Fulbright Scholar Lands In Laos After Dominican Experience

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While Christina Pathoumthong ’22 was studying at the University of Oxford in the fall of 2021 as part of the Dominican University of California Scholar at Oxford program, the Political Science and History double major was advised to spread her wings in the future.

This month Christina, after completing a nearly year-long internship in the County of Marin District Attorney’s Office, traveled to experience a place and a position beyond her wildest imagination. She has been selected as a Fulbright Scholar to the University of Health and Science in Laos, her parents’ native homeland. She will be an English teaching assistant in the capital city of Vientiane for the next 11 months.

For Christina this opportunity culminates an application process that started in March 2022 and included researching tips available online and watching YouTube videos created by prior applicants. The Fulbright application was aided by the recommendations of Dominican Assistant Professor of Political Science and Co-Chair of the Division of Public Affairs Alison Howard; Regina Vindel, who was Christina’s site supervisor at Canal Alliance for a Dominican Service-Learning course, and Samuel Ritholtz, one of her tutors at Oxford.

“Sam encouraged me to adopt a carpe diem philosophy and undertake more travel experiences before I commit to law school. I had not considered traveling more, but it made sense considering much of my interest in politics and law centers around international relations,” Christina says. “Sam offered me a great list of opportunities that would allow me to travel post-undergrad. He also took the time to explain each opportunity and how they would align with my interests. I took a few months to think about it after I left Oxford. I chose Fulbright because of their mission to foster cross-cultural friendships by cultivating compassion and appreciation for international communities.”

Christina, a first-generation student, requested to be assigned to Laos, even though she does not speak the language. Her father immigrated from Laos to America on August 15, 1980 when he was 18 years old. Forty-three years later, almost to the date, his daughter traveled to Laos for the first time since she was four years old. When Christina received word in late January that she had been selected as Fulbright semi-finalist, she immediately cried and called her parents with the good news.

“At the end of March, I received a request for an interview with the U.S. Embassy in Laos. I had a little over two days to prepare for the interview and I’m really grateful for my friend, Julia Reinhard, for practicing with me. She threw every interview question at me which calmed me, but the real interview was incomparable,” Christina says. “I had the interview at 8 p.m. because of the time difference and I remember shaking throughout the 30 minutes. I received an email update from Fulbright just a week later while I was sitting in court. I waited until I entered the office with my supervisor to open the email. As it loaded, I affirmed to myself that I would be okay if I didn’t get it. The word “Congratulations” wiped all doubt in my mind, and I began jumping around the office in my work heels. Just as when reading my Oxford acceptance letter, I had to collect myself to read the full email to make sure I read it correctly. It was an exulting feeling since I had been waiting since last October when the application process closed.”

Christina felt prepared for the moment. At Dominican in the School of Liberal Arts and Education she followed the lead of her peers and became a peer mentor. Monica Barry ’20 helped Christina secure an internship with Performing Stars of Marin in 2020 and Christina’s involvement on and off campus grew from there. She was Teaching Assistant, a tutor for Canal Alliance’s high school and ESL programs, and served as a tutor for other Dominican students in The Learning Center in Bertrand Hall.

“I did not have a long-term plan to apply to Fulbright, but coincidentally all of my experiences at Dominican aligned perfectly with the skills I needed to feel confident about applying,” Christina says. “I really appreciate the mentorship of Kristen Coleman in The Learning Center. As a supervisor, Kristen provided strong leadership and wise insights concerning tutoring. She taught me how to spotlight a student’s abilities to aid them in becoming independent learners. My Oxford experience allowed me to study and travel independently, challenging me academically and personally. My time at Oxford bolstered my confidence that I was a worthy candidate for this Fulbright application and capable of navigating life abroad on my own.”

Before graduating from Dominican, Christina in the spring of 2022 followed the advice of a District Attorney employee to pursue an internship in the legal support department in the Marin DA’s office. For a few months, she reviewed filings, listened to jail calls, and purged old cases but soon began assisting attorneys as they prepared for trial. She helped draft motions and was involved in preparing witnesses to testify, assisting with opening and closing statements, and providing research for SB 1437 cases. That experience and the Fulbright selection have clarified her long-term goals.

“With the Fulbright program, I am eager to learn more about myself and the global community. However, I am more than ever committed to the law track,” Christina says. “My internship at the DA’s office gave me insight into the type of life that I want, including my goal of practicing law.”

The opportunity to go to Laos is both personal and professional. Christina has heard stories from her parents about being born and raised in Laos. She still has family there.

“I am excited to learn the language and live on my own in Laos. Aside from my familial connection, living abroad offers a realm of challenges and opportunities to support my personal growth. As I grow with this experience, I am excited to meet the person I will become at the end of this year. I hope to gain an understanding of Lao culture that I will share upon my return to encourage others to learn more about Laos,” Christina says. “I feel such a momentous connection to my family as I prepare to embark on this journey, and I cannot wait to see what this next year has in store for me.”

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