Recent SLCL graduates offered Fulbright grants

Three SLCL majors, two minors among 16 students and alumni offered grants
Jan Balan (photo by Colin Kenny)

Five recent graduates from the School of Literatures, Cultures & Linguistics were offered Fulbright grants to pursue international education, research, and teaching experiences around the globe this coming year.

They're among sixteen University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign students and recent graduates who were offered the grants. Another six Illinois students were named Fulbright alternates.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program builds international relationships to help solve global challenges. This flagship international educational exchange program of the U.S. government awards grants to students based on their academic and professional achievement, as well as their ambassadorial skills and leadership potential. The Fulbright student program will fund approximately 2,200 U.S. citizens to live abroad for the 2022-23 academic year.

“After a couple years of reduced study-abroad opportunities, it is exciting that borders have reopened and Illinois students and alumni have been selected to take part in the amazing adventure that is study abroad as a Fulbrighter,” said David Schug, the director of the National and International Scholarships Program. “In fact, the 16 grantees from U. of I. match the highest number selected in our university’s history.”

“The disciplinary range of those awardees is also notable, with students from the fine arts, social sciences, humanities and the sciences all being selected,” said Ken Vickery, the director of fellowships in the Graduate College. “Fulbright welcomes students of all stripes, and it’s great to see so many of our students, from so many departments, taking advantage of this extraordinary opportunity.”

The five young alumni with ties to SLCL who have accepted Fulbright grants:

Jan Balan, from Chicago, a graduate of Whitney M. Young High School, has received a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Spain. Balan graduated in May with a B.A. in teaching of Spanish. Since her freshman year, she has served as a teacher’s aide in a bilingual elementary school tutoring both Spanish and English. Balan also has volunteered and played piano for blind adults at the Friedman Place in Chicago. In Spain, she said she hopes to incorporate music into her classroom activities and use music to connect with her local community. After her Fulbright, Balan said she plans to earn a master’s degree in foreign language education and aspires to become a high school Spanish teacher.

Smiling young woman with dark hair and a yellow top
Janani Comar (photo provided)

Janani Comar, of Downers Grove, Illinois, has accepted a Fulbright-Nehru Student Research grant to India to study how non-elite writers and communities participated in the shaping of Hindu ethics in colonial times. Comar earned her master’s degree in religion in May 2019 before beginning a doctoral program at the University of Toronto. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from the California Institute of Technology. In India, Comar plans to conduct her study by developing relationships with scholars of folk performance and artists, accessing local manuscript material and working with scholars to translate Indian texts. She said she also plans to continue training in the Indian dance form Bharatanatyam and in martial arts to engage with other members of Indian society. Comar said her career goal is to become a professor who broadens her students’ cultural understanding through teaching courses in Hinduism, empire and religious narratives. 

Smiling young woman with dark and pink hair and a dark top
Sophia Ebel (photo by Charlotte Ebel)

Sophia Ebel, of Champaign, and a graduate of the University of Illinois Laboratory High School, was awarded a Fulbright combined award to Austria. There, she will teach English at a teacher training college while also conducting research on the representation of refugee narratives within Austrian secondary school classrooms. Ebel graduated in May as a Bronze Tablet Scholar and member of the Campus Honors Program and James Scholar with majors in comparative literature and Germanic studies, and minors in French and Arabic studies. While in Austria, she plans to host English-language cooking classes and expand a local library collection through book drives and fundraisers. After her Fulbright year, Ebel said she plans to stay in Austria to pursue a master’s degree before attaining a Ph.D. in the U.S.

Smiling young woman in white dress and orange graduation stole
Amanda Oversen (photo by Jennifer Sykstus) ​

Amanda Oversen, of Highland Park, Illinois, and a graduate of Highland Park High School, has been awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Spain. Oversen graduated in December from the College of Applied Health Sciences with a major in speech and hearing science and a minor in Spanish. At Illinois, she served as a teaching assistant in the Child Development Laboratory. Oversen also served as a camp counselor at the Center on Deafness. While in Spain, Oversen said she plans to learn Spanish Sign Language and connect with the local deaf community, as her goal is to become a bilingual speech-language pathologist for elementary school-aged students. She also is interested in how to cultivate cultural-linguistic diversity in the American school system. After her Fulbright, Oversen said she plans to enroll in a master’s program for speech-language pathology.

Smiling young woman in graduation robe
Ksenia Polyarskaya (photo by Basmah Kishta)

Ksenia Polyarskaya, of Vernon Hills, Illinois, and a graduate of Adlai E. Stevenson High School, has accepted one of 10 Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Awards to teach at higher education institutions in Kazakhstan. Polyarskaya graduated in May as a James Scholar honors student with a BMUS degree in instrumental music from the College of Fine and Applied Arts, with minors in Spanish, business and English as a second language. A first-generation American from Transnistria, Polyarskaya earned TESL certification and spent two years on campus as a course instructor for college freshmen. She also worked as a Graf Intern with the Illinois Leadership Center co-facilitating educational workshops and spent a semester guiding low-income, minority high school students preparing for college. Post-Fulbright, Polyarskaya said she hopes to attend law school to further her goal of advancing accessibility to international education as a human rights advocate and international law attorney.

The Fulbright program is jointly administered at Illinois by the National and International Scholarships Program, which works with undergraduates and recent alumni, and the Graduate College Office of External Fellowships, which supports graduate students. Additionally, Illinois faculty members, returned Fulbrighters and staff with geographic and programmatic expertise review student application materials and conduct candidate interviews.

Applications are open for students interested in pursuing studies, fine arts, research, or English teaching assistantships under the Fulbright for the 2023-24 academic year.

You can read about the rest of the Fulbright recipients here.

Editor’s note: This story first appeared on the Illinois News Bureau homepage.

For information about national and international scholarships at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, contact David Schug, National and International Scholarships Program director, 217-333-4710; For information about graduate fellowships at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, contact Ken Vickery, Graduate College Office of External Fellowships director, 217-333-3464,