Jericho Native Awarded Fulbright Grant

Jericho’s Karissa Caputo will go to Taiwan on a Fulbright Scholarship.

Each year, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs awards roughly 1,600 U.S. students the Fulbright Grant. The distinguished program provides those with academic merit and leadership potential the opportunity to become more globally minded citizens through study, teaching, research and humanitarian work.

With more than 150 countries available to “Fulbrighters” to explore, the awardees quite literally have the world at their fingertips. This altruistic and surreal experience will very soon become real to Jericho native Karissa Caputo.

Caputo graduated from Jericho High School in 2011 as one of four salutatorians, top of her class throughout her high school career. She continued her education at Queens College as part of the Macaulay Honors College at the City Colleges of New York. There, she excelled in the language-teaching program, through which she studied abroad in Argentina and China. Yet, while she had always taken an interest in global affairs, teaching was not first instinct for her, nor was applying for the selective grant.

Karissa Caputo with her parents at the Jericho High School graduation in 2011.

“As a part of Macaulay, we have our own set of advisors,” said Caputo. “They always sent us emails about different things, like scholarships and fellowships and grants, so I looked into Fulbright a little bit, but I thought, ‘No, I don’t think that’s going to work with what I want to do.’ I also didn’t think I was qualified to actually get it, so I just wrote it off. But then, last August one of my advisors randomly emailed me, saying they thought I’d be a really good fit [for the program], and that I should apply.”

In October, she turned in her application and lengthy essays, which then sent her through a series of interviews. In January of this year, Caputo found out she made it past the preliminary rounds the selection process. From there, the decision was in the hands of the governments of the United States and Taiwan, her requested country of placement. During this extensive period, many of her friends sought out post-graduation options, yet Caputo never did.

“I don’t know, something just didn’t feel right about it, so worst case I would have a semester off [if I didn’t get the grant]. But it was a bit of a struggle for a few months because I didn’t know what to do,” she said.

When first deciding to apply, Caputo looked back to her primary education that had given her the tools to succeed to this point.

“I took Spanish and Chinese in high school, which really helped me expand my knowledge of the world and of other cultures; just how to better relate to people. From when I was [in high school] to now, it seems like there’s so much more “global mindedness” in Jericho,” said Caputo, as she saw as a student teacher at Jericho Middle School in the world language program. “It’s a good foundation.”

Much of what Caputo will do in Taiwan will rely on the tactics of her early education language classes, from which she takes away many ideas.

“When it came to lesson planning, my teachers in high school definitely affected me. Both Ms. Song and Ms. Hernandez [Chinese and Spanish teachers, respectively] covered the basics of the languages, but just the activities made learning fun, and really tried to get us to learn,” she said.

While the effects of her high school language teachers have made a lasting impact on her success outside of Jericho, Caputo’s ever-present desire to learn and experience have also left a mark on the lives of those who taught her.

Caputo (left) with a friend at the Macaulay Honors College Commencement ceremony, June 2.

“I try to not only teach by giving information, but also provide a window for my students to seek opportunities to interact with Chinese-speaking communities. Karissa goes above and beyond expectation,” said April Song, Caputo’s Chinese teacher in both 11th and 12th grade. “Karissa is a devoted student and she will be an inspiring teacher.”

In August, Caputo will embark on an immersive and unique educational-humanitarian program as she journeys to Taiwan, where she’ll be teaching in Kinmen, an island with an area of 59.1 square miles and a population “about the size of Smithtown,” according to Caputo. She will live there with 19 other Fulbrighters, all there to teach English to elementary and middle school students within the rural and urban areas of the island. Each participant will receive a living stipend for rent, utilities, food and any other necessary expenses.

While she will be teaching on the island, Caputo hopes to learn, too.

“When you begin to understand a language, the more you understand the way people think and how it affects their culture and society,” she said. “The more exposure you have to different cultures, the better you can relate to your students and help people learn a foreign language.”

While the island is within the domain of Taiwan, it is only a 75-minute ferry ride to the Chinese city Xiamen, but an hour plane ride from the island to the mainland. The participants in Kinmen will have the chance to visit China for one night each month while living in Taiwan.

While her prior experiences motivated Caputo to take advantage of this extraordinary experience, the way she interpreted the message of the program was what inspired her to make the move around the world; a message of hope.

“When I went to China, I’d been exposed to Chinese culture and political history,” she said. “Yet in Taiwan, there’s a really unique history. The way I saw it was that it was kind of like Taiwan had a hopeful experience in a sense, cause it was free, so I think that experience will help me better connect with Chinese speaking people at home. I’m hoping it will teach me, somehow, a way to offer them hope, in spite of all the history that’s happened. Teaching language is like giving them hope that their dreams are attainable.”


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