Fulbright Spotlight: Maya @ U.Debrecen

The Fulbright Program is one of the United States Cultural Exchange Programs. Through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program grants are provided for study/research projects or becoming an English Teaching Assistant during one academic year in one of the 160 participating countries outside the U.S. The Fulbright Foreign Student Program provide grants for graduate students and other young professionals to study and research in the United States. Learn about this special U.S. government program of exchange through current Fulbright Grantees and their experiences in Hungary.
Maya Shrikant was granted a Fulbright Grant for 2021-2022. Graduated from Arizona State University in 2021, she takes on a new adventure at the University of Debrecen. Shrikant continues her focus on health care technologies, genetic patent policy, and discrimination in medical systems by investigating COVID-19 vaccination gaps and discrimination in primary care settings within Roma Minority Settlements. Read more about her great adventure below.

Interviewer: Kaitlin Berger

What motivated you to apply for a Fulbright Grant?
I’ve always been involved with at least one research project while in undergrad. But, I always wanted to fully delve into a self-designed research project before pursuing graduate or medical school. With ASU being a top producer of Fulbright recipients and my interest in global health, I saw Fulbright as a perfect path to pursue my academic interests, while engaging in cultural exchange.

What has receiving this Grant mean to you?
Receiving a Fulbright has and will be an honor that I carry with me for the rest of my personal and professional life. Fulbright truly is this family that holds its values and people close. I’m really glad I get to be a part of this family and share my Fulbright experience with those in my field and beyond.

How did your education or experience in the U.S. prepare you for this experience?
Studying at ASU really helped shape me into an interdisciplinary and multi-faceted researcher and scholar. The vast diversity of students and scholars I had the chance to engage with also made me into more of a globally-minded person and prepared me for the types of questions and experiences I would encounter here.

Why choose to come to Hungary?
I am half Hungarian and have some knowledge of the culture and language, so Hungary was always on my radar. When my interest in minority health disparities and social policy grew during my senior year of college, I knew that the Roma community in Hungary would be a great case study for the type of work I wanted to do. When I reached out to my mentor, Professor Sandor Janos, and established a connection with past Hungarian Fulbrighters, I knew that I had to come to Hungary for my grant.

Were there any difficulties adjusting to life in Debrecen? Why or why not?
Living in Debrecen has been really nice. It is big enough of a city to have international diversity and small enough to find a supportive community. Living alone for the first time has been lonely at times, but making friends at the University of Debrecen, through English Language Clubs in town and the American Corner Debrecen have helped me adjust.

How have you overcome the language barrier? Has it affected your studies/research?
I like to say I know enough Hungarian to survive, but it has been getting better since I arrived here. I take language courses at the local university and thank my neighbors for consistently practicing with me on the weekends. At work, many faculty and students speak English and there is virtually no lingual barrier. This semester, my field work in Roma communities will commence, and I foresee some translation challenges along the course of this project. I will work with a translator and my mentor to try and solve these challenges. And, as my grandmother tells me, “nincs angolul, csak magyarul”

What have been the biggest differences between U.S. and Hungary in general and academics?
I have been very surprised at the infrastructural differences between the U.S. and Hungary. The public transport and city architecture here in Hungary is really incredible. However, the things I took for granted in the U.S., like next-day package delivery, big box retailers like Costco and reliable business hours, are not so common here. In the academic space, there is a lot more work-life balance here in Hungary. There isn’t this constant push to publish papers and have a million projects running at once. The Hungarian academic system truly values the depth of academic pursuits rather than the vastness of scope, which has taken some adjustment for me.

Have you been able to participate in activities outside of your studies and research?
Outside of my research, I have been able to volunteer with NGOs operating in nearby villages to Debrecen. I have enjoyed meeting locals and expatriates through an English Language Club at American Corner and other AC events. I have been able to attend the monthly Fulbright excursions and also visit family in Pécs and Kaposvár. I also enjoy visiting my friends studying in Budapest and hope to travel to neighboring countries.

How have the holidays been different in Hungary?
Living in Arizona the past 8 years, I haven’t been able to feel much of the Christmas spirit while it’s 75 degrees and sunny. I was happy I could return to the U.S. for Thanksgiving, but December in Hungary was really special. From all of the lights in city center and ice skating while drinking forralt bor, to visiting the Christmas markets in Budapest and having my own tiny tree in my apartment, the Hungarian holiday spirit made the 4pm sunsets and cold easier to deal with. It was hard to be away from my direct family, but I was excited that I was able to spend the holidays with my grandmother, aunt, uncle and cousin this year and make some new traditions.

What are your future plans and what role will your time in Hungary play a role in that?
In the Fall of 2022, I will be attending medical school in the United States. I hope to continue my work on minority health disparities and obtain a Master’s Degree in public health alongside my medical degree. I want to become a primary care physician and continue to advocate for better public health.

Do you have any advice to someone that is about to study in a different country?
(1) Abandon all of your expectations.
(2) Be present.
(3) Talk to and try to learn from as many people as you can.
(4) The first couple of months may be rough, you may miss home, you may feel uncomfortable at times.
(5) Journal and take pictures so you can remember the experiences during and after your journey is done.