MISSOULA – Noah Grabe and Taylor Gregory met on the second floor of Knowles Hall at the University of Montana their freshman year.
They made a connection over a shared passion for the outdoors, international diplomacy and an interest in the humanities. Both had enrolled in UM’s Davidson Honors College.
Fast forward four years, with a global pandemic in between, and the two friends are preparing to embark on an adventure they never imagined: serving for eight months as Fulbright Fellows in Madrid through the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Program beginning in September 2021.
Receiving a Fulbright fellowship is a prestigious distinction alone. Grabe and Gregory each individually receiving a Fulbright award – from the same institution to the same country to the same city – is rarer. Their awards bring UM’s total Fulbright Fellows to 107. On any given year, there are about 2,000 Fulbright scholarships awarded to U.S. students, with an acceptance rate of about 23%, all depending on the number of applicants for a certain country.
“It’s very uncommon for two students from the same university to be placed in the same country, in the same city, for the same award,” said Kylla Benes, UM director of prestigious scholarships and fellowships. “Noah and Taylor will have a wonderful opportunity to support each other as they work as English teaching assistants and explore Madrid. I am proud to have them represent the University and the state of Montana as Fulbrighters abroad.”
Grabe, from Portland and Gregory, from Lolo, will graduate from UM in May. Having both majored in political science and international relations and serving as officers in Montana Model United Nations, the friends created individual academic paths that converged throughout their time as Grizzlies.
“I’m still kind of bewildered about it all,” Grabe said. “There are so few placements in each country, and to have two placements in the same place, both from UM, is amazing. If you told me my college experience would culminate with an experience like this, I never would have believed it.”
Grabe and Gregory both interned at UM’s Education Abroad office, studied overseas opposite semesters (Gregory in Brussels and Grabe in Barcelona, though his time was cut short by the pandemic last year) and visited New York together for a Model UN competition. Both also found themselves spending years in UM Spanish language and Latin American history classes. Grabe describes former UM Spanish instructor Caroline Lonski as “one of the absolute best language teachers I’ve ever had, with really high expectations.”
Gregory leaned into advocating for students, eventually becoming president of the Associated Students of UM. He minored in European studies, completed UM’s Franke Global Leadership Initiative and focused on increasing internationalization at UM.
“There are so many incredible paths to take at UM,” Gregory said. “For me, I didn’t know I would fall in love with higher education and develop a passion for understanding how to make education more accessible and affordable. I know the Fulbright in Spain will provide a deeper opportunity to understand another country’s education system. And it’s even better that I get to share that experience with my friend.”
Grabe developed an appreciation and curiosity of foreign cultures after taking UM communication Professor Stephen Yoshimura’s faculty-led study abroad class on human strength and virtue, which took the class across central Europe. The popular class is housed in the Department of Communication Studies in UM’s College of Humanities & Sciences. Grabe said he eventually wants to work for UNESCO helping craft international policy.
Gregory and Grabe – without knowing it – even shared similar sentiments in their induvial application essays for the Fulbright, informed by the rich experiences UM offered, they said.
“It’s true what everyone says,” said Grabe. “A UM education is exactly what you make of it. You get back what you put into it, and I’m thrilled about this next step.”
The Fulbright Program provides U.S. students an opportunity to study, conduct research or teach English abroad. The legacy of the Fulbright includes a mission to fund the promotion of international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture and science.
That goal is particularly meaningful for both Grabe and Gregory, who plan to fully absorb the Spanish language and culture through a lens of collaboration.
“I’m most interested in embracing the role of teaching assistant after being a UM student, so that I can understand education from that point of view,” Gregory said.
Grabe said he wants to embody a positive representation of an American abroad.
Another shared value between the friends is a deep sense of gratitude for UM faculty “who were too many to name” for their expertise and guidance that both say is a cornerstone to their academic success and personal growth.
In particular, both wish to thank Eva-Maria Maggi, visiting assistant professor in the Department of Political Science, and Karen Adams, professor of political science, for their “incredible amount of mentorship and support.” Both students also wish to thank Tim Nichols, dean of the UM Davidson Honors College, for being “one of the most caring and energizing people I’ve met,” Grabe said. Finally, both students wish to thank UM Education Abroad Coordinator Marja Unkuri-Chaudhry for inspiring their journey in international education.
Before both friends depart UM and begin to close this chapter in their lives, they plan to hike the M Trail once more, visit Big Dipper Ice Cream and pick up authentic Montana huckleberry gifts for their host families in Madrid.
“I’m really glad that I focused on my journey at UM, not just the destination,” Gregory said. “If you focus too much on the end-result, you miss the beauty of the process.”
Contact: Kylla Benes, UM director of prestigious scholarships, 406-243-5241, firstname.lastname@example.org.