perspective, as unlike most Fulbright students who leave directly after spring graduation, Jess is not leaving until December 2023. The break in her schedule has allowed her to jumpstart filling out the piles of paperwork necessary for travel abroad.
“Since finding out,” Jess says, “it’s been a lot of bureaucratic stuff. Terms and conditions, lots of paperwork.” Jess also mentions a great opportunity that Fulbright has presented her with- connections with others who will be traveling to South Korea through the program.
Jess says, “I’ve been meeting with other Fulbright grantees to practice our Korean, and a few days ago we got our official paperwork from South Korea about our certifications, itinerary, and more! We have to do a bunch of medical forms, be certified in teaching, and a lot of little things that all kind of add up. A lot of it has been looking through the checklist. I’m always at the library scanning and printing! It’s been so nice to have people going through the same process, and it’s been good for us to stick together.”
“I’m really really thankful for everyone who helped me on this journey, and that so many people have believed in me. I know that this will change my life and the projection of my future.”
Jess also is in the midst of fundraising for her trip to South Korea! She says, “I’m also fundraising right now, as a low-income, first-gen student who is self-supporting, and I would really appreciate anyone who can give (even just a few dollars) to help me with my visa, any medical appointments, and more. Thank you!!” Check out her Instagram page to find out how you can support her!
Interested in learning more about Jess’s journey? Then stay tuned, because she’ll also be documenting her journey on Instagram (and maybe a blog!) at @jesster.17.
Jess’s major in Anthropology and minors in French and Fashion were all embraced during her promotional photoshoot for the Fulbright, and show an exciting preview of Jess’s upcoming travels across the globe!
Information on the Fulbright and other nationally and internationally competitive scholarships can be found on the Honors College Scholarship Page, or by contacting Dr. Barb Stedman at firstname.lastname@example.org. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Stedman to discuss the Fulbright and other scholarship opportunities, please call the Honors College front desk at 765-285-1024. There are many other nationally and internationally competitive awards with similar offerings, and these Fulbright Scholar Profile blogs are to highlight just one of our many, many amazing students who have received nationally and internationally competitive awards. To read about another Ball State student who received a Fulbright in the Spring of 2020 and more national and international scholarship winners, check out this Honors Semester in Review Blog!