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Group of MC scholars preparing for Fulbright experience

07/19/2012
Associate dean Bren Tooley, who will be leading the upcoming Fulbright trip to Bulgaria, hikes in the Rhodope Mountains during a recent visit to the eastern European country.
Fulbright summer institutes attract the best and the brightest faculty and students from around the world, including this year a group of scholars from Monmouth College.

Bren Tooley, Monmouth’s associate dean of academic affairs, will teach a course at the Fulbright International Summer Institute (FISI) in Bulgaria in August. But she’s not going alone; she will be taking four Monmouth College students with her.

FISI is an annual summer program administered by the Bulgarian-American Fulbright Commission. It has been in operation since 2002 and was one of the first of the Fulbright Summer Institutes.

“This is the first time a group of undergraduate students from a college has been accepted into FISI as a cohort,” said Tooley. “They will take Fulbright Institute classes with students from across Europe and beyond.”

The group will depart the U.S. on Aug. 11 for the two-week institute, returning just prior to the start of Monmouth College’s fall semester. Junior psychology major Sara Frakes is eager for the opportunity. “This is my first experience to study abroad,” she said. “Experiencing Bulgarian culture and broadening my horizons is what I am most looking forward to on this trip.”
Other Monmouth students attending will be Lukas Devlin of Rock Island, Joseph Hasenstein of Peoria and Kaylin Smith of Bolingbrook.

Most of the intensive courses are one week in length, but a few of them span both weeks of the institute, including a course on Bulgarian culture. Students may take up to three courses each week, and each course meets daily in a time block of two hours and 45 minutes.

“We are very proud of each one of our accepted students,” said Tooley. “This is a significant honor and I hope will be a transformative and enjoyable educational experience for the students. They will find that Bulgaria is beautiful, as well as culturally and historically fascinating.”

Tooley speaks from experience, as she was a Fulbright Scholar in Bulgaria in 2010, teaching and conducting research at the University of Veliko Turnovo. During the upcoming institute, she will be teaching “Writing Bulgaria in English” with her Veliko Tarnovo colleague Ludmila Kostova, chair of the university’s department of English and American Studies.

Tooley and Kostova’s course will cover literary representations of Bulgaria in books written in English. Kostova, who teaches English literature to Bulgarian students, sees English as a global language. Through an examination of works by Miroslav Penkov, Kapka Kassabova, and Elizabeth Kostova, they plan to explore the ways in which writers deeply familiar with Bulgaria convey complex impressions of Bulgarian places, characters, and events both fictional and historical in English.

In addition to teaching the course, Tooley was also part of the planning process for FISI, attending a Euroacademia conference in May titled “Reinventing Eastern Europe.”

“It was valuable preparation for the Fulbright Institute, as the panel originated as a gathering of scholars to reflect upon the books we’ll be teaching in August,” she said. “We invited colleagues from Germany, Italy and Romania who are doing interesting work with other Eastern European authors.”

Tooley presented “A Country in Stories: The Interplay of Identity and Exoticism in the Short Stories of Miroslav Penkov” at the conference, as part of a panel on literary representations of Eastern Europe. The conference proceedings will soon be published.

Both FISI and Monmouth College are interested in working together in the future. Tooley hopes that Monmouth College students will continue to be eligible in future years to apply for acceptance into the program and that interest in Bulgaria and Eastern Europe grows as students return to Monmouth to share their new understanding of a part of the world that is relatively little known in the United States.