A Fulbright Scholar in Berlin: Cultural Ambassador, Political Scientist, and Yoga Instructor

Renu Singh is a doctoral student in the Georgetown University Government Department and a 2017 Fulbright Scholar. Renu holds an MSc in Public Policy and Administration from the London School of Economics and Political Science, a B.A. in Political Science and a B.S. in Microbiology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. 

Four months ago, I returned from a journey that began in the fall of 2017 when I embarked on my Fulbright. This was my second time living in Germany, but it was a first for living in Berlin. I had lived and worked in Munich right after college as an epidemiologist with training in the natural sciences and a passion for public health policy, and I returned as a PhD candidate in political science and an avid Germanophile.

Being part of the Fulbright community has been an honor and an adventure. Being part of the 2017-2018 cohort was also particularly meaningful, because 2018 marked 70 years since the first Fulbright grantees traveled overseas to begin what has become the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the US Department of State. In 1946, Senator J. William Fulbright proposed a fund to promote “international goodwill” through student exchange using the proceeds from surplus war property sales in World War II. All of these years later, the fundamental importance of cultural ambassadors is as strong as ever, and the experience of being one is just as meaningful.

As a PhD grantee, the Fulbright Program enabled me to conduct critical research in my field across Germany and in Berlin while also building relationships with scholars and practitioners. My dissertation book project focuses on policy change in public health policy in Germany and the United States. I received a grant to conduct fieldwork in Berlin and a few particular Länder (states), which involved archival research at the state and federal level and interviews with various elites in food policy. I felt lucky to be able to speak with people ranging from local German politicians and EU bureaucrats to health professionals and food industry representatives. I was sponsored by the Hertie School of Governance and used the university as an academic base and developed a kind of academic family and support network among the Hertie community. When my research required additional work in involving EU institutions, the German Fulbright Commission was very supportive and even helped me find connections via their EU-NATO Seminar in Brussels and Luxembourg City.

What I did not realize was that being a Fulbright scholar would also allow me to flourish in areas outside of my research and academia. Growing up in a suburb of Massachusetts with strong ties to Portugal, soccer was often the sport of choice and one that I came to love at an early age. In Berlin, I was able to train with one of the city’s women’s soccer clubs. I also am very passionate about promoting health on a personal level and being more applied with my research. As a certified Ashtanga yoga instructor, I regularly volunteer teach at Georgetown and the US Botanic Gardens in addition to teaching my own classes at a studio. In Berlin, I volunteered at the Hertie School and was asked to give a TEDx Talk after running an interactive yoga session as part of the Fulbright Commission’s annual Berlin Seminar.

All of these experiences were incredibly enriching and only possible thanks to the support of the Georgetown Office of Fellowships, The Fulbright Program, and the German Fulbright Commission. The Commission in particular became a source of encouragement, community, and support throughout my Fulbright and beyond when I decided to extend my stay to finish additional research. They provided numerous opportunities to express ourselves, meet likeminded German and American colleagues, and even have a place to celebrate Thanksgiving abroad. Thanks to all of them I have been able to conduct my fieldwork in Germany while making lasting friendships and memories with Berliners and fellow Fulbrighters along the way.

Renu, sitting in a chair doing a yoga pose, as part of her TEDx Talk

Renu, in a seated twist, giving a TEDx Talk in Berlin

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