The recent Fulbright Women’s Leadership and Reentry Enrichment Seminar at Saint Mary’s College brought together women from Southeast Asia and successful female professionals from the Moraga Community.
Thirty seven women flew to the Bay area from leading American institutions like Purdue, Cornell, Duke, and a number of state universities to attend four days of workshops, panels and inspirational speeches while staying with local host families.
The seminar provided an opportunity to reflect on their time in the United States and build networks to support their upcoming return to their native countries.
Two of the Fulbright scholars stepped away from the workshops to share their personal perspectives on the time they spent in the United States.
Diani Citra, 26, is from Jakarta, Indonesia. A Communications scholar studying at New York University, she lost both parents at age 15 and raised herself, working as a sales promotion girl for an auto maker.
Is life different here than in your country?
Everything is different! It’s easier to be yourself, to develop and think less of constraints.
Religion, gender, and money are different. When my parents died, there was no government support and my relatives were too poor to take another child. I worked to pay for school, which was probably one dollar per month. My dad was the first in his family to go to college. He was very poor and had to walk 20 miles a day to go to school. He taught me that hard work paid off.
What brought her to the Fulbright program?
When I was in Indonesia I knew there had to be more than just struggling to eat, to live. After I put myself through college, I lived so much better, but that early experience taught me there is so much more to life. The main reason was to see what is outside of Indonesia. Traveling to the United States, I got to see more of the world.
What will you take back to your country from your experience here?
Indonesia is very patriarchal. I want to tell the women, there is no limit to what you can do. Women can achieve beyond their limits. There, women are told the women’s area is only the bed, kitchen and sumur (a well). This conference and my experience in the U.S. is totally different.
What things are better in Indonesia?
Organic food that is just called “food,” not something special.
A good health care system. Even when my parents died, I still had access to it.
Education is very cheap there. I paid $125 per semester at a top university.
The closeness of Indonesia people. There’s a certain distance in friendships here that I am not accustomed to.
What is the most surprising thing you learned?
That it’s not perfect. We role modeled our democracy on the U. S., but when I came here, I saw the little parts that aren’t perfect at all.
Charlotte Kendra Gotangco Castillo, 28, traveled from Quezon City in the Philippines to Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.
How is life different here than in your country?
Weather is an obvious difference. I’ve never had to deal with winter. Also, I came from a big, urbanized area — very cosmopolitan — and West Lafayette is a university town. I liked the greeness and I appreciated the cultural activities, but I did miss the big city.
Being independent was a big change. In the Philippines we’re very family oriented. It’s common to live with your family until you are married. Having to do everything for myself was challenging but a good experience. You never know what you can do until you are on your own.
What brought you to the program?
I had an aunt who was a (Fulbright) fellow, so I was familiar with the program. I got to a point where I realized I needed further training to advance and to make a contribution to society. I was teaching physics to undergraduates and doing environmental research. I was looking for an interdisciplinary program, but there weren’t any in my country that incorporated science and policy. So I applied, and here I am.
What will you take back to your country?
First, the skills I’ve gained here: how to use computer models, applying information to policy matters to show implications of different variables, communicating climate change to connect how different fields will affect the environment.
What is the most surprising thing you learned?
How diverse people can be, even in one country. When I got here and visited states like Nebraska and New Mexico, I realized there was a lot more variety than what Philippine television shows had taught me to believe about the United States.
A panel discussion with leading professional women from the Bay area closed the afternoon. Fulbright scholars listened to tips on dealing with gender or cultural bias in the workplace, accepting the difficulties of being a successful career woman by preparing and “being good at your work,” and balancing the demands of work and family.