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Lifetime Connections as a Fulbright Alumnus

Jack Godwin with statue of father-son Bulgarian writers Petko and Pencho Slaveykov

People Who Do International Exchange Feel More Alive

Dr. Jack Godwin has made international education his life mission. He is changing the assumption that it’s just about one study abroad experience as an undergraduate. Throughout his professional career as a university administrator, he has participated in the U.S. Department of State-sponsored J. William Fulbright Program to different countries every few years.

While an international experience is voluntary, he finds those who choose it to be most interesting.

“They are on the verge of something – they are choosing to take the adventurous path and want to keep learning, keep growing, and to put themselves where they are immersed in another culture.”

When Jack was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, like others in his family, he did not let it stop him.

“Diabetes altered my entire life. It took a while to get used to it but you have no choice; you could stop traveling and doing international education or you could manage it. In managing it, you get a level of control over it. It all goes into planning.”

During his five Fulbright experiences, for example, Jack disclosed to the program staff on their medical form, packed enough medication and supplies in his airline carry-on, and wore a medical alert necklace in case of an emergency.

He also knows he will walk more when he travels than he does at home. This means he must adjust his insulin for more calories burned even if he eats the same. The goal is to keep his blood sugar down, and sometimes it just goes too low. So, he carries an emergency supply of sugar in his pocket to easily access during a presentation or anytime he needs it.  

Once in Japan, this dose of sugar wasn’t enough, so used his broken Japanese quickly to ask for orange juice from a snack counter. After draining the bottle, he recovered and then was able to pay and interact in a way he felt was more culturally polite.

He often finds himself not only a cultural ambassador in his role as Fulbright Specialist, but also for his diabetes. It can be awkward at times when a host graciously offers too many different types of foods that he can’t eat and still stay healthy.

“They are so insistent – have cake, have cookies, have a second helping. They aren’t trying to kill you, they are trying to be nice.”

In Canada, Wales, and Hungary, Jack lectured on politics or business in classes for undergraduates and graduate students or during public speeches, and gave presentations about what it was like to study in the United States. These three-week experiences kept him busy.

The Fulbright International Education Administrators seminars he did for three weeks to Japan and Germany also were fascinating for him. He traveled with other Americans to look at higher education in those countries, and in smaller groups he was able to debrief all they had seen that day over dinner.

“The great thing about Fulbright is the name means something so you get treated with respect and deference. There are so many great things about the program, but my memory of the real camaraderie with the group in Japan is one of the highlights of my life.”

It’s no surprise that Jack is now a lifetime member of the Fulbright Association, and often encourages his colleagues and students he advises to make international exchange part of their life too.

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