Dancing her way to Malaysia on a Fulbright scholarship

Dancing her way to Malaysia on a Fulbright scholarship

Graduating magna cum laude, Jolene Hernandez heads to her next adventure -- teaching abroad.
So, Jolene Hernandez hated ballet. She hated the precision. She hated the tutus. Mostly, she hated that she wasn’t very good at it.

Yet, at Rowan University, Hernandez, 22, took ballet classes. She learned to appreciate ballet—not love it, mind you, but appreciate it. And in taking those courses, in getting her arabesques and her tour jetés and her pliés just so, Hernandez learned plenty about herself, about what she can achieve.

“I had to work so hard…oh my goodness,” Hernandez says with a laugh. “I thought it was going to kill me. I took the classes because I wanted to get better.

“To make yourself better, you have to do things that scare you.”

That has been Hernandez’ credo throughout her Rowan career. Now, the Hightstown resident is poised to waltz into another chapter of her life. Hernandez, who will receive her bachelor’s degree in psychology, magna cum laude, from Rowan on May 11, has landed a highly competitive Fulbright Program scholarship.

In January, she will begin a 10-month English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) to Malaysia through the Fulbright Program.

The Fulbright Program provides opportunities for international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and teaching in elementary and secondary schools. The program, which draws applicants from the nation’s top institutions, awards grants based on applicants’ academic merit and leadership potential.

In the past 13 years, 14 Rowan students have landed Fulbright grants. Hernandez will teach English to secondary school students, ages 12-17, in Malaysia. It doesn’t bother her a bit that she doesn’t yet speak Malay, the country’s native language.

“I’m sure the first day I’ll be sweating, but I know it’s going to be a great experience,” Hernandez says. “It makes complete sense for me to do this.”

Chances to grow

Throughout her undergraduate career, Hernandez actively sought out-of-her-comfort-zone experiences at Rowan that helped her grow as a student—and as a person, says Professor Monica Greco, chair of the Department of Psychology at Rowan.

“Jolene has always been about growth,” says Greco, who praises Hernandez for her “innate intellectual curiosity” and for her leadership in the classroom.

“She saw every opportunity she had here at Rowan as an opportunity to grow. She went into everything thinking, ‘What can I bring to this experience? What can I gain?’”

Hernandez studied abroad in Morocco and France in the summers of her sophomore and junior years. She took an internship with Healthy Campus Initiatives, which gave her the chance to promote physical and psychological health and wellness—two of her real interests—to her fellow students. Most important to her, she served as president of the Rowan Dance Team and vice president of Dance Extensions, two groups that helped her keep her passion for dance alive in the midst of her very challenging academic workload. Last semester, Hernandez organized a “Dance Flash Mob” that brought together 100 students, faculty and staff in the Chamberlain Student Center for a fun, quick dance party.

Her Rowan experiences changed her, giving her confidence, interpersonal skills and a streak of fearlessness that will serve her well in her Fulbright, Hernandez says.

“Studying abroad the first time completely changed my life. It definitely made me more confident,” says Hernandez, who also pursued a concentration in women’s and gender studies at Rowan.

“I didn’t come to Rowan thinking that I could accomplish all of this. I was able to find my niches here. All of the opportunities and tools I needed to grow were right here.”

After her Fulbright is complete, Hernandez is considering graduate school and, perhaps, even the Peace Corps. A career in counseling working with teenage girls who have issues related to low self-esteem or poor body image might also be in the works. But wherever she lands, dance will be part of her life, she says.

“Dance is about creating something bigger than ourselves,” Hernandez says. “I love the physical part of it. I don’t think about anything else when I’m dancing.”