Alumni Fellowships

Joan O'Bryan

Joan O’Bryan '13
Jamaica Plains, Mass.
Teacher, AmeriCorps

After graduating from Swarthmore as a political science major, Joan completed a Fulbright in Germany where she taught English to middle schoolers. Though her initial plan was to spend the year teaching and applying to graduate school with an eye towards academia, her experience abroad changed everything: “It was so phenomenal being in the classroom, giving lessons, and interacting with the kids, that my plans got quite derailed. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I would be happier in the classroom.” So she joined Match Corps, an AmeriCorps program, and taught 5th grade math while earning her Masters in Teaching. “I really love it, and I guess the lesson that I took from my post-college years is that a lot of people graduate from Swarthmore and feel like they have to have a ‘plan,’ and I had the same experience, but getting knocked off the plan was the best thing that could’ve happened to me.”

Joan is now applying to graduate school with the goal of studying immigration, integration, and social welfare policy. "My students still email me updates, and I'm so proud of how far they come. I hope that I can work to make the world they graduate into one in which they can thrive."

What advice would you give to recent graduates applying for a Fulbright or other fellowships?

“Melissa Mandos [Fellowships and Prizes Advisor] was the best resource. She had other people’s applications on file and getting to read through their applications and get an idea of what the Fulbright committee expects from you was really useful. I also had a really lovely network of people who would read every draft of my application, and I’d really recommend that to anyone applying for a Fulbright, because a lot of it is the polish.” 

What do you wish you had known before leaving Swarthmore?

“That your twenties are longer than you think they are. You have all of your twenties to try different things out, and at 22 you don’t have to have things figured out. As a senior in college, you kind of feel like you’ve got things figured out, and of course as a Swarthmore kid you’ve been kind of ‘go go go’ your entire life. 22 feels old your senior year, but it’s so young—we have so much time.”

Opportunities for alumni applying for grants and fellowships


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