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Safiyah Ismail
Safiyah Ismail

Safiyah Ismail, currently in her senior year in the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering at the UNC-Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health, will travel to Indonesia later this year as a Fulbright Student.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program allows graduating seniors, master’s students, doctoral candidates and recent graduates to self-design a research project or serve as an English teaching assistant (ETA) in one of more than 140 countries. The goal of the program is to increase mutual understanding between the United States and other nations.

Ismail, a Bachelor of Science in Public Health student from Cary, N.C., seeks to learn important lessons in cultural diversity and inclusion during her time as an ETA in Indonesia.

“I chose to apply to the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship Program because I am passionate about access to education and the exchange of knowledge,” said Ismail. “As an ETA, I will have the opportunity to share the identity and perspective of an American Muslim with my Indonesian peers, while simultaneously serving as a cultural ambassador. Outside the classroom, I hope to establish an Indonesian Sign Language Club by partnering with the local deaf community.”

Ismail co-founded the UNC American Sign Language Club during her sophomore year of college. She also serves as the executive director of Students for Students International, a nonprofit organization that funds educational scholarships for girls to pursue secondary school in Zanzibar.

“Because of my own background in American Sign Language, the shared origins of Indonesian and American Sign Language will allow me to engage with the local community on a deeper level,” Ismail said. “I am incredibly excited to use communication as a tool to build bridges of understanding. I am also looking forward to creating bonds with my students, immersing myself within a new culture and — most importantly — engaging in the uncomfortable conversations that challenge ideas and change perceptions.”

After completing her work with the Fulbright Program, Ismail plans to attend medical school and pursue a dual degree as a Doctor of Medicine and a Master of Public Health.

“My emphasis will be on global public health, because I am drawn to help minorities who struggle with navigating the health care system,” she shared. “I believe that health disparities in developing countries can be addressed through improved communication and increased accessibility to health-care resources. My time in Indonesia will serve me well in this mission, because gaining the trust of students in a classroom is just as important as gaining the trust of patients in a hospital.”


Each year, students receive Fulbright grant notifications on a rolling basis starting in mid-March. The most current and complete list of all UNC winners is available from the Center for Global Initiatives, which manages the program at UNC. An announcement of all UNC awards will be made in August 2015.

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