A Fulbright award is a prestigious accomplishment for any student. Each year more than 11,000 students apply and a mere 1,500 on average are granted this honor. This year, The University of Alabama was the only SEC university named a Top Producing Institution for Fulbright awards –an accomplishment UA has now achieved six years running.
Since 2015, UA has produced 82 Fulbright recipients —setting a University record with 17 students being named Fulbright Finalists this year alone. Caroline Smith Dean, a 1L Alabama Law student, is one of these 2021 awardees.
With a bachelor’s degree that includes double majors in English and Spanish, and a minor in creative writing, Dean believes it was her passion for world cultures and teaching that set her apart from other applicants during the Fulbright process. After working as an ESL tutor in Tuscaloosa schools, and learning about the school to prison pipeline both in her first semester at the Law School and with the Blackburn Institute, Dean knew she wanted to work in juvenile law. A legal background would equip her to battle the many barriers and challenges students in low-income areas experience, including poor graduation rates and the associated funnels that too often lead directly into the prison system.
“The teachers in these schools are working so hard, but it’s really disheartening to see the lack of resources they have. If a teenager does something wrong, there’s really no programs to help them, they just immediately get a record. Then they keep trying to get out of the system but can’t when it’s not their fault that they don’t know anything else. So, I’m really passionate about fighting for kids to get second chances,” Dean explained.
Due to COVID travel restrictions over the summer, Fulbright emailed Dean in December, more than a year after she applied, to ask her if she could be in Spain in January. Dean said she initially refused for many reasons but largely because she had just entered into her first year of law school. However, with a large amount of cooperation from UA’s Law School office, Dean was able to put her spring semester on hold while maintaining her scholarships for when she returns.
“They’ve been just great, they allowed me to keep my scholarship for when I come back and they emailed me saying if I needed any help with anything to let them know,” Dean said.
Dean currently lives in Ourense, Galicia, Spain where she teaches English and Art to first through sixth grade at the CEIP Plurilingüe o Ruxidoiro, a local elementary school. Her side project, which is often a required aspect for Fulbright awardees who travel to teach English instead of do research, is a food blog comparing traditional Spanish foods to the Southern comfort food she is familiar with.
“One of the things I love the most about the Spanish culture is how important food and hospitality is to them. It’s very similar to the South in that way, and I come from a big family of foodies so that’s been something I’ve really enjoyed about Spain,” Dean said.
In her free time, Dean has experienced a lot of adventure in Spain, even with the tight COVID restrictions. Dean said one of her favorite moments was eating a famous Galician dish, Tartade Santiago, on the steps of a cathedral in the capitol after having baked the dish for a class a few years prior. Another moment that stood out to Dean was a mix-up at a car rental facility that led to her, her husband, and a friend driving around the mountains of Galicia in a Jaguar.
Looking back, Dean is grateful that she did accept, and she eagerly looks forward to returning to campus with her new Spanish skills and a better understanding of how to communicate with the young people she will someday represent. While she expressed some nerves over the 1L workload awaiting her in Tuscaloosa, Dean stated that her time away has increased her passion for law school and that she hopes to bring what she learns abroad into both her future at UA Law School and her future law career.
Written by: Heather Gann