Fulbright Foreign Student Program Scholars Discover Their Passions at Jefferson

Participants from Latvia and Jordan traveled to Philly to complete their graduate education.

Created in 1946 by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Fulbright is an educational and cultural exchange program that aims to increase mutual understanding between the United States and other countries and improve lives around the world. Fulbright has over a dozen unique exchange programs, including the Fulbright Foreign Student Program, which awards international young professionals merit-based grants to complete graduate studies at U.S. universities.

We spoke with two current Fulbright Foreign Student Program scholars at Jefferson to learn more about their experiences here and what they’ve gained so far.

Photo of Karīna Plotņikova
Since starting at Jefferson, Karīna Plotņikova says she has gained a wider perspective of the fashion industry and sustainability practices. (©Thomas Jefferson University Photography Services)

Karīna Plotņikova, MS in Fashion Merchandising and Management
Growing up in Latvia, Karīna Plotņikova had a goal of starting her own sustainable fashion brand. When she heard about the Fulbright Foreign Student Program, she knew she had to go for the opportunity.

From the beginning of the application process, Plotņikova felt challenged to put her best self forward. “I come from a small country where people are stereotypically reserved and quiet,” she says. “During the Fulbright application process, I had to step over that stereotype and start believing in myself and putting myself out there.”

Plotņikova chose Jefferson because of the comprehensive programs and remarkable intersectionality, something other fashion enterprise programs didn’t have. The Fulbright program accepted her, and she moved to Philadelphia in August 2022 to begin her MS in fashion merchandising and management.

I feel like I’m really getting the American university experience.
–Karīna Plotņikova

Aside from a brief layover in New York in 2019, this marked the first time Plotņikova has spent a significant period in the United States. “I feel like I’m really getting the American university experience,” she says. “It’s something I’ve only seen in movies or books.”

A few months into her studies, Plotņikova is gaining a wider perspective of the fashion industry and sustainability practices. “This knowledge will definitely help in my professional career,” she shares. “In class, we read a lot of case studies and discuss real-life examples instead of just covering theories.”

Plotņikova has a lot to consider when thinking about her future career plans, she says. “My main goal always has been to start my own company. I’m passionate about sustainability and fashion design. But my studies and professors at Jefferson have inspired me to think about other career paths in the fashion and sustainability fields. I’m exploring all the options and seeing where life takes me.”

Fulbright Scholars
Once accepted, Aroub Alfraihat took a leave of absence from her job at Hikma Pharmaceuticals and traveled to the U.S. for the first time. “Knowing more about the process of drug discovery will allow me to practice better problem-solving when I go back to work,” she says.

Aroub Alfraihat, MS in Pharmaceutical Sciences
Before coming to the United States from Jordan, Aroub Alfraihat had seven years of experience in the pharmaceutical field. She was working in regulatory affairs at Hikma Pharmaceuticals, the biggest pharmaceutical company in the Middle East.

“I decided I needed to gain more knowledge to advance in my career,” she says. “Knowing more about the process of drug discovery will allow me to practice better problem-solving when I go back to work at Hikma.”

Similar to Plotņikova, Alfraihat had a special experience with the Fulbright application process, she says. “When I wrote my personal statement, it felt like I was discovering myself. I wrote it from my whole heart, and it helped me clarify my goals.”

At Jefferson, Aroub Alfraihat has solidified her passion for science and research.

While crafting the personal statement and essays outlining why she picked her field of study and how it will impact her country when she returns, Alfraihat found great meaning and purpose in applying for the Fulbright Foreign Student Program.

Alfraihat chose Jefferson because of the depth of course syllabi, the school’s reputation in the medical field and her interest in the research fields of the University professors, she says. “Many of the courses in the pharmaceutical sciences program focus on emerging and new fields in pharmacology, like RNA-based therapies, nanotechnology and biotechnology development—all things I’m interested in.”

Once accepted, Alfraihat took a leave of absence from Hikma and traveled to the United States for the first time. She immediately felt a sense of home in Philadelphia.

Fulbright Scholars
From Jordan and Lativa, respectively, Aroub Alfraihat and Karīna Plotņikova have felt at home in Philly.

“People here are friendly and expressive,” she says. “I walk down the street and people say ‘hi’ even if they don’t know me. There’s also incredible diversity and rich culture here. I have friends from all over the world now. I’ve visited museums that I’ve only read about before. And in Philly, I love how you can see an old building with lots of history and a new skyscraper right beside it.”

At Jefferson, Alfraihat has solidified her passion for science and research. Not only are her classes interactive and interesting, but she has participated in a lab rotation to learn about different fields within pharmaceutical science.

“Comparing my past education experiences with now, I’m definitely studying with passion instead of studying just to get a good grade—although I did get straight A’s my first semester,” she says. “I’m so thankful for this opportunity to benefit from a well-established American educational institution like Jefferson.”

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