As a 19-year-old traveling alone for the first time to Europe, Alyssa Cortez felt a combination of excitement and trepidation when she went to Wales as a participant in the summer 2022 Fulbright Commission U.K. Summer Institute (FUKSI).
But fear turned to pride when she made it to her destination after a long and tiring journey from Phoenix.
Cortez, an Arizona State University sophomore from from Glendale, Arizona, spent three weeks this past summer as a United States FUKSI participant in the Farming and Agriculture in Wales Summer Institute at Aberystwyth University.
“When I found out I was selected to participate in the FUKSI program, I couldn't process it until I was on my way to Wales on a plane for 13 hours. When I got there, I was anxious, overwhelmed with disbelief and excitement. The idea that I could achieve something at such a young age, barely turning 19 days before I left, made me feel proud of my abilities, work ethic and passion for sustainability,” said Cortez, a business major and student in Barrett, The Honors College at ASU.
“I was lucky enough to find a program that aligned with the career goal that I had planned at that time. It meant even more to me being from a low-income family that sometimes works paycheck to paycheck. My parents were proud of me.”
The U.S.-U.K. Fulbright Commission U.K. Summer Institutes are made possible through donations from private individuals and a Study Abroad Engagement Grant from USA Study Abroad within the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State, and partnerships with some of the top U.K. institutions.
Institute costs covered by the Fulbright Commission and its partner institutions include round-trip airfare, tuition and fees at the host institution, accommodations and, in some cases, a small daily meal allowance.
Students have the opportunity to study with leading academics and professionals, develop knowledge in specific fields, experience cultural and social events, visit U.K. cultural sites and receive academic credit to transfer to their home institutions.
The cultural and academic program Cortez participated in focuses on contemporary issues in farming and agriculture in Wales, including sustainable food production and land use. U.S. students study at Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS), internationally recognized for its research into global challenges such as food security, bioenergy and sustainability, and climate change. It is also home to the National Plant Phenomics Centre and the BEACON Centre of Excellence for Biorefining. The summer institute provides students with comprehensive knowledge of land-use and agricultural production systems focusing on livestock agriculture, arable land use and conservation.
Cortez studied sustainability and the culture that surrounds agriculture in Wales. Specifically, she researched the preservation of lamb farms in Wales and their production methods. She also visited several agricultural operations to learn how botany and business are intertwined.
“My favorite visit was when we were taken to a garden used for the low-income community in Wales and heard the stories of how it has helped those who have gone down a wrong path in life, and how gardening helps them to rejuvenate their psyche,” she said.
Cortez entered the program thinking she wanted to focus on agriculture and possibly pursue a degree in it, but her eyes were opened to an interest in sustainability and business.
“My experience in FUKSI informed my studies at ASU by allowing me to create a larger vision for my future. I previously thought that I wanted to go into agriculture. The program made me realize that I was more passionate about sustainability and business than the plant side of research,” said Cortez, who hopes to lead her own solar energy-related business in the future.
“FUKSI helped me achieve my goals by allowing me to travel the world while getting hands-on experience in the fields I am interested in. It was an absolute pleasure to be a part of an experience like this, and it made me grateful for my opportunities and my ability to have self-discovery,” she said.
FUKSI also sparked Cortez’s passion for traveling, even though her parents thought she should save international travel for her senior year.
“I proved to them that I could be on my own in a completely new government, which allows me to open the door to travel in the future for my goal to go international with my business if it is a success.”
Since the inception of the FUKSI program in 2010, ASU has led the U.S. in the total number of recipients, with 22. The program is offered to first- and second-year college students who have limited previous travel experience, and those who wish to apply can receive guidance from the Office of National Scholarships Advisement throughout the process. Information sessions will be offered in late January, followed by group workshops and individual advising. To stay informed about upcoming events and workshops, prospective applicants are encourage to subscribe to the ONSA Weekly Bulletin.
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