Thursday, July 7, 2011

Independence woman lands Fulbright grant!

By Kelly Evenson -
After spending one year living in Guanajuato, Mexico, participating in an undergraduate study abroad program of Spanish immersion courses, Esther Francis knew that one day she wanted to go back.

However, the lifelong Independence resident did not know that she would be going back to Mexico so soon.

“When I heard about the bilingual business program, I knew it was something I wanted to do,” she said. “That is why I was so super excited when I found out I had received one of these grants. This is a rare opportunity to learn more on a professional level and immerse myself in the Hispanic culture.”

Francis, who graduated from Park University in May with two bachelor of arts degrees, one in business administration/human resources and a second in business administration/international business, received a 2011-12 Fulbright Binational Business Grant.

The Fulbright program is the flagship international educational exchange program, which is sponsored by the U.S. government. It is designed to increase the mutual understanding between people of the United States and those from other countries. The program operates in more than 155 countries throughout the world. Recipients of Fulbright grants are selected based on academic or professional achievement as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields. The Fulbright program is available to any American who has a bachelor’s degree to spend nine months studying, researching or teaching in a foreign country.

The Binational Business Grant includes a full-time internship with a participating company in Mexico City as well as the opportunity to enroll in graduate level courses at the Mexico Autonomous Institute of Technology. Francis previously studied in Mexico during the 2009-10 school year.

This is the second consecutive Park University student to receive a Fulbright grant. Tamera Jenkins, a 2009 Park University graduate, received a 2010-11 Fulbright Scholarship, choosing to study at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, B.C. But that is not the only connection between Francis and Jenkins.

“I have actually known her (Tamera) for years. I grew up knowing her because I was friends with her daughter,” Francis said. “I thought if she could do it, then so could I. I am a person that doesn’t like to take no for an answer.”

Francis said receiving the grant is a great recognition of all her hard work. The single mother of two began taking college courses 13 years ago. She said she chose to major in human resources so she could use her own life experiences to help those facing difficult challenges.

“This an area I can use my education in the professional world to help others set goals and learn how to reach them as well,” she said. “I didn’t think I had a chance in the world, but I did. I want to be able to tell others that they can do it too.”

Francis said the internship will help her gain international experience and allow her to further immerse in the Mexican culture.

“When we were there last year, it was definitely an eye opener. It is a much slower paced, relaxing kind of life. Things still get done, but it is not at the same frantic level,” she said. “It is a very culture-rich environment. But I had to learn really fast. The experience taught me to trust in myself and help to show me how I can succeed no matter what environment I am in.”

Francis will leave in August for Mexico. She said she is excited about the opportunity and is “truly honored” about the encouragement and support she has been given the last few years.

“All I ever wanted to do was learn,” she said. “When I get bored or get burnt out, I find something new and interesting to do. Through this experience, I hope to learn about concepts I didn’t even know existed. I know this will be an eye opener, and I am very excited for what is to come.”

Monday, August 24, 2009

We are in Mexico!!!

We arrived in Leon, Mexico and quickly made it through customs, even though I only understood five out of fifty words the man said (he talked way too fast.) We met a new friend in the customs line who will also be going to the University of Guanajuato's Escuela de Idiomas (we were on the same plane.) We were told we would need to take a taxi to our homestay, but there was a gentleman holding a sign with my name on it (never had that happen before.) I hardly understood anything he said also. I thought he said he was with the university, but come to find out the university sent him to pick us up. It was a last minute order, so they had no way to notify me about it. It was a good thing though because the taxis are extremely small. We would have had to take two to get all of us and our luggage to Guanajuato. So we had a 13 passenger van for us and our stuff for $60 instead of two taxis for $40 each.

The van took us to the middle of the city and four muchachos from the city's tourist company helped us take our luggage around three or four corners and up the hill some to our homestay. We stayed in the Senora's home for the first four day, complete with three meals a day and laundry. Senora was more than wonderful, bending over backwards for us. We had to keep saying "No importante" and "No mas, gracias." She has three guest rooms, and her other students were very helpful as well. It was a wonderful circumstance that we had to stay there at first (our apartment was not ready yet.) It gave us time to get adjusted to the city, learn new vocabulary, and find our way around.

Senora insisted we take her room because we would all fit in one room with her king size bed, swiss cot, and love seat. We had our own private bathroom. And as Senora said we were safer on the first floor than in the available room on the second floor (which she moved into for the weekend) with floor to ceiling windows and no bars.

She repeatedly asked me if she could order pizza for the kids because they had mentioned it once. I finally had to put my foot down and insist that they needed to try harder to behave for at least a day. They had a better day and night. The next day she asked if I would like to go with her to ISSTE, cheaper than la tiendas, mini-walmart is what they call it...the closest 'wal-mart' is in Leon - 30 to 45 minutes away.) The second she shut the door behind her, she asked me again if she could get pizza for the kids. I had to give in.

The homestay was an excellent location for our first weekend. We were directly across the callejon from Callejon de Beso (the famous kissing alley where two balconies are close enough that a young in-love couple could kiss and only three minutes (without luggage) to Jaurez (the main street, one of the only two). [Oh, there are tons of winding, twisting, up and down streets, but they call them callejones (alleys because some of them are too narrow for cars, no matter how small it is.) Don't worry, they have plenty of underground roads in the tunnels which use to be home to the river that ran through the middle of the city until they got tired of the continuous flooding and built a dam.] We watched burros walk the alley and the Callejoneadas (costumed alley-walkers, lol) four times a night as they walked through the callejones singing and telling history stories for the tourists (who are almost all Hispanic (99.9%). ) Very entertaining from our floor to ceiling windows right on the sidewalk.

Check in now for your 9:42 a.m. flight to Leon/Guanajuato, Mexico (BJX)

After multiple trips to AAA for more passport pictures, the Mexican Consulate office, and to my school to meet with my wonderful Study Abroad Advisor and wonderful Financial Aid Advisor to finalize important paperwork, I packed everything we would need the night before we left. I finish around 2am.

Our flight left at 9:42am, so we did not have to get up until 6:30am to be able to leave by 7:00am for the 45 minute drive to the airport. My sister's flight left at 6:00am, so of course, I received a wake up call at 5:00am while she was waiting for her flight to board. She wanted to make sure we had both packed everything that we needed. We managed to pack enough for ten months in our four carry-ons and four check-in suitcases. (Later we learned our lesson...)

Going Away

We had a wonderful time at our going away party on August 2. We had a huge turn out at the park for tacos and watermelon. Lots of family and friends and hugs and kisses. We are headed to Guanajuato, Mexico for ten months of Spanish immersion courses. It is a study abroad program through my school, Park University. It will definitely be a change of pace for my family. My two children, Matthew (7) and Matayah (4), and my sister, Elizabeth will be accompaning me on my journey.

Two full days left before our flight takes off and we have not started packing. Plenty to do...