Photo Credit to Duke Athletics
Max St. George, ACE in China 2017 alum, was recently awarded a Fulbright Fellowship and is set to depart for Malaysia as part of the English Teaching Assistant Program this coming winter. Max was a member of the Duke Men’s Swimming and Diving Team and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Economics. Max is the third ACE alum who has received a Fulbright award since ACE began 5 years ago. The ACE team sat down via Zoom and caught up with Max to learn more about why he applied, what he hopes to get out of his Fulbright experience, and share any advice he has for future ACE applicants.
Can you give a bit of background on what the Fulbright program is and what the application process was like for you?
The Fulbright English Teaching Assistant program is a fellowship that takes place abroad over a 10-month period, so about a whole school year. There are Fulbright recipients located all over the world. There’s two different fellowship options for participants – you can be a scholar or a teacher. Basically, a scholar focuses on research projects and the teachers teach English. I’m going to be an English teacher in Malaysia.
ACE Program Director, Emily Durham influenced me to apply to Fulbright. At first, I thought, “There’s no way I’m going to get in so why even bother,” but Emily encouraged me to do it. After that, I got in contact with Bevin Tighe at the Duke Office of University Scholars and Fellows (OUSF). She kept me on task the whole time and offered advice as I revised my essays. I worked on my application for about a month or two and turned it in last August. I heard back about the final decision in April.
Where are you going for your Fulbright, what will you be doing there, and why did you apply to that location?
I’m going to Malaysia, and I’ll be teaching English. There are a lot of reasons why I chose Malaysia. One was that I did my ACE program in China and both are in a similar region of the world. Another reason is that the Malaysia program places teachers in rural areas so we won’t be located in urban areas like some of the other Fulbright programs. I wanted to go somewhere that was going to be more challenging to live in and different than what I’m used to. Something I want to do in my life is work as an economist to help alleviate poverty and help developing countries grow sustainably. Malaysia is currently growing really fast right now, and I want to see how that’s impacting the rural communities there.
With the world uprooted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, do you have an idea about where you are with the Fulbright process now?
I actually heard from Fulbright about a week ago. My program, unlike other Fulbright programs, is set to depart in January because that’s when the school year starts in Malaysia. Now it seems like that’s when all Fulbright programs will be starting this year due to COVID-19. They’re still planning on moving forward with everything. From what I hear it sounds like Malaysia has the pandemic more under control than other places.
Is there anything specific from your ACE experience that led you to seek other post-graduate engagement opportunities, specifically Fulbright?
The ACE program was one of the best experiences of my life. I loved it. I loved engaging with the community there and loved meeting people that were so different than anyone I’ve ever met in my life. It expanded my view on a lot of different things. I always thought I was supposed to get a job here in the US and get grinding after graduation, but I spoke with Emily my senior year and explained my situation. She helped me start applying to a number of grant and volunteer jobs. Actually, I was going to initially go be a Peace Corps volunteer in Sierra Leone but that fell through because of COVID. I was really excited to do that; it was going to be intense. My placement community didn’t have running water or electricity so it was going to be a big culture shock and I wanted that honestly. I was getting ready to go and was supposed to leave on June 15th. Fortunately, I was able to switch tracks to Fulbright.
What do you hope you can apply from your ACE experience to your upcoming Fulbright experience?
One thing I want to do in Malaysia that I did well in ACE in China is to connect with the local community. I think that’s how you learn the most from these kinds of experiences. You learn about their life experiences and understand their challenges. That’s why I want to learn how the rural communities are being impacted economically. I don’t want to just look at cold hard facts off the internet; I want to hear what they have to say about issues in their country because they’re the people being directly impacted.
Another thing I hope I can apply to Fulbright that I did in ACE is being really open-minded. I didn’t have too many expectations on what was going to happen during ACE, and I want to have that same mindset in Malaysia. I think that way you’re able to better explore opportunities and different perspectives.
Do you have any advice to any student-athletes thinking about applying to ACE or for ACE alums looking to apply to similar post-graduate opportunities?
For student-athletes applying to ACE, I would say don’t go into the experience with high expectations on certain things. For example, “Oh, I have to be prepared because the food is going to be like this” or “we’re going to be in these living conditions so I have to do this, this, and this.” Show up and embrace the culture. It will be way less stressful on your body and way more fun.
Also, don’t miss your flight either – that was a rough day. I missed my first flight going to China from Chicago. At the end of the day, I threw my hands up and was like “I’m not going anymore.” But I did make it to China and now here we are.
For people thinking about applying to Fulbright and other programs, I would say that if you loved your ACE experience, apply. I didn’t consider doing anything like this until my senior year. When you’re a freshman or sophomore you can get really caught up in worrying about where your post-graduate career is going but this [Fulbright] is a legitimate career step. If you look at people who have done Peace Corps or Fulbright, what they go into afterward is incredible. These opportunities help you gain a global perspective in global careers and it opens a lot of doors. Most people have a game plan and apply to Fulbright going into their senior year, but I applied after my senior year and waited an extra year. It just goes to show, it’s never too late.
Curious to learn more about the Fulbright program? Interested Stanford student-athletes can visit the Bechtel International Center’s website for university-specific details. Duke student-athletes can learn more from the Office of Undergraduate Scholarships and Fellowships.