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Graduate is UNL's record-setting ninth student Fulbright

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December graduate Anita Middleton of O'Fallon, Ill., will travel to Russia on a Fulbright Scholarship to be an English teaching assistant. During her trip she also plans to volunteer in a child care center or an orphanage. She leaves for Russia in September.

"I'm definitely appreciative to get this scholarship," Middleton said. "This is going to help me with my studies and my future as well."

Middleton is the ninth student Fulbright scholar named in 2011 — becoming the highest number of Fulbright awards named in a year at UNL. The feat is particularly noteworthy because of the increased number of national applications, meaning more competition, fellowship adviser Laura Damuth said. Applications nationally were up 40 percent.

Middleton graduated with a major in Russian and minors in Czech and international studies. She has already had the chance to practice her Russian among native speakers. The spring semester of her junior year, she took Russian language courses at Moscow International University.

"I definitely learned way more Russian just being there for a semester than living in the U.S. for two years," she said. "Being there in Moscow that semester boosted my Russian vocabulary and my skills in the Russian language." She also spent the following summer studying Czech at Charles University in Prague.

Middleton started studying Russian when she was a freshman at UNL. She said she didn't know what to study but she enjoyed learning languages, so she tried Russian.

"I figured it would be a good path to take, since I didn't really know what I was interested in that time," she said. Now, she has developed a passion for the Russian language and culture.

"I just like Russian because it's a different language, it's not the same as French or Spanish but it's not as different as Chinese or Arabic; it still has it similarities to English," she said.

Readjusting to the culture will be the most difficult and the most rewarding part of her Fulbright experience, Middleton said: "It's a very different culture. It's particularly interesting to me because it's somewhat of a European country but it's not like Europe at all."

One of the biggest cultural differences, Middleton said, is the fewer amenities in Russia compared to the United States.

"I would say the average American lives very comfortably compared to the average Russian," she said. "Things we don't really think of in America — restaurants, shopping malls, having a car — are considered luxury items in a sense." But she is looking forward to meeting new people. "Once you get to know Russians they're pretty warm and inviting," she said.

Middleton is excited to have the opportunity to speak Russian on a daily basis and to be immersed in the language for an extended amount of time. She will use her Fulbright experience to sort out her long-term career plans — helping her decide if she wants to pursue a career in teaching, government or something else.

Radha Balasubramanian, associate professor and vice chair of modern languages and literatures, said the Fulbright experience will give Middleton the skills and confidence she needs to work in the field of her choosing.

"I expect her to bloom with confidence after this and either become a great teacher or get into government and analyze and interpret stuff," Balasubramanian said. "She is always interested in the world and has an open mind about absorbing the best from other cultures. She will use this to benefit her."

The Fulbright Program, established in 1946 and funded by the U.S. Department of State, is designed to foster understanding between the United States and other countries. The U.S. Student Fulbright program gives recent graduates, graduate students and young professionals the opportunity to conduct research, study or teach in one of the 155 countries that the program operates. The Fulbright program is the flagship international education program sponsored by the U.S. government. About 8,000 grants are awarded annually, and about 1,600 of those grants are awarded to U.S. students.

- Christine Scalora, Undergraduate Studies