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Pandemic impacts ACU’s two newest Fulbright Scholars

The timing couldn’t be much worse for Anastacia Badillo (’20) and Isaiah Berry (’19).

Then again, it’s never a bad time to be named a Fulbright Scholar. That’s the situation Anastacia and Isaiah find themselves in after being named Fulbright winners in the midst of a pandemic.


ACU Fulbright Scholar Anastacia Badillo
Anastacia Badillo earned her degree in May but won't walk across the stage until August, when ACU commencement ceremonies will take place.

Anastacia, a 2020 ACU graduate who is living at home with family in Coppell, Texas, was supposed to graduate May 9 and leave for Spain in September. Now, even though she officially is a graduate, the ceremony isn’t scheduled to take place until August and the trip to Spain has been pushed to January 2021.

Isaiah, a 2019 graduate, was just beginning his Fulbright experience in Nepal when the pandemic forced the students to return home to Nashville, Tennessee. Isaiah flew to Nepal Feb. 20 and left to fly back home March 17.

The original plan was to spend six weeks in Kathmandu learning about the language and culture, as well as teaching strategies, before being assigned to teach English for eight months in a group of villages called Helambu. The month the students actually spent in Kathmandu was long enough to make it seem like home.

“It felt like a really long time,” Isaiah said. “It felt like we had moved there.”

For Anastacia, the experience is just the opposite. Instead of preparing for a trip to Spain in September, she is living at home and working as a nanny for family friends.
“It definitely wasn’t how I wanted to end my senior year,” Anastacia said.


Fulbright Scholar Isaiah Berry with other U.S. students he met in Nepal
Isaiah Berry (back row, right) poses with other U.S. students he met during his short stay in Nepal.

Isaiah and Anastacia may have the most unbelievable Fulbright experiences of any ACU honorees but they are far from alone in getting the award. A year ago, ACU was included in the list of U.S. colleges and universities that produced the most 2018-2019 Fulbright U.S. students. ACU was one of only three Texas institutions to earn that distinction. Anastacia and Isaiah, as well as other recent ACU Fulbright Scholars, give much of the credit for their acceptance to Dr. Jason Morris (’96), dean of ACU’s Honors College and director of the Office of Major Scholarships.

For now, Anastacia plans to travel to Spain in January to begin her Fulbright tenure. Isaiah, who earned a degree in biology from ACU, isn’t sure yet whether he will go back to Nepal or enroll in graduate school as the next step toward a career as a researcher.

Isaiah Berry

Isaiah barely had time to get used to a strange sight in Nepal before the coronavirus pandemic ended his Fulbright experience. The strange sight? An occasional monkey on a neighbor’s porch or playing on a power line.

“Seeing monkeys was something special to me,” he said.

Frolicking monkeys weren’t the only new sights Isaiah encountered. He was surprised by the extent of civil rights movements in the country. He and his friends attended the grand opening of a library dedicated to the feminist movement.
“It was really not what I was expecting to see in Nepal,” he said.

Nepal wasn’t Isaiah’s first choice when he applied for the Fulbright. Uzbekistan was. He wanted to experience a culture and language far different from his own, and the Central Asia country seemed the perfect landing place.
“I wanted to go someplace that was off the beaten path,” he said.

Both Uzbekistan and Nepal are far off the beaten path between Isaiah’s hometown of Nashville and Abilene. It took 30 hours to fly to Nepal. Less than a month later, Isaiah was on a plane back to Nashville, where he is living with his family and working at Lowe’s, FedEx and at a friend’s home renovation business.

Originally, Isaiah was to spend February through December in Nepal, teaching English and living with a host family in a village outside the capital of Kathmandu. Isaiah had English teaching experience with refugees and international college students in Abilene, while also studying Spanish, French and German, in addition to biology.

In Nepal, Isaiah and four other students from the U.S. shared an apartment and did a lot of sightseeing in the month they were in Kathmandu. Their daily routine included culture classes 9 a.m. to noon and language classes 1 to 4 p.m. On weekends, the five U.S. students visited cultural centers, temples and museums, while squeezing in some card games and hiking.

Isaiah isn’t sure about the future. He will continue to get his Fulbright stipend until October. The Fulbright program has agreed to waive some requirements if the selected students want to return to Nepal in the future. For now, Isaiah is working his three jobs and living with his parents. He is torn between wanting to earn a master’s degree in biology and continuing the Fulbright experience. The only thing he is sure of is that the month he spent in Nepal won’t be his last visit to that country.

“I’m sure I’ll get to go back sooner or later,” he said.

 Anastacia Badillo

The closing of schools and colleges due to the coronavirus turned out well – and not so well – for Anastacia. It means she didn’t get to experience walking across the stage May 9 to pick up her diploma from ACU. A physical graduation ceremony has been rescheduled for Aug. 7 and 8.

On the plus side, with schools closed, Anastacia is at home with her family and working as a nanny for the same family she has worked for the past three years. Only now, her nanny duties include being the homeschool teacher. That will serve her well when she heads to Spain in January to begin her six-month Fulbright experience as an English teaching assistant. As a nanny/teacher, Anastacia oversees 9-year-old twin boys and their 7-year-old brother.

“That’s been really interesting,” she said with a laugh.

It’s not that she lacks experience. Anastacia majored in communication sciences and disorders, with a minor in Spanish. She wants to get a master’s degree and someday become a bilingual speech pathologist. While at ACU, Anastacia taught English to international students and got classroom management experience working at Rainbow Bible School. In the fall, she will be a substitute teacher in two school districts.

All that experience should make the transition to teaching in Spain fairly smooth. Anastacia was in Abilene April 24 with her roommates as they closed out their rental house when she found out she was a finalist for the Fulbright award.
“It was really nice to find out with them,” she said.

ACU took classes online after spring break due to the coronavirus pandemic, and most students headed home to finish the semester. Anastacia had submitted her Fulbright application Oct. 9, 2019, and had to wait until April to find out she had been accepted. Finally, the email came telling her she was a semi-finalist. And then, she learned she had been accepted.

“When I stopped dying to find out,” she said, “that’s when I found out.”

To help make the summer months pass faster, Anastacia and two friends have purchased tickets to Aruba in July and are hopeful their plans don’t get cancelled. If they do, Anastacia has sightseeing on her list of things to do once she gets to Spain. At the top of the list is a side trip to Morocco.

“That’s one place I definitely want to visit,” she said.

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