An Interview with Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Winner Sunaina Sherchan

1988 – 2018: 30 Years of Berea College Watson Fellows

an interview with

Sunaina Sherchan

                Each year, graduating seniors from 40 institutions around the nation are eligible to apply for the Thomas J. Watson fellowship. Its purpose is to grant those seniors the means to complete an independent project outside of the United States.

2018 Watson Recipient Sunaina Sherchan

Since its induction as a partner institution in 1988, Berea College has had 37 Watson recipients. This year’s winner, Sunaina Sherchan, Berea College Class of 2018, will be learning about folktale traditions and has plans to visit Japan, New Zealand, and Finland. We asked her to share experience with us.

What encouraged you to apply for the Watson?

I’m originally from Nepal, and scholarships are unheard of there. When I was applying to Berea College, I thought the opportunity was unreal, and I spent a lot of time checking to see if I had been accepted. This was practically a free education in the United States. My freshman year I became interested after I learned that there had been a recipient, Tuvshinzaya Amarzaya (’15), on campus. I was encouraged to start thinking about my project proposal from the beginning of my time here.

What was your passion or inspiration for your proposal?

                I went back home for the first time in three years to go to the Bara Barsa festival that is held in the Himalayas once every twelve years. It was there that I was fully immersed in the culture of my ethnic Thakali community for the first time. I listened as people engaged in storytelling and shared traditional folktales and fairytales. These tales helped shape my identity, and I wondered how similar traditions around the world affected members of their communities.

What resources did you use as a source for inspiration as you wrote your personal statement?

                The Watson website has a list of recipients and their project proposals and you can find many resources online from other colleges’ recipients. There is also a binder provided in the office at the Center for International Education that has several examples. These examples helped me understand many different ways that I could present my ideas, but it’s important to stay true to how you write. I used them as sources for inspiration. I think it is important to write a statement first and then use these resources as guides for editing.

What was the process like?

                When the results revealed the four nominees on campus, we all went through a series of several mock interviews. As a group we spent time together discussing our passions and supporting each other as we wrote and revised our proposals. I spoke to others who were familiar with the process. I don’t think that I would have won without the support that I had through it all. One of the things I least expected was how excited some people were for me when I had received the fellowship.

What do you think it takes in order to be a successful Watson winner?

                They want to help you succeed in exploring a topic that you’re passionate about and you want to be able to convey this in a genuine and creative manner. You should know why you’re so invested in this project and be able to clearly explain what it means to you. If you have multiple ideas, it’s important that you stick to the one that can most accurately reflects your dedication and engagement in your countries of interests and the theme of your project.

What advice do you have for other students?

There are a lot of people who start applying for the Watson, but many end up not completing their applications. My advice is to at least try. You are lucky enough to be from a limited group of applicants from forty* institutions. Even if you don’t win, you get valuable learning experience to use toward future opportunities.

                Another tip I have is to not be too discouraged about discussing your ideas with others. At first I was worried about sharing my stories with others, but doing so helped me see how those who listened perceived them. Hearing their responses helped me see ways I could make improvements.

An important thing to keep in mind is that the project should mean something personal to you and be centered on a passion that you’re deeply invested in. You want to be able to express the details of your plans in a way that reflects the bigger picture and how connected and invested you are in your project.


Interested in applying? We’re now accepting applications for students graduating in December 2018 and May 2018.



Gilman Scholarship Deadlines

Spring deadlines for the Gilman Scholarship are fast approaching. With so much to do on campus, it can be easy to forget what all you have to do. However, if you intend to apply for the Gilman, please keep yourself aware of what is due, and when. Good luck!

Mid-August 2017               Online application opens for Spring 2018 study abroad programs and

October 3, 2017                              Student Deadline for submission of online application, including
transcript(s). Must submit application by 11:59pm CDT.

October 10, 2017                            Advisor Deadline for submission of online Study Abroad Advisor and
Financial Aid Advisor section.

October/November 2017          Complete Applications are processed and distributed to selection
panels for review.

Late-November 2017                 All Applicants are notified of the status of their application via
email. Study Abroad and Financial Aid Advisors will be notified of
scholarship recipients via email. A list of the recipients will be
available on the Gilman website.

December 2017                            Scholarship recipients must accept/decline their award and submit
required documentation.

Below are a few Berea College students who have studied abroad. You can become one of them!


Rhodes Scholarships

The Rhodes Scholarship is a postgraduate award supporting exceptional students from around the world to study at the University of Oxford (only the University of Oxford).

  • The Scholarship aims to nurture public-spirited leaders for the world’s future
  • Scholars may pursue any full-time postgraduate degree (subject to limited restrictions) offered by the University of Oxford, for a duration of 2-3 years
  • Whilst at Oxford Scholars enjoy a comprehensive Rhodes Character, Service & Leadership programme, inclusive of retreats, workshops, conferences, as well as many discussion and social events at Rhodes House, Oxford
  • The Scholarship includes full tuition, a maintenance stipend, and flights to and from Oxford at the beginning and end of tenure

How to apply:

Candidates wishing to apply for the Rhodes Scholarship must first be endorsed by the college. Please send a pdf of your application to Ann Butwell by September 15th. In addition to this, you will also need to:

  1. proof of citizenship or lawful permanent resident status
  2. a certified transcript (or transcripts)
  3. a list of principal activities
  4. a clear, printable head and shoulders photograph (preferably high resolution)
  5. the endorsement of the applicant’s college or university
  6. five, but not more than eight, letters of recommendation.  At least four of these letters must be persons from whom the applicant has received undergraduate or graduate instruction, and at least one letter (the fifth) must speak to the applicant’s character
  7. a personal statement not exceeding 1000 words which the applicant must attest as wholly truthful and his or her own work. The statement should describe the applicant’s academic and other interests, and describe the specific areas of proposed study and the reasons for wishing to study at Oxford. The statement should be written in as simple and direct a manner as possible and set in a typeface no smaller than 10 points. Selection committees will place special emphasis on the personal statement and it may be forwarded to Oxford colleges to which Rhodes Scholars-elect apply for admission. Committees may, in their discretion, reject any personal statement which fails to meet these requirements.

In addition to this, the applicant must be prepared to attend a reception and personal interview, and remain for possible reinterviews and the election announcement, in the city serving the respective district region, on the Friday and Saturday preceding the Thanksgiving holiday.

For more information, please visit the Rhodes website at

6 Berea College Students Awarded Prestigious Gilman Scholarship

Andrea Dowlen ’18, Kelley Farley ’17, Amber Follin ’17, Nicholas Fouch ’18, Amber Mosley ’18, and Emily Smith ’18 are students at Berea College and a few of over 850 American undergraduate students from 359 colleges and universities across the U.S. selected to receive the prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to study or intern abroad during the spring 2017 term. The students will study abroad for an entire term in countries such as Germany, Ireland, Peru, Nepal, Cyprus, and Australia.

Gilman scholars receive up to $5,000 to apply towards their study abroad or internship program costs.  The program offers grants for U.S. citizen undergraduate students of limited financial means to pursue academic studies or credit-bearing, career-oriented internships abroad. Such international exchange is intended to better prepare U.S. students to thrive in the global economy and interdependent world. Students receiving a Federal Pell Grant from two- and four-year institutions who will be studying abroad or participating in a career-oriented international internship for academic credit are eligible to apply.  Scholarship recipients have the opportunity to gain a better understanding of other cultures, countries, languages, and economies — making them better prepared to assume leadership roles within government and the private sector.

Congressman Gilman, who retired in 2002 after serving in the House of Representatives for 30 years and chairing the House Foreign Relations Committee, commented, “Study abroad is a special experience for every student who participates.  Living and learning in a vastly different environment of another nation not only exposes our students to alternate views, but also adds an enriching social and cultural experience.  It also provides our students with the opportunity to return home with a deeper understanding of their place in the world, encouraging them to be a contributor, rather than a spectator in the international community.”

The program is administered by the Institute of International Education (IIE).  The full list of students who have been selected to receive Gilman Scholarships, including students’ home state, university and host country, is available on their website: to Allan Goodman, President and CEO of IIE, “International education is one of the best tools for developing mutual understanding and building connections between people from different countries.  It is critical to the success of American diplomacy and business, and the lasting ties that Americans make during their international studies are important to our country in times of conflict as well as times of peace.”

If you are curious about the Gilman and its wonderful opportunities, then follow this link and find out more information. Not only will this award help in covering costs, but can also help you connect with prestigious Alums and open many gateways if you plan on pursuing an international career.

Berea College Student Wins Prestigious Thomas J. Watson Fellowship 2016-2017

BEREA, Kentucky—The Center for International Education is proud to announce that Berea College Nominee Moondil Jahan won the national competition for the 2016-2017 Thomas J. Watson Fellowship prize of $30,000.

Moondil will engage in purposeful exploration—traveling the world for 365 days—after she graduates in May.

Her project, “Journey through Rhythmaculture: Grieving and Rejoicing through Indigenous Drumming and Dancing,” will take her through Germany, Morocco, Spain, Peru, Ghana, Suriname and The Netherlands.

This journey, for Moondil, is not just one of exploring countries and cultures.  She explains, “My Watson project entails a journey both inwards and outwards, concurrently towards myself and others. I am humbled and thrilled to receive such an honor.”

Moondil has experienced sorrow and joy and felt them “through the indigenous music and dance of [her] motherland, Bangladesh.” “I have chosen to explore these art forms across linguistic, cultural, and geographic borders,” she notes, “A region is considered to have a rhythmaculture, when its culture fully embraces its traditional music and dance in every aspect of life. Delving into the rich and ancient tradition of drumming and dancing I will gain firsthand exposure to the world’s most remarkable performers while learning the cathartic powers of rhythmaculture at a global level.”

Berea College is the only school in the Commonwealth from which The Watson Fellowship accepts candidates.

This year, 152 finalists were nominated to compete on the national level from which 40 fellows were selected. The Watson pool continues to be extremely competitive. Berea College is grateful to be able to put forward candidates for this esteemed prize.

This year’s class of Watson Fellows comes from 21 states and eight countries. They exhibit a broad range of academic specialty, socio-economic background, and life experience. The 48th Class of Watson Fellows, will traverse 67 countries exploring topics ranging from climate change to incarceration; from technology empowerment to forced migration; from car culture to ethnoentomology.

The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, named after the founder of International Business Machines (IBM), offers graduating college seniors of “unusual promise” the opportunity to engage in one year of independent exploration and travel outside the United States. Its goals are to enhance the capacity for resourcefulness, imagination, openness, and leadership, and to foster humane and effective participation in the world community—in short, to develop future leaders who are self-reflective, well-informed, mindful citizens of the world. Each year, about 40 students receive $30,000 each.

To learn more about applying as a Berea student or recommending a student, visit:

To read Moondil’s project summary and the other 39 amazing projects, see:

#BereaAbroad #WatsonWednesday #BereaCollege

Watson Wednesday: Tuvshinzaya Amarzaya

We are proud to announce that this year Tuvshinzaya Amarzaya, out of 700 candidates, is a winner of the prestigious Watson fellowship.

Her project—“Evolution of Cultural and Individual Identity Through Martial Arts”—will take her to China, Japan, Brazil, and France to explore how changes in Shaolin Kung Fu, Ninjutsu, Capoeira, and Parkour practices affect martial artists’ sense of self.

She begins her journey this summer.

“As a firm believer in the transformative power of martial arts, I want to see how the martial artist’s sense of identity is affected by his or her practice. Everything that I tried and experienced left a mark on me and helped shape who I am today, but the martial arts carry a particular weight, as the practitioners take up philosophies and principles in addition to the physical training.”

In her own words, Tuvshinzaya reminds us that the Watson Fellowship’s uniqueness is “a chance to pursue your quirky passions and childhood dreams over a year of independent and meaningful travel.”

She encourages everyone at Berea to apply because, “Even the planning and daydreaming are full of surprises and self-discovery!” Please visit the Center for International Education’s page for additional information:

Applications are due on September 15th, 2015 if you are graduating in December 2015 or May 2016.

The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, named after the founder of International Business Machines (IBM), offers graduating college seniors of “unusual promise” the opportunity to engage in one year of independent exploration and travel outside the United States. Its goals are to enhance the capacity for resourcefulness, imagination, openness, and leadership, and to foster humane and effective participation in the world community—in short, to develop future leaders who are self-reflective, well-informed, mindful citizens of the world.