Photo of Cami Ross and her Fulbright program in Japan colleagues with welcome signs

Fulbright Spotlight: Cami Ross

Each year, thousands of people participate in the U.S. Department of State’s Fulbright programs, prestigious appointments through which students, scholars, educators and other professionals come together to engage in a global exchange of knowledge. A variety of Fulbright programs are offered, each with their own aims and time requirements. In recognition of International Education Week, celebrated Nov. 13–17, The Daily will share the stories of some of Case Western Reserve University’s most recent Fulbright recipients each day this week.

Cami Ross is accustomed to helping students plan their international travel experiences. As assistant director of education abroad, her role at Case Western Reserve University is centered on how international studies can help students advance their learning.

But earlier this year, Ross was the one heading abroad in pursuit of new perspectives. She traveled to Japan as part of the Fulbright International Education Administrators (IEA) Award program, which fully funds professionals to participate in intensive two-week seminars to learn about study abroad programs in other countries.

The program not only allowed Ross to explore a new culture, but it also prepared her to return to CWRU better able to assist students as they begin their own journeys. 

Read more about Ross’ experience in Japan.

Answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

1. What motivated you to apply for a Fulbright award, and how did you choose your specific research or teaching destination?

I have been assisting with student and faculty Fulbrights for several years and was well acquainted with the prestige of the awards on various levels. I was particularly drawn to the Fulbright IEA in Japan because, as a study abroad advisor, one of my main areas of advising is for the Asian region. Since CWRU has both a major and a minor in Japanese studies, I’ve found that many of our double majors (especially within STEM) struggle to find coursework that can keep them on track in Japan. 

Also, one of the unique opportunities within the Japanese IEA was the opportunity to do an individual project, which isn’t an option through all IEA locations. I’m especially interested in experiential learning opportunities for our students, and the individual project provided me the opportunity to better explore that for our students. As an advisor, I often had students inquiring into Japanese research and work options, so I hoped to learn more to better support them, even post-graduation. 

On a university level, there was also the opportunity to explore various universities and have deeper discussions about collaborations, potential exchanges and opportunities for our students, faculty and staff. I knew I could expect introductions to upper-level administrators, potential partners and the opportunity to showcase Case Western Reserve in the host country.

2. How does receiving a Fulbright award align with your research or teaching goals, and what impact do you anticipate it having on your academic career?

One of the main components of my job is in study abroad advising. Already, I have been able to better advise for our programs with an insight into cultural concerns that I never had before. I was able to meet my colleagues abroad as well as their peers to get a better understanding on how their offices functioned and how we could better work together. I’m obviously more confident in my advising for Japan, but also recognize that I can now reach out and be a resource for others, even outside of my office. 

One of the important aspects of the Fulbright is that it offers the ability to gain cross-cultural understanding. This is not only valuable for my outgoing study abroad students, but having a deeper understanding about the culture lends me to be a resource for our on-campus students, including our exchange students from Japan. I learned much more about collectivism and the concept of self within the higher education culture of Japan, and it wasn’t just about being quiet on trains. I can now be confident with helping to understand, transition, and support our current students on campus, as well as build awareness to address anti-Asian discrimination efforts. 

Even beyond the seminar, the Fulbright was an opportunity to grow my network with seasoned professionals. I learned from my colleagues on a daily basis and truly built lasting friendships that will I am sure follow me throughout my career. 

3. Could you describe the host institution or country where you conducted research or teaching as part of your Fulbright award?

Japan has a strong emphasis on education, including higher education. They have concerns with lower birthrates and connection with lower enrollment in the future, so there are potentially many international opportunities in the future. We learned about Japanese resilience (including the samurai spirit!) that made Japan confident that they would continue to be a leading economic power in the future. They seek to make Japan an educational destination of choice, despite some current challenges with Japanese higher education. 

Our primary host is the Japan United States Educational Commission (JUSEC/Fulbright Japan). JUSEC is the host of both grants for Japanese citizens hoping to learn abroad, as well as grants for Americans; including lectures, research and more. JUSEC was a wonderful host and I felt welcomed and very safe while visiting Japan.

4. In what ways did you collaborate with local scholars and institutions while abroad as a Fulbright scholar?

We worked on a whirlwind schedule.  I, and my six other colleagues spent much of our time in Tokyo as well as a weekend in Hiroshima. I had campus visits from a variety of institutions, leading experts and government officials and there were also tours of cultural sites like Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Miyajima Island.

A typical day had an early start, campus visits, student meetings and often more campus visits. In addition, the individual project was an amazing opportunity whereby I had further meetings to discuss the work culture in Japan, research opportunities, civic engagements, entrepreneurship, co-ops and the future of study abroad.  

As part of my project, I was able to schedule meetings within my area of interest. For example, I met with our student researcher studying at Tohoku University to better grasp differing definitions (Zemi) and expectations of research opportunities there. Honestly, just meeting our students on their temporary home turf was an amazing opportunity. 

5. Were there any challenges in adapting to a new academic and cultural environment, and how did you address them?

I entered the project expecting to find and cultivate new internship and research opportunities for our students. I soon found there were many hurdles to this, in fact, so much so that I needed to adjust my individual project. I quickly learned that internships, for example, are often used as a hiring mechanism and there are many bureaucratic rules that surround them, including when they can be posted, how they can be advertised and what students would be eligible for them.  

In fact, many of the opportunities for students in Japan wouldn’t necessarily be labeled as internships, but instead as shadowing or office culture experiences. I had to learn to revise my expectations and take advantage of the nuanced opportunities that we could find that might have looked different than our American constructs.