A Unique Path to a Fulbright Master’s Degree Program

Written by Dr. Marcela Garcés

Emma Willette ’23 double majored in Spanish and Political Science, and will begin a prestigious
Fulbright Master’s Degree program at Queens University in Belfast, Ireland in Global Security and Borders this fall.

While she started out studying History and Pre-law, Emma ended up pursuing in Spanish and Political Science. Courses in Women’s and Gender Studies and Political Science confirmed her interest in majoring in Political Science, while studying abroad in Spain inspired her to continue studying Spanish.

Emma was also able to spend a fall semester in Washington DC and completed an internship while there. The experience in DC made her think about who she was, what she wanted and what she liked – and being away from campus at Siena allowed her to define herself and even learn new life skills and think about where she wanted to grow personally. She felt more comfortable taking the step to study abroad after this experience as she interacted with a lot of international students in DC and practiced starting conversations with people she didn’t know.

Emma enjoyed studying Spanish in high school, and recognized it was valuable to her in whatever she ends up doing. Studying abroad in Bilbao, Spain made her change from a minor in Spanish to a major as she realized she wanted to continue pursuing studies in the language and culture. In Bilbao, she was able to use Spanish in everyday conversation, whether with her host family or out with friends. The whole experience of studying abroad was challenging, but it gave Emma skills to interact with new people and learn about other cultures. She gained confidence, and friends and family remarked how she even carried herself differently. Living with a host family allowed her to build a more intimate relationship with the language and with native speakers, and while it was hard work to speak Spanish all the time at first, but she eventually fell into a rhythm. Emma learned to travel on her own and navigate airports – she felt good realizing she could plan a trip to Berlin to visit a friend she met while studying in DC and return home safely. In the photo, she is pictured soaking in the beautiful Gaudí architecture on a trip to Barcelona.

Emma began thinking about applying for a Fulbright while she was in Spain. She returned home and realized “I’m ready to go on to the next place!” She had learned about the possibility of a Fulbright program in DC from peers who worked with Fulbright and the State Department. Upon returning to Siena, she researched different Masters’ Programs with Fulbright connections, and found one in Queens University in Belfast, Ireland in Global Security and Borders. Right away, she noticed how there were social justice aspects in the program that attracted her and clearly connected to coursework at Siena, such as classes in Medical Spanish and Political Science. She spent the summer of 2022 working on her Fulbright application, realizing “this is so niche to my interests – why not apply?” Her persistence paid off, and Emma was accepted to the one-year program, the first Siena student to win this prestigious award.

To complement her studies, she hopes to do an internship at a refugee organization in Belfast, where she can help people settle and empathize with them due to her own experiences learning another language. She plans to join the Spanish Club at Queens University to continue practicing her skills.

Emma’s prior experiences abroad will surely be of help to her, particularly leading with humility and an inquisitive spirit to be open to a new culture and embody the values of the Fulbright program as a cultural ambassador. When asked about advice she would give to future students, Emma remarked that “pushing yourself further than what you think you’re capable of is really important.” Emma is a great example of her own ethos, and we are delighted she is pursuing her dreams through all her hard work!

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