Fulbright scholar to go back, give back to her birthplace
Elisabeth Kolb, ’22, will use Fulbright Scholarship to share American culture, learn more about Germany’s people
It’s been a few weeks now since Elisabeth Kolb first heard the good news, but the shock hasn’t worn off quite yet.
The 2022 UND Biology and German Studies graduate — who also happens to be applying to medical schools this week — will head back to her birthplace of Bavaria, Germany, this fall as a Fulbright Scholar.
As part of the immersive 10-month experience, she will help German educators teach their students English.
“I just couldn’t believe I got it. I’m still reeling and letting it all sink in,” Kolb said. “I’m not sure it’s going to feel real to me until I’m on my way. My parents generously gave me a luggage set and passport holder as a graduation gift, and every day it’s becoming a little more real. I’m getting more and more excited.”
Kolb said the prestigious scholarship also lifted a weight off her shoulders that she never even realized was there until it was gone. She hadn’t intended to start medical school immediately after graduation, she explained, but she knew she wanted to do something very purposeful until she was accepted.
This trip will be meaningful in more ways than one. For Kolb, who has deep family roots in Germany, it will be a homecoming of sorts as well as a chance for her to grow and give thanks.
Not so long ago …
Both sets of her grandparents emigrated from Germany to America after World War II. In fact, Kolb’s grandmother on her mother’s side was Jewish, and family members converted to Lutheranism and were forced into hiding before they later made it to America.
They settled in a German-American community in Chicago, where Kolb’s own parents eventually met and married. As a young couple, they dreamed of living in Germany for a time, and that’s where Kolb was born in 2000. Before she was a year old, they returned to Chicago, where she continued to absorb the rich German culture.
Until she moved as a sixth-grader with her family to West Fargo, N.D., she also was very active in the German children’s choral tradition called Kinderchor. She and her family traveled to Germany twice as she toured with the singing group.
“This whole thing is such a blessing. I’ve always dreamed of going back to Germany just like my parents did,” Kolb said. “But I honestly didn’t know how I’d be able to make it work with a life in medicine. It’s already another four-year commitment with medical school and a residency after that. And it’s not like I can practice medicine in Germany.
“I guess I thought if this program didn’t work out — which I already thought was a slim chance — I didn’t think I would have that opportunity. So, I am really grateful.”
It so happened that the Fulbright offered perfect timing, said Kolb’s mentor and Associate Professor Amanda Boyd, who also serves as UND’s director of German Studies.
“Elisabeth always has wanted to teach, and she’s always had a passion for the German language and German culture,” Boyd said. “She’s a born leader. She’s both passionate and compassionate, and she’s the type of leader who listens and takes other opinions into consideration.
“That’s what I loved about her so much in the classroom. She doesn’t stifle other students’ voices. She encourages everyone and is just a very well-rounded, genuine person who is an absolute joy.”
Boyd said she’s certain Kolb will be a great mentor to her own students in Germany as well. While giving her credit for keeping UND’s German Cooking Club alive during the pandemic, Boyd said Kolb proved she knows how to get things organized and make learning fun.
She’s a ‘bright light’
More praise came from Kolb’s academic advisor and UND Biology Professor Diane Darland.
“She’s done quite a bit of research with me in neural and vascular development, and she is amazing in the laboratory,” Darland said.
She added that Kolb presented some of her research last month at the North Dakota Academy of Sciences, where she won an award for communication.
“Elisabeth is an extremely positive person who really brings a bright light and an intense energy to just about every situation,” Darland said. “I have no doubt she’ll bridge any language or cultural barriers and will be very effective at building connections. More important, she’s going to get people excited about learning.”
Furthermore, said Yee Han Chu, UND’s coordinator of Academic Support & Fellowship Opportunities, “Elisabeth has the heart of a humanitarian.”
“She is a kind, attentive and responsive person who truly wants to help others in need,” Chu said. “She’s a fantastic representative of the United States and UND. She models a very compassionate profile of U.S. citizens.”
As though to demonstrate her point, Chu recalled how Kolb was among a handful of UND students who answered the call from a local school district last year to help middle school students who were struggling with their online studies.
“When Elisabeth makes a declaration to help someone, she follows through,” Chu said.
Back to that community service
Beyond the teaching, Kolb already has big plans to dig into German community life. She says she’d love to join some sort of singing group and volunteer to help refugees. Germany has had a high influx of refugees from war-torn Syria and, more recently, Ukraine.
Further, she says she’s looking forward to experiencing more of the day-to-day culture in an area of Germany most Americans know only for its Oktoberfests, Lederhosen (knee-length leather britches held up by suspenders) and Dirndl (the traditional bodice, skirt, blouse and apron).
“There’s so much more than that,” Kolb said. “Bavaria is an area of very rich culture, and I’m getting quite the challenge with the dialect. It’s much more difficult to understand than standard German or the language farther north.”
That’s a testament to just how diverse the German culture is, she said.
“In Germany, if you go only a city away, there could be a whole different vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar,” she said. “I’m so excited to get to know the people and celebrate my heritage and all the differences and similarities in a way I’ve been able to do so far in only limited ways.
“One of the reasons I wanted to pursue medicine is because I love to learn. Being totally immersed in a culture like this is one of the biggest ways you can learn and gain a greater perspective on life.”
And it’s also a great way to show gratitude.
“When my grandparents came over, it wasn’t freebies. My dad’s parents had to get a sponsor family in order to have that opportunity, and my mom’s family had huge help from The Salvation Army and other volunteer organizations to help them get up on their feet,” Kolb said. “In a similar light as those selfless acts, I want to be able to give back all that I’ve been given. I’ve been so fortunate in life up to this point with my education and everything.
“This is not something I take for granted. I want to remind myself of how lucky I am and how much I also have to give to others because of all the opportunities I’ve been granted. So, it’s really an effort just to give back all and more of what I’ve been given.”