It only took one anthropology class — specifically Race, Class and Gender in the Caribbean with Dr. Melissa Johnson — for then-political-science major Padayhag to fall in love with the study of anthropology. She loved the opportunity to hear people’s experiences on the ground, especially by people of color regarding issues of immigration and diaspora. In her previous classes, she’d primarily encountered white, male, and Eurocentric perspectives, which led her to seek different stories.

Padayhag also identifies her own love of reading and writing, as well as her parents’ stories of their time in the Philippines and experience as immigrants to the United States, as elements of her passion for storytelling. “Writing has always been my go-to,” she explains. “When I was young, I would read all the time. My mom taught me how to read in English [despite growing up experiencing poverty in the Philippines].” Along with her strongly developed research and writing skills, her Filipinx heritage was also an essential ingredient in Padayhag’s choice of Fulbright project venue.

That project journey began more than a year in advance of leaving for the Philippines. “My professor told me that not many folks spend five months like I did,” Padayhag says of the time she invested crafting her application. But this early start is essential. For two to three months she read academic articles, researched online, consulted with SU Fulbright alumni, and started reaching out to prospective community partners in the Philippines. “That was hard,” she notes. “I wouldn’t always hear back.”

Through this research, she learned about indigenous medicine in the Philippines and its demonization through the colonization process, leading to modern prejudice against traditional medicine. For Padayhag, learning this history led her to focus on hilot, a form of traditional/indigenous medicine in the Philippines, as her research topic. It also helped her contextualize the struggles manghihilots (traditional hilot practitioners) face with providing care to the everyday Filipino. By contacting organizations that deal with alternative medicine in the Philippines, Padayhag secured support from community partners in and around Quezon City, which is a hub for groups in the Philippines that advocate for traditional and complementary medicine. She explains in her grant proposal that her research will explore the factors that “both encourage and inhibit manghihilots from providing their services to the general public.” Her project will also build on the participant observation and ethnographic interview skills she cultivated during her time as an anthropology major at SU.

Ultimately, Padayhag hopes that she can use anthropology as a way to “speak truth to power” by advocating for equitable models of healthcare that center marginalized individuals’ needs and voices and promote greater individual and community wellbeing.

Making Connections

Underlying the support of grantees’ specific research interests, the Fulbright Program’s main aim is to promote mutual understanding. This understanding is built through daily interactions with individuals in the host country, “allowing the grantee to gain an appreciation of others’ viewpoints and beliefs, the way they do things, and the way they think,” according to the Fulbright website.

A similar formative cross-cultural encounter for Padayhag was her four-year involvement in Spring Breakaway, a program Southwestern formerly offered that provided meaningful community service experiences during spring break. As a two-year trip participant and two-year trip leader, Padayhag relished the opportunity to explore other communities and social justice issues while nurturing what she called the “adventurous part of my spirit.”

Padayhag has already connected with her Fulbright community partners in the Philippines by helping edit materials for their initiatives, and she envisions continuing this engagement both during and after her project concludes. “The intention that I set for myself is building community,” she says, “especially with my community partners — they are “elders” and have more knowledge than me — and being able to learn from and look up to them.”

Those connections — along with getting to know her fellow Philippines Fulbrighters — are the Fulbright experiences she’s most excited about. Learning the Tagalog language and more about traditional medicine, reconnecting with the relatives she’s been separated from by distance and language barriers, and being open to new experiences round out her top personal goals. After her Fulbright, Padayhag also hopes to pursue graduate study, potentially in anthropology.

Applying for Fulbright

Padayhag credits an ensemble of Southwestern supporting cast members for her Fulbright achievement — from first hearing about Department of State fellowships from a fellow Spring Breakaway participant, to learning about the Fulbright “intercultural adventure” from Brielle Read ’20 (herself a Fulbright program awardee who taught English in Uruguay), to her faculty and the Center for Career & Professional Development. “The support I got was so meaningful to me,” she explains. “You can’t see the holes [in your application] until someone else steps in.”

She also offered a few recommendations for aspiring Fulbright applicants in the future:

  • Gain foundational skills through internships and research. Take advantage of professors’ connections and the career center to identify opportunities that build your portfolio of experience.
  • Build your team of champions. “I had awesome professors, like [former professor] Dr. Allison Kafer, Dr. Eric Selbin, Dr. MelJohn, and Dr. Sendejo,” she relates. “They were not only interested in me as a person but also in my growth after SU.” Reach out to professors if you need help in conceiving of your research interests.
  • Identify alumni of the program. Use the Fulbright grantee directory or search “Fulbright” on LinkedIn. She even found a Slack channel on Reddit where Fulbright applicants asked questions and Fulbright finalists gave advice. “People are willing to help you if you just ask,” she concludes.

For more information about the Fulbright or other fellowship opportunities, visit or contact Alexandra Anderson, fellowship advisor in the Center for Career & Professional Development, at