Mercer ties school record with three Fulbright Scholars


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Alayna Williams received an English teaching assistantship to South Africa.

Jayla Moody, Opinions and Lifestyle Editor

Two Mercer students and an alumnus will soon be abroad as part of a prestigious scholar program.

Aaron Scherf, Alayna Williams and David Wildes received Fulbright student fellowships. Scherf has a research grant to Germany, Wildes has an English teaching assistantship to Spain and Williams has an English teaching assistantship to South Africa.

The Fulbright program is a U.S. government initiative that’s meant to encourage intercultural exchange by sending American students and faculty to other countries and bringing students and faculty from elsewhere to America.

Scherf is a senior international business, finance and economics major. He’ll spend a full year doing research in a foreign company.

“It’s a very prestigious award with a lot of benefits, but it’s for a great mission where you can do good work,” he said.

Scherf is going to Heidelberg, Germany, where he’ll be doing a research project on the integration of refugees and how their housing conditions affect their language acquisition and cultural integration.

“So I’ll be doing more academic research and learning and taking classes on my own,” he said.

Wildes received a Spanish degree from Mercer and spent a summer studying spanish in Seville, Spain.

“I originally applied to join this select group of individuals during my senior year at Mercer in the fall of 2016. I had done some teaching before and wanted to try my hand at it abroad,” said Wildes.

Wildes had some Fulbright influence as well.

“Mostly . . . I applied because my brother, John Andrew Wildes [Mercer University class of 2013], had recently begun his Fulbright ETA [English Teaching Assistantship] in Brazil, and I admired him and wanted to do something similar to him,” he said.

Wildes said that was a poor reason, which was evidenced by a lackluster application and subsequent denial.

After graduation, he spent months reflecting on why he wanted to apply for the Fulbright, and came to the conclusion that he genuinely wanted to teach. Following this realization, he began a certification course in TEFL [Teaching English as a Foreign Language] at Georgetown University and reapplied for a Fulbright grant to teach English in Spain.

“To my great satisfaction and delight, I received the grant for which I had applied. I had applied to teach in Spain because of a fascination with the language, culture and people,” Wildes said.

Williams said she decided to apply for a Fulbright because she wanted to learn more about the world around her before deciding on a graduate school program.

She started her application right after she returned from spending last summer in South Africa.

“I fell in love with the country while I was in Cape Town with the Mercer on Mission program and with a summer internship,” she said. “I worked in a primary school and at a human rights organization while I was there, and knew that I wanted to return as soon as possible.”

The Fulbright program takes about a year to apply to.

“For the study and research application, you have to develop an entire research plan and get hosted by a research institution in your host company,” Scherf said.

The selection of the English teaching fellowship is based on how well a student is prepared to teach English wherever they are going.

“Fulbright is really kind of a gap-year,” Scherf said.

Afterwards, Scherf plans to come back for graduate school and maybe get a master’s in international development. Wildes intends to pursue a graduate degree in either TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) or Linguistics. Williams plans to attend graduate school for international affairs or global development studies.