Professional News

Fulbright experience positively impacts faculty member's research, family

Photo of Kathleen Aspiranti
Kathleen Aspiranti.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 16, 2023) — Kathleen Aspiranti, an associate professor in the Department of Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology in the University of Kentucky College of Education, never thought she would travel overseas as a Fulbright Scholar.

“That was something that was reserved for people much smarter, much more worldly, and much more prestigious than me,” said Aspiranti.

However, when she began her position in the College of Education, she met three colleagues who had each won Fulbrights, and the prospect of pursuing her academic interests outside the U.S. on a Fulbright suddenly seemed possible.

“At the time, I didn’t really have any international connections or region-specific projects,” said Aspiranti. “I was really starting at the ground floor with this, but I knew this was something I wanted to do. Colleagues who had been awarded Fulbrights raved about how rewarding the experience was for them. I knew this was something that would enrich my teaching and be an amazing experience for my family.”

As a scholar who specializes in education and psychology, Aspiranti eventually became drawn to the idea of studying how schools in countries around the world help their students who struggle academically and behaviorally. She then discovered an award in Hungary for those with her academic background.

“I knew I wanted to be in a bigger city, so my family and I could have access to some of the amenities that a larger city offers. Once we settled on Hungary, there was only one place to go, Budapest.”

Aspiranti applied for a Fulbright grant and was notified that she had been selected to receive one in the spring of 2021.

“It was so incredibly exciting, but also so nerve-wracking,” said Aspiranti. “My family and I were about to pack up and go live overseas. How do you pack for six months?”

Aspiranti traveled to Hungary with her husband and their three children, ages 9, 6 and 5 at the time. She would be conducting research on school psychology at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, the oldest, largest, and among the most prestigious universities in Hungary.

During her time in Budapest, Aspiranti observed classrooms in elementary schools, where she encountered clear differences in classroom management and how behavioral and academic problems were handled compared to the United States.

“Getting an international perspective on this area has completely altered how I think about my field as a whole,” said Aspiranti. “It’s opened my eyes to new ideas, new ways of doing things, and a new understanding of how we do things in this country.”

One of Aspiranti’s biggest concerns when traveling for such an extended period was her family.

“The impulse might be to make your time overseas as "American" as possible, especially for young children. But I looked at this experience as vital not just for my research and teaching but for my family. I wanted our family to truly experience what it was like to live in Hungary. We spent all the free time we had exploring and immersing ourselves in the culture of Budapest and traveling to other areas.”

After six months in Budapest, Aspiranti and her family returned to the United States.

“It was sometimes difficult to transition to life back in America,” said Aspiranti. “My kids all had different reactions. One was ready to visit Hungary again right away, one was a bit more homesick while we were in Hungary, but I’m just so grateful they got to have this experience. Not many children get to live overseas for an extended period of time, and I can see the small ways this experience will positively influence them moving forward.”

For Aspiranti, the experience has not only influenced her research and teaching but also inspired a newfound wanderlust.

“We’re ready for our next adventure,” said Aspiranti. “We’ve traveled a bit since returning, and we’re always planning where to explore next.”

Her Fulbright experience was so positive, she’s also already thinking about another Fulbright experience.

“As I continue my connection to the Fulbright association, I hope to be able to do another Fulbright someday. Perhaps we can return to Hungary on a sabbatical or during a summer break. Or maybe we will end up in another country, but I can’t imagine anywhere being as special as Hungary has been. I am so glad that the Fulbright experience has affected our family so much, and I will definitely be a Fulbright alumna for life!"

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