Former St. Edward’s RA, Women’s Club Soccer president teaches in Laos as Fulbright scholar

Caitlin Laughlin

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Danielle Rivera graduated from St. Edward’s University in May 2015 with a bachelor’s in English writing and rhetoric while also taking pre-medicine courses. She is currently living in Vientiane, Laos working as an English Teaching Assistant on a Fulbright grant. Rivera stays busy not only teaching at her main placement at the National University of Laos, but also at the American Embassy and the Lao Youth Union teaching English and coaching elementary school basketball.

What were you involved in during your time at St. Edward’s?

I was a Residence Assistant, President of the Women’s Club Soccer team, started an Operation Smile Student Program, which provides free surgeries for children with facial deformities, was an editor for the literary magazine Arete, taught Supplemental Instruction (SI) sessions and tutored.

What do you miss most about St. Edward’s?

I miss the strong community of friends and mentors I had there. Moving to a foreign country can be challenging, and a huge part of that challenge was that I was leaving the place that had been my home for five years.

What led you to apply for a Fulbright?

I had been looking for fellowships for a long time, and as my interests became clearer, the fellowships I had been looking at no longer seemed like such a great fit. At that point Caroline Morris suggested that I look at Fulbright. After that, everything just fell into place.

Why did you choose Laos?

I had been to Laos as a senior in high school through Operation Smile. The people had been incredibly kind and welcoming and it happened to be a really good fit.

What do you plan on doing when you return?

I will be starting medical school at the University of New Mexico in July.

What have been your favorite moments in Laos?

I really enjoy being with my students at the National University. They have such a great energy and we all have a lot of fun together. I always leave class happier than I was when I walked in.

What has been the hardest moment?

The month following my motorcycle accident was really difficult. One of the biggest challenges in Laos is drinking and driving, and I was unfortunately hit by a truck while heading home on my motorbike. While physically I was pretty much okay, I did find out I had broken a rib a few months later. But I had a hard time reconciling the kindness and generosity I had experienced in Laos with the challenges that the incident presented. Plus I was incredibly sore.

What advice would you give students who are considering applying for a Fulbright grant?

Since Fulbright can be considered prestigious and all of us grantees are very proud to be Fulbrights, sometimes people applying only hear the good things. In reality, Fulbright can be incredibly hard and isolating. However, these past six months have been a huge period of growth for me, and it has been a worthwhile experience. However, it certainly has not been easy.