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#Husky Experience: Graduating senior wins Fulbright to help refugees abroad

May 20, 2016

Hamda Yusuf (B.A. European Studies) will head to Austria in fall 2016 on a Fulbright Scholarship to help refugees and teach in local schools.
Hamda Yusuf (B.A. European Studies) will head to Austria in fall 2016 on a Fulbright Scholarship to help refugees and teach in local schools. Photo by: Lindsey Wasson

Hamda Yusuf is a graduating senior majoring in European Studies with a minor in African Studies at the Jackson School of International Studies. She also will graduate in June with a minor in Germanics.

She recently was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship (2016-2017) in a first-ever cohort for a “Community-Based Combined Grant,” which requires both community work and teaching in a foreign country.

In fall 2016, she’ll be heading to Austria for 9 months to support Refugees Welcome, a non-profit that is dealing with the Middle East refugee crisis there, and will be an English teaching assistant in secondary schools.

Initially, she was not going to apply for a Fulbright because she thought it was too competitive, and the idea of academia seemed daunting.

How did the Jackson School of International Studies prepare you?

“I think a lot of the classes that the Jackson School offered were very much looking at contemporary issues like Austria, so it was a big draw for me to study abroad in Austria to begin with because I had some background on the political and cultural aspects and had been studying German as well,” she said. Hamda speaks English, Somali and German.

 This foundation, she noted, gave her a high level of comfort in applying for a Fulbright and other scholarships.

“The classes, professors and research assistants were incredibly supportive and nurturing. I felt I had been given this agency to go out and explore the world.”

The Jackson School’s focus on cross-regional foundational fields and language opportunities such as Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships, offer students the opportunity to hone existing skills while exploring new professional avenues.

Was there a class or project you worked on that really inspired you or changed your perspective?

“Doing a senior European Studies seminar on “Gender in the Global North”, such as in the UK or Scandinavia. Often when we talk about gender equality we talk about the global south. But we can forget gender is not equal in the North just because we focus so much on the South.”

What’s your big picture?

Foreign Service. It has been a goal of mine since high school, especially consular work. As someone whose family and friends have gone through various visa processes, it is fascinating to me how a lot has to do with who your consular officer is. So I’m interested in how they are trained and make decisions based on their own backgrounds, with regard to how that might advantage or disadvantage the applicant. If there is a way we can do that better, I would like to figure that out.”

During her UW schooling Hamda has also been an officer in the Somali Student Association since freshman year. “We do a lot of mentoring in high schools. It is nice to talk to students and say I’m an international studies major, I’ve studied abroad and learned a language, so ask me questions. I feel people seeing themselves represented in different majors is really important.”

In spring 2016, she also helped launch the first Somali language class at UW, currently on offer through the ASUW Experimental College. Read more about the course in The Seattle Times article “Like to Learn a Useful Foreign Language? Try Somali

In my hopes and dreams would be housed in the African Studies department.”

Any advice to students?

“Take a class you wouldn’t think you would be interested in.”

One of Hamda’s passions is Poetry Slam and in 2013 she took part in the “Youth Speaks! Poetry Grand Slam.” Hamda was also featured in a Seattle Globalist’s discussing her poetic talents.

What are your plans for the summer?

“Going to Somaliland, where I haven’t been back since I left aged 10.”

Hamda also received a Rangel Fellowship for 2017-2018, which she will undertake after her Fulbright Scholarship.