DANVERS — When Julianna (Anna) Andrews of Danvers first applied for a prestigious Fulbright fellowship in her senior year at Salem State University to do graduate work abroad, she did not make it to the finals, despite being one of the top students at the school.
Andrews, however, knows the meaning of not giving up. She recounts how she became critically ill at age 7, and continues to deal with daily bouts of vomiting and “blinding migraines” brought on by a rare disease called cyclic vomiting syndrome, or CVS.
She reapplied to the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, and has become only the second student from Salem State to win the fellowship. She plans to study and teach in Burgas, Bulgaria, departing Aug. 11.
Despite her sickness, Andrews, now 23, got the most out of her undergraduate education at Salem State. She took nine to 12 courses a semester, and took courses over the summer.
She triple majored in public history, sociology and applied medical ethics and had four minors, philosophy, women’s studies, religious studies and psychology when she graduated in 2012. She also spoke at her commencement. The 2008 graduate of Austin Prep in Reading was in the same honors program and class as Salem State alumna Kelsey Utne, the university’s first Fulbright scholar who traveled to India last year.
“Salem State was amazing,” Andrews said.
“Salem State has already been designated as one of the top producers of faculty Fulbright scholars within its category,” said Salem State University president Patricia Maguire Meservey in a prepared statement, “so to now have our students recognized for this highly selective and prestigious honor is an achievement, indeed. To field two student Fulbrights in as many years attests to the academic rigor of our programs and to the intellectual curiosity of our students. I couldn’t be prouder of Anna Andrews’ achievement.”
While Andrews did not get accepted for a Fulbright scholarship the first time around, she did get accepted into the master’s program at the University of Massachusetts Boston, where she is studying applied sociology.
Then, over the summer, her health took a turn for the worse, not because of CVS, but because of a bout with MRSA, a kind of staph infection that does not respond to antibiotics.
She believes she picked it up while working at an assisted living facility, working with Alzheimer’s residents. She ended up in Beverly Hospital for eight days, and had a number of follow-up visits.
It was while she was sick she thought about applying for a Fulbright again. She also had the advice of her department’s chairwoman, Stephanie Hartwell, ringing in her ears. It’s a saying coined by hockey great Wayne Gretzky: “Don’t get discouraged. You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”
Andrews thought about studying abroad again in the Czech Republic, which she had done in 2011 while at Salem State. She had grown found of Eastern European culture. The Fulbright committee at UMass and a Salem State professor suggested that she study somewhere else in Eastern Europe.
She spoke with her former philosophy professor at Salem State, Severin Kitanov, who comes from Bulgaria, and they found a research project that looked at ways the Bulgarian culture may influence gender differences in higher education. English professor Rod Kessler and philosophy professor Michael Deere wrote recommendations for Andrews. She then went through the grueling process to apply, which took months to meet the mid-October deadline.
“You just cry if you are a finalist,” said Andrews, who said she found out that bit of good news on her mother’s birthday in January.
“It was the best present she could possibly get,” said Andrews of her mom, Tina.
Andrews learned she won the fellowship on March 27, three days before her birthday.
At Salem State, Andrews started out studying archives and archaeology, but did not find the field fulfilling. Having grown up sick, an experience that made it hard to make friends but gave her a love of book learning, she wanted her college experience to be in a field closer to people.
“Indiana Jones, turns out, works alone,” Andrews said.
In Bulgaria, she will receive language and cultural training at a Fulbright International Summer Institute before working as an English teaching assistant in a foreign language high school in Burgas.
She also wants to work with an after-school program to encourage young women to continue their education. She hopes that will help her in her study of why men and women study certain fields in Bulgaria, research she hopes will help her with her master’s degree work at UMass Boston.
Looking ahead to the coming year, Andrews is excited to not only study and work, but to perhaps travel to London and the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, meeting up and staying with other Fulbright scholars along the way or meeting up with friends living in Europe.
“I am really excited to be just dropped in a country, and not knowing the language and figuring it out,” Andrews said.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.