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Justine Koontz, who recently completed her masters degree in choral conducting and composition at Butler University, is currently abroad in Latvia and researching choral culture as a Fulbright scholar. She was awarded a Fulbright grant, a prestigious scholarship for graduate and undergraduate students that covers the full cost of studying or researching abroad.
“Everything you’re accustomed to can be different in another part of the world,” Justine Koontz said in an email about her experience researching abroad as a Fulbright scholar. “In having to adapt to a new set of habits, you start calling into question practices and customs of your own that you can see in a different light.
“I kept reading about this great choir or an awesome event that took place in [Riga, Latvia],” she said. “Latvia was home to some amazing choral traditions and had been nicknamed ‘the country that sings’ … but I couldn’t find anything about what those traditions were and why they were in place.”
And with that, her research idea was born.
Koontz’s Fulbright experience is unique in that her research is entirely independent and self-motivated, with only the assistance of a Latvian choral conductor whom she “cold-emailed” when applying for her grant, and “just about did cartwheels” when he agreed to be her affiliate. Also, she doesn’t have to pay for traveling or living expenses. She receives a stipend during her year of research as a part of her Fulbright grant.
Dacia Charlesworth, Butler’s director of undergraduate research and prestigious scholarships, describes the Fulbright program in two tracks: The UK Summer Institute Program for undergraduate students after their first or second year, and the U.S Student program for graduates like Koontz.
The U.K. Summer Institute Program consists of three or six week summer study programs at one of the ten cooperative universities. This program is available to students of any major with a GPA of 3.7 or higher.
In the past, first year and sophomore students at Butler have studied climate change at the University of Exeter, studied theatre and Shakespeare at the Globe Theatre and done archeological digs at the University of Durham as a part of this program.
The U.S Student program for graduate students is broken into three sections: study research, English teaching, and art awards.
The study research grants, which allow for individualized research in a specific area of interest, are the most competitive. Koontz said the process forces you to organize your resume and other professional documents and helps you to become a much better writer.
“There’s a very lengthy application, and the time it takes to research a potential project and then write and rewrite a proposal is an investment,” she said.
For undergraduate students applying to the UK Summer Institute, the application requires two letters of recommendation, a 600-word personal statement, and the option of three questions that are reminiscent of college essay prompts. The deadline for this program is the end of February.
Charlesworth encourages students to set up a meeting with her if they are at all interested in study abroad and to start early. She also stressed Butler’s dedication to helping students study abroad.
“Other schools don’t have someone like me. Butler is paying my salary to help get their students money to study abroad,” Charlesworth said. “All of Butler’s offices work together to help students, and Butler students have been incredibly successful with these grants.”