Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs

Lauren Hansen
Lauren Hansen

Zach Sands
Zach Sands

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News Release

Contact: Tom Parisi, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-3635

June 17, 2009

Two new NIU graduates headed abroad
on Fulbright fellowships

DeKalb, Ill. — For the second consecutive year, two newly minted Northern Illinois University graduates have won prestigious Fulbright fellowships to work and study abroad for the coming academic year.

Lauren Hansen, who earned bachelor’s degrees in marketing and foreign languages in December, will work as an English teaching assistant in Germany. Zach Sands, who earned a master’s degree in English in May, will conduct research in the Republic of Moldova.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program offers fellowships for U.S. graduating college seniors, graduate students and artists to study abroad for one academic year.

“This is a highly competitive program,” said Deborah Pierce, associate provost of International Programs. “However, the fact that we’ve had two students win Fulbrights in each of the last two years demonstrates that NIU students should be applying for these scholarships because they can compete with anyone.”

Hansen, 23, of Tinley Park, will depart in early September to teach English to students in middle or high school in the German state of Rheinland-Pfalz.

It will be Hansen’s second trip to the southwest region of Germany, known for its rolling hills and vineyards. In the summer of 2007, she interned with a company in Worms, Germany, gaining work experience and a desire to return.

Hansen only learned of the Fulbright opportunity two weeks prior to the application deadline last September. She scrambled to get her application materials together.

“At first it seemed daunting, but the process actually wasn’t that bad at all,” Hansen said. “My academic background was strong, and I thought my application would be competitive. I wrote up a good cover letter. I also knew my professors would back me up with strong letters of recommendation.

“I’m really overjoyed that I got it,” she added.

Hansen received one of only 140 grants available for teaching assistantships in Germany. Following her Fulbright experience, she will be further studying German at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she has won the Max Kade Fellowship.

Sands, 32, who has lived in Sycamore for the past two years, will leave in September and spend nearly 10 months in the Republic of Moldova, where he will be working on a documentary film that explores Moldovan cultural identity.

“It’s going to be an adventure,” said Sands, who also holds an undergraduate degree in film production. “I’m sure it will change the way I look at just about everything.”

Moldova is located between Romania to the west and Ukraine to the north, south and east. The territory was annexed by Russia in 1940, and Moldova emerged as an independent nation following the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. Two-thirds of the population speaks Romanian, which Sands began teaching himself in preparation for the Fulbright experience, even when the fellowship was still in the application phase.

“If you don’t take your project seriously, neither will the people who read your application,” Sands said.

“Moldova is at a crossroads, not only at the borderlands where East meets West, but between a rich past and a promising future,” he added. “It has also the paradoxical distinction of being a democratic nation with a communist government.

“The documentary will explore what it means to be Moldovan,” he said. “But one of the things that makes the production of a documentary so engaging is that you never know where exactly it’s going to take you. Ideally, what I’d like to do with this film is to look past mere nationalism in search of a common humanity.”

Sands’ Fulbright fellowship makes provisions for him to bring his wife and two young children along to Moldova as well.

“I think it will be a great experience for everybody,” he said. “Even though our kids probably won't remember much of our adventures in Eastern Europe, I hope that on some level, it instills in them a sense of just how big the world can be.”

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