Hola! My name is Ana Martin, I am a 6th year PhD student in Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Illinois. This month has been pretty exciting for me as it marks the beginning of my Fulbright Research Fellowship in Spain. Although it was a long process getting here, I’m excited to embark on the adventure of living abroad while I complete my PhD research at the University of Barcelona. For anyone interested in teaching English or conducting research abroad, I highly recommend applying for a Fulbright Fellowship. Hopefully through this post you will gain some insight into the application process and some aspects of moving abroad.
When it came to pursuing research opportunities abroad, I knew I wanted to live somewhere where I could use and improve my Spanish speaking skills. I come from a Hispanic background and learning and using Spanish was very important to me. Spain is also a great fit for my research interest - sustainable wastewater treatment and reuse. Growing up in Southern California where water scarcity is an obvious concern, water and environmental sustainability is something that has interested me since childhood. Spain’s arid climate means that it suffers many of the same issues of water scarcity as my home state. Today, Spain is one of the most water-stressed countries in Europe, and has been identified as having the greatest potential for wastewater reuse. This made Spain a very relevant place for me to pursue my research. Of course the delicious tapas and gorgeous coastline didn’t hurt either ;)
I began my fellowship process by researching the Fulbright Fellowship online and unfortunately didn’t get my application in as early as I’d have liked. If you are seriously considering applying, I recommend setting up an appointment the Graduate College Office of External Fellowships right away. This is the best way to learn about the application process and requirements and will give you a chance to have your materials reviewed by staff from that office as well as by faculty from around campus.
After I received the Fulbright, I turned my attention to wrapping up my current research and figuring out what to do with all of my stuff/apartment/car for the year that I would be in Spain. With this squared away, I boarded the plane bound for adventure - temporarily homeless and living out of suitcases. But hey, I’m in Spain! Obviously, looking for an apartment in a new city and in a foreign language has its challenges, and I’m fortunate enough to have a strong support network through the University and the Fulbright program. I’m staying in a combination of hotels and Airbnbs while I look for housing, and am being reimbursed through the Fulbright program. This gives me the unique chance to learn the neighborhoods in Barcelona. During orientation, we were told that after securing our student Visas, finding an apartment would be the next hardest step. I’m getting closer to finding a place that will be safe, comfortable, and conveniently located via online housing websites. Wish me luck!
In the meantime, I have started to work in the Chemical and Environmental Engineering Department at the University of Barcelona, under the supervision of Dr. Joan Mata-Alvarez. The project that I am joining is investigating the use of organic waste as a feedstock for growing polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) accumulating bacteria. PHAs are biological polymers that can be used in place of petroleum based polymers to make plastic. By utilizing the organic pollutants found in wastewater to grow PHA accumulating bacteria, we can both clean the wastewater and produce environmentally friendly plastic materials. Since having been introduced to the project, I have been learning my way around the laboratory where I´ll be working for the next 9 months, and putting my Spanish skills to work as I get to know my new officemates.
Overall, I’m very excited and honored to be a part of the Fulbright Program here in Spain. The program was created to “bring a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs and thereby increase the chance that nations will learn at last to live in peace and friendship.” So in a sense, as grantees we have the opportunity to be cultural ambassadors of the United States, sharing our cultural perspective with the people we meet and learning from theirs. With that in mind, we were informed that this year would be one of the most incredible experiences of our lives so long as we approached it with an open mind, flexible attitude, and without fear of putting ourselves out there. So let’s see how things goes.
I hope you check back for my next post where I’ll let you know what a day in my life in Spain looks like. For now, adios!
Ana Martin is a 6th year PhD student in Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Illinois. She is spending the 2015 - 2016 academic year living and researching in Barcelona, Spain on a Fulbright Research Fellowship. Her research centers on wastewater treatment. Ana will be reporting in from to field to tell us all about her experience as an Illinois graduate student living abroad.