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K-State Today

June 6, 2011



Fulbright Award takes Thurston-Gonzalez to Korea for cultural, educational exchange

By Julie Fosberg

A Fulbright award will help a Kansas State University international services administrator learn more about the higher education system in South Korea.

Sara Thurston-Gonzalez, director of K-State's international student and scholar services, has been named a Fulbright Scholar and will spend June 10-25 in Korea through the International Educational Administrators Program. The goal of the program is to foster international understanding by acquainting U.S. and Korean personnel in international program administration with the system of higher education in each nation and the major issues affecting it.

During her two weeks in Korea, Thurston-Gonzalez will visit selected schools, colleges, universities, cultural sites, government agencies and related educational organizations. She'll also have meetings with Fulbright alumni and participate in cultural events. The first week is spent in Seoul and the second week outside of the capital.

"The goal is to develop a basic understanding of higher education in Korea in its cultural context," she said. "I haven't been to South Korea before and I know from my own personal experience and travels that one truly learns from experiencing countries and cultures firsthand. This program gives me an opportunity to better understand Korean culture and learn more about my Korean students' backgrounds so I can better relate to them and better advocate for them on campus."

K-State has more than 70 students from South Korea and typically hosts about 20-25 South Korean faculty, scholars and researchers on campus each year.

The trip also has a personal aspect for Thurston-Gonzalez.

"Both my father, from 1959-1960, and brother, from 1989-1990, were stationed in South Korea while in the U.S. Army," she said. "I've heard many stories about Korea from them, specifically the major changes in the 30 years between their tours, as my father had the opportunity to visit my brother while he was stationed there."

Thurston-Gonzalez is one of approximately 1,100 U.S. faculty and professionals who will travel abroad through the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program in 2011-2012. The Fulbright program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. The primary source of funding for the program is an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Thurston-Gonzalez joined K-State in her current position in December 2007 and oversees operations of international student and scholar advising and immigration status for more than 1,800 students and 300 scholars. She works directly with K-State's office of international programs and helps oversee recruitment, selection, training and evaluation of the staff at K-State's International Student Center.

Prior to joining K-State, she served as interim director and assistant director of international student services at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She also worked in international student affairs at the University of Chicago and Roosevelt University. She is active in NAFSA: Association of International Educators, serving in numerous leadership roles.

Thurston-Gonzalez graduated cum laude from the University of Louisville, where she earned a bachelor's in Spanish and art history. She also earned a master's in counseling and college student personnel services from Louisville and a doctorate in higher education administration from Loyola University in Chicago. She has traveled extensively, including to Austria, Belize, Belgium, Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, France, Germany, Guatemala, India, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Peru, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.