In October, current senior Emily Cole will be on a plane headed to Ecuador as part of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. The Fulbright program is highly competitive and involves a rigorous application process. Cole tells me that she started her application this past summer and wrote and rewrote it until finally submitting it in October, at which point she waited until March to hear the results.
“After submitting the application, I just kept praying that if it’s what God wants me to do, He’ll give me the favor for it,” she tells me. “To get the email last week that I was one of the four selected,” she pauses and breaks into a beaming smile, “I was really excited.” Recipients of the award are fully funded to work abroad: Cole will be traveling to Ecuador where she will serve as an English Teaching Assistant and will also be actively building relationships within the community through leading soccer clinics where she can help mentor younger girls. Cole’s acceptance to this program is especially noteworthy because she is the first Eastern student to ever receive this award!
When I ask her why she chose Ecuador, Cole tells me it was her love of Spanish and her heart for Honduras and Latin America in general that led her to this decision. Indeed, Cole has a history with Latin America: in 2011, she went with her church on a missions trip to Honduras. She says that trip stirred her heart and changed her by allowing her to see people who are so joyful and thankful for what they do have even though in our eyes it seems like they have nothing. A year after this trip, Cole and her older sister, Andrea, created Honduran Soles, a nonprofit that provides shoes to those who need them. In January of 2013, six months after they created the organization, they traveled back to Honduras with nearly 2,000 pairs of shoes.
In talking with Cole, one is struck by two observations about her: the first is that she is beautifully confident, and the second is that she is deeply humble. As it turns out, these two features are often interconnected. She tells me that learning a new language is so humbling: “It’s a process where you’re going to say things that don’t make sense to others and hear things that don’t make sense to you. And you have to learn to make new sounds with your mouth and with your tongue, and that whole entire process is humbling.” But she also tells me that being here at Eastern has definitely helped her and that her professors, particularly Dr. Stewart and Dr. Mrs. Ramirez, have “instilled a lot of that confidence in me just by affirming how I’m doing and helping me through learning the [Spanish] language.” It is a mix of daily practice in the language, the guidance of professors including Dr. Francois (her Fulbright adviser) and the abiding power of faith that Cole credits as giving her the confidence to apply to the Fulbright with confidence that she knew Spanish well enough to live abroad and work with the people.
“I’m so grateful that I can say that Eastern helped me achieve this,” Cole says, adding that she hopes this will bring a lot of good to Eastern. In fact, what Cole really hopes for is that “more Eastern students will see that they can apply to and go for it. Because I think that sometimes being at a small Christian school, you think you can’t really compete with students from bigger schools, but Eastern has given us the tools.”
Of course, it wasn’t just Eastern that empowered Cole. She also talks to me at length about the role of faith and family: “I grew up in the faith, and I grew up learning about who Christ was from my incredible parents who have just poured the Word into our house and into my life and the lives of my four siblings. My parents showed us the authenticity that comes through faith.” Cole also talks about the transforming power of reading God’s Word: “Through reading the Word, I understood that Jesus wasn’t this high ruler who came and said, ‘Serve me.’ Instead he came and said, ‘I’m going to serve you.’ And so that humility and that servanthood captivated my heart years ago, and it continues to. And so for that reason I just pray all the time that God would shape my heart like His, that He would shape it to want to serve, to have that passion to serve like He did and to be able to invest in people because that’s what Christ did.” Of course, that doesn’t mean faith is always easy: “No, it’s not,” she assures me. “There’s hard stuff, and sometimes you don’t want to go out of your way to do something. But that’s the rewarding thing, seeing how much our faith changes us for the better.”
When I ask Cole if she has any long-term plans, she says, “I have a million things I wanna do,” which may include going to law school or working for a non-governmental organization (NGO). But for now, Cole says, “I’m going to pour myself into the Fulbright, and then when I get back, I can decide. I’m just trusting that God will direct me where He wants me to go, just like He’s done so far.”