In the fall of 1998, still smarting from the loss of the Student Body President election I believed I would win, I had figure out what to do post graduation. I had no plan. I majored in international business because I enjoyed it and it did not interfere with my rowing practices. My undergraduate university used the 4-1-4 class schedule. Fall semester had four classes, one intense class in January (J-term) and another four classes in the spring. J-term was a great time to study abroad for students who couldn’t afford a semester abroad either financially or with required course work. Or crew practice.
Sophomore year J-term I went to Norway and loved it. By far, I was the worst of the Norwegian language students. I did not care. I was fluent in ordering coffee and buying sweaters. Therefore, going back to Norway after graduation was a no brainer. But how to pay for it? A scholarship I had never heard of and knew nothing about covered everything: monthly stipend, relocation, books, tuition for additional classes, EVERYTHING. All I had to do was get the scholarship.
Step 1 on my list: write a sexy, eye-catching, meaningful, save the world proposal. Given the times (actually any time in human history) conflict resolution was the obvious choice. I drafted my proposal and gave it to Anthropology Professor. At our meeting the next afternoon, proposal in hand she looked at me, “how much do you know about conflict resolution?”
“Nothing,” I admitted.
“Well, it shows. Here. With your background, you are much better qualified to study sustainable development. It’s about economics and protecting the environment.” This was the first I’d heard of sustainable development.
“Read these,” she said handing me five texts, “and get a new draft back to me tomorrow morning.” So I did. I’m not one to pull all nighters, but since I had to be up at 4:45 am for practice, that night came close.
An advisor who specialized in this particular scholarship strongly recommended that I find a mentor in my host country to increase my chances to receiving the award. Norwegian Professor had a contact and gave me his email address. I cheerfully sent one of my very first emails and it turned out this contact was the Program Chair for the most recent gathering of the World Commission on Environment and Development. I’m reasonably certain my email had a typo in it. He agreed to serve as my mentor at the University of Oslo in his research group, ProSus.
Now I really wanted the scholarship. After the conflict resolution draft debacle, I edited and reviewed the sustainable development version no fewer than eleven times with four different professors. Finally, I mailed my application packet for Sustainable Development through the Venue of International Business to the national committee.
Once the national committee accepted the written proposal, I completed the panel interview, and waited for five months.
And then, in late spring 1999 I received a standard first class envelope in the mail. The rejection envelope. Disappointed, I tossed it on my bed and left for afternoon practice. When I got home I thought, “let’s get this over with,” and ripped it open.
I GOT THE SCHOLARSHIP!
Fall of 1999 I flew to Oslo, Norway to start my year long adventure on a Fulbright Scholarship. Of course I had no idea that the next nine months would fundamentally set the course of my life. Losing that election, heartbreaking as it was at the time, set a series of events in motion that I could not have imagined.
What seemingly devastating event defied your wildest expectations?