Fulbright scholar takes big heart to India.
In the words of Fulbright scholar Brendan Rempert, his scheduled State Department trip to India is a “recipe for amazement.”
The why of that conclusion is easy. It’s the seventh-largest country in the world geographically with a population of 1.25 billion.
“It is like an assault on your senses,” said Rempert, who graduated from Lakewood Ranch High School in 2013 and who is two weeks away from earning a bachelor’s degree at Florida State University in Tallahassee. “Every car horn is honking all the time. They burn their garbage, the way they manage their sewage ... This is the reality for a lot of the world’s population, and we need to understand what it is like.”
Heavy stuff for a 22-year-old.
“This is an opportunity to be an ambassador for the U.S. in a cultural exchange,” said Rempert, who spent three months in India in 2015 and applied to the Fulbright Program’s grant so he could return.
My own senior year of college, I was trying to get as much pool time as possible. My spare time was devoted to my motorcycle. I didn’t see global warming coming.
The Fulbright Program, which wasn’t looking for me, gives out 8,000 grants annually to students who have gone above and beyond. Way above. They focused on Rempert.
I asked Rempert if he thought his Lakewood Ranch High friends would have been surprised by the honor, which will provide him with $1,200 a month, beginning in June, for nine months in India.
“I don’t know what they would say,” Rempert said. “I know I was surprised.”
His mom, Tidewater Preserve’s Debbie Rempert, is not surprised. She knew her son was going to make a difference.
“He always has been a compassionate person,” Debbie Rempert said. “Strangers would say, ‘Your son is so polite. He let my daughter go down the slide first.’ He always had a big heart.”
Big heart or not, Rempert said he picked up the minimum hours of service work while at Lakewood Ranch High School. When he got to Florida State, though, “something clicked.”
He became involved in Florida Alternative Break, an organization that helps students perform mission-type work as an alternative to going to the beach at spring break. He joined Impact America, which provided free tax services for low-income families and also took photos of children’s eyes so they could be checked for problems.
He kept volunteering his time, and in 2016 earned the FSU President’s Humanitarian of the Year Award.
“I have to be somebody who can do critical reflection on his own life,” said Rempert, who carried at 3.9 GPA at FSU.
It appears he will feel pretty good when he finally takes the time to do that reflection.
In the city of Chennai, India, Rempert will work 15 to 20 hours in the school teaching English. The rest of his work week will be doing jobs for nonprofit organizations.
“I will focus on promoting the English language and will help communities that want to acquire it,” he said.
Rempert said that in India, English often is tied to upward mobility.
The Fulbright Program operates in 160 countries. The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs runs the program with an annual appropriation from Congress, along with charitable donations. It is named after the late-U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright.
Although Rempert will be working hard, he said he will enjoy each day despite the overcrowding and poverty.
“When I visited, I saw their way of life that made me fall in love with it. It is a collision of the past and the future. You see a 100-year-old wooden cart next to a Toyota.”
After nine months, Rempert will return to the U.S. and ponder his next step. He said it is possible he will attend graduate school, and he would be open to a job with the State Department.
But it’s also possible he might be telling stories in the future.
“I have a passion for investigative journalism,” he said.