Madalyn Fernbach ’19 is living and teaching in Łódź, Poland, as part of the Fulbright Scholar Program. As the Ukrainian crisis unfolded, she ensured her family and friends at home that she was safe and also shared how she is taking action to help her Ukrainian neighbors.

Can you please tell us about your journey from Stonehill to a Fulbright in Poland?

At Stonehill, I was a neuroscience major, a student-athlete (soccer), a teaching assistant, a member of Campus Ministry, a peer advisor in the Office of International Programs, and one of the founders and co-president of our DECA chapter. These interests made my time at Stonehill worthwhile and tremendously enhanced my learning experience. I was also a part of the SURE program, which helped me attain a position as a research coordinator in the neurocognitive laboratory at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City after I graduated.

While working in NYC, I also volunteered to teach ESL adults during night classes via a program called Literacy Nassau. I have always loved teaching and think it's so valuable to be able to share your own knowledge for the good of others. I had wanted to teach abroad for a year—especially because I loved my Stonehill study abroad experience in Copenhagen—which is what led me to the Fulbright Program.

I chose to apply to Poland because they were looking for individuals who had a background in STEM to teach graduate-level English classes. I had also been to Poland once before and was interested to learn more about the country's culture, language and the healthcare system. I liked the idea of not only being a teacher but also an active community member and an acting ambassador from the United States, which made the Fulbright Program a good fit for me.

I was granted the Fulbright in March of 2020, but the program was postponed a year due to Covid. I arrived in Poland in September 2021. After the grant, I will be attending medical school and would like to one day work in the field of global health and healthcare policy and advocacy.

Please share about the work you are doing.

The grant is from September 2021 through July 2022. I'm teaching advanced English in the sciences to biotechnology master's students, Ph.D. candidates and medical students at the Medical University of Łódź.

My classes focus on science-specific content to help improve my students' upper-level English skills in speaking, presenting and academic writing. I also proofread journal articles from professors that are being submitted for publication. Additionally, I am involved in the community—I play football (soccer) on a local team and volunteer to host English conversation groups through the U.S. Embassy. I also speak at local high schools and give workshops about education in the U.S.

During my time here, I have also attended The Fulbright EU/NATO Seminar 2022 run through the Fulbright Commission in Brussels, and I am currently slotted to be a guest speaker at a Democracy and Civil Rights Conference in Wrocław, Poland, this May.

I will continue to live out Stonehill's words while I am here in Poland and will offer as much light and hope as I can during these particularly dark times.

What is it currently like in Łódź? What are you seeing and experiencing?

Łódź—pronounced 'woodge'—is a wonderful place to live. It is the third largest city in Poland, located in the center of the country. Many university students from around Poland and from all over the world live here to pursue their studies.

People have been extremely welcoming and kind to me. Although my Polish is very basic, many people make their best effort to talk with me or assist me. I was surprised to learn how many people speak English here. It is taught in primary school; however, many older Poles who grew up in the communist era do not speak it as well due to the lack of English education during that time. Being a native speaker of English is unique, and many people are excited to talk to me in order to practice their own English skills and learn about what it was like to live in New York and go to school outside of Boston. Also, the food in Poland is absolutely amazing—I think pierogi are my new favorite food.

Being an active member of the community has enhanced my experience and has allowed me to connect with so many different people from different backgrounds.

You posted about collecting supplies for your Ukrainian neighbors. Can you please tell us about this effort?

Due to recent events, the feeling here is quite a somber one, everyone who you speak to is feeling sad, scared or anxious. However, our personal feelings have not gotten in the way of the overwhelming generosity that I am observing from my community.

The day after the Ukrainian crisis began, people were immediately asking what they could do to help. Before the war started, there were thousands of Ukrainian people who lived and worked peacefully in Poland, and now the Polish community is stepping up to do everything possible to support our Ukrainian neighbors. I am seeing people offer to personally drive to the Polish/Ukrainian border to pick up women and children. I'm seeing people offer their homes and extra living spaces to incoming refugees (often strangers), and I'm seeing people clearing out shelves on grocery and home improvement stores to buy supplies to donate to people in need.

It's only been a few days, but people have mobilized very quickly, everyone wants to help. Poland has an important history. Many here have not forgotten what it was like when Poland was occupied during WWII and manipulated during the Cold War.

As a member of the Łódź community for the last 5 months, I am proud that I get to volunteer and contribute to these important humanitarian efforts. Although I don't have a car and can't drive to the border, and I don't speak Polish, Ukrainian, or Russian, I can assist by fundraising, purchasing, and donating vital supplies for immediate assistance. I have been asking family and friends back at home to consider helping me pay for the supplies that are being urgently requested by families who are in Ukraine, waiting at the border, or newly arrived in Poland.

So far, I have been able to help purchase beds for refugee children in Łódź; clothes, food and blankets for people waiting at the border and lodging in the city of Lviv, Ukraine; and medicine, nutritional drinks, protein shakes and toys for pediatric cancer patients in Ukraine at Клініка Дитячої Онкології та Трансплантації Кісткового Мозку (Pediatric Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplant Clinic).

I've also volunteered to prepare living quarters for incoming Ukrainian orphans and have helped sort and organize donations that are being regularly driven to the border and are being used to help support refugees in Poland. I cannot imagine what it is like to be forced to leave your country and to escape violence so assisting is the least I can do. Every day, my thoughts and prayers are with my Ukrainian students, coworkers and friends and their own friends and families during this difficult time.

The strength and perseverance of the Ukrainian people are truly inspiring, and their desire to protect their homeland and their sovereignty is immeasurable. I will continue to live out Stonehill's words while I am here in Poland and will offer as much light and hope as I can during these particularly dark times.