Brendan Walsh, a student in the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program, has been selected for a Fulbright U.S. Student Award for 2013-2014 to Laos, where he will teach English at Ventiane University, assisting an English professor. Walsh, who will graduate from the M.F.A. program this month, is also an administrative assistant in the Office of International Education. He had previously taught ESL (English As a Second Language) for one year in Korea, as well as at Hartwick College, where he received his undergraduate degree, graduating magna cum laude and with departmental distinction in English.
Walsh has received a number of accolades for his writing, including the Anna Sonder Poetry Prize of the Academy of American Poets and the Leslie Leeds Poetry Prize for the Connecticut State University System, and was a featured reader at the New American Writing Festival in Oneonta, N.Y. A poet with several of his poems published in literary journals, Walsh has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and since 2011 has been poetry editor of Noctua Review, Southern’s graduate art and literary magazine.
Michael Schindel, associate coordinator and risk management liaison in the Office of International Education, is the Fulbright Program Advisor for SCSU. He helps students with Fulbright applications, coordinates the campus Fulbright committee review — which in this case was performed by Schindel, Erin Heidkamp, Elena Schmitt, Ilene Crawford and Gregory Paveza — and handles outreach efforts relating to Fulbright. Schindel says of Walsh, “It was a real pleasure working with Brendan on his Fulbright application. He is someone who believes wholeheartedly in the benefits of travel and is truly excited when helping our SCSU students begin their own adventures. Brendan is someone who devotes himself completely to achieving whatever goal he sets out to accomplish. When he had the idea of pursing a Fulbright award after completing his M.F.A., he began researching potential placements and realized this would be his opportunity to live in Laos. Once he had that in mind, there was really no stopping him. He was quick and thorough in his application responses. He worked extensively on draft after draft of his personal statement. He also began thinking of ways to work in Laos during his non-teaching hours, finding orphanages and schools where he could volunteer his time.”
In his proposal for the Fulbright award, Walsh wrote that he applied “to Laos specifically because it preserves the East Asian culture that many have come to romanticize but not truly experience, and though romanticizing a people and culture can result in misunderstanding and disappointment, my time in Korea taught me to separate individuals from cultural preconceptions. Rather than limit myself to the standard backpacker’s experience of Laos, the ETA grants me the opportunity to form solid, trusting relationships with fellow instructors, students, and citizens. Through these relationships, I hope to create a cross-cultural dialogue between two cultures which have been at odds in recent history.”
Walsh says he is particularly interested in Laos because it is “sort of the last bastion of Asia, unexplained by Westerners.” He found Southeast Asia captivating when he traveled there previously, he says, but “Laos gave this possibility of new discovery” he finds compelling.
Walsh says he will use journaling and poetry writing with his students in Laos as ways to improve their communication skills. In addition to teaching, Walsh plans to continue his study of Theravada Buddhism, work on a new collection of poetry inspired by his experiences in Laos, and volunteer at a local orphanage.
According to the Fulbright Award program Web site, the English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) is one of five types of awards for which students are eligible. An ETA, says the Web site, “places a Fulbrighter in a classroom abroad to provide assistance to teachers of English to non-native English-speakers. English Teaching Assistants help teach English language while serving as a cultural ambassador for U.S. culture. The age and academic level of classroom students varies by country, ranging from kindergarten to university level.”
Schindel says that Walsh “will be a great representative for SCSU in Laos and we are all very proud of him.”