Loveland Besties Earn Prestigious Fulbright Grant

Left to right: Olivia Babcock and Carrie Walker standing in front of the Matterhorn during a trip to Europe in 2016.

Jonson Kuhn | North Forty News

Best friends share everything, from secrets to laughs, adventures, and experiences, but now for Carrie Walker and Olivia Babcock of Loveland, these two best friends are sharing something even more.

The two new college graduates are both recent recipients of the prestigious Fulbright Grant and each is soon to be heading off to different countries to put their hard earn skills to work. Carrie takes off in March for Argentina and Olivia takes off in September for Zambia where they’ll each be in their respective countries for nine months.

Getting accepted into the Fulbright Program is no easy task and is roughly a year-long process that involves a rigorous checklist consisting of two concise essays, a statement of grant purpose, a personal statement, a number of references and recommendations, as well as having your bachelor’s degree completed. In addition to it being rare to receive the grant due to the competitive high volume of people who apply, it’s even rarer that two people from the same town should receive it, let alone two people who just so happen to be best friends.

Carrie and Olivia in Marching Band at Loveland High School in 2018. Marching Band is where they first met during their freshman year at school.

The two BFFs first met in 2014 during their freshman year at Loveland High School, specifically in marching band; Carrie had just recently moved from Maine, and Olivia is a Loveland native seemed right for the part to be paired with the new girl in town. Perhaps that was the reason their band director encouraged Olivia to introduce herself to Carrie on the first day of the marching band or perhaps it was fate, but either way, the two hit it off immediately and have been best friends ever since.

“Our band director thought we’d get along so he came up to me and was like, ‘hey, do you see that girl over there? You should go be friends with her.’ So, I tried, and it was a little awkward at first, but I remember the first time we hung out, she invited me over to her house, we were studying for finals for our first semester of freshman year. She invited me over and we hung out for a couple of hours and then she was like, ‘do you wanna stay the night,’ and I was like, ‘yeah.’ So, the very first time we ever hung out I ended up spending the night, and then a couple of weeks later she invited me to go to Maine with her that summer, so we pretty much hit it off immediately once we actually started talking,” Olivia said.

Carrie is a graduate of Eckerd College with a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations and Global Affairs and this won’t be her first time in Argentina. She did try once before to study abroad in the country during college in the Spring of 2020, and her trip which was originally supposed to last for 5 months but was cut short to three weeks instead because of the pandemic, so Carrie said she’s especially excited for the opportunity to get to go back. She’ll be teaching English at a University in Argentina, specifically to adults who are wanting to become English teachers themselves.

“I’m very excited to use the skills that I have to help people advance in their language abilities and at the same time I really hope to improve upon my language abilities with Spanish,” Carrie said. “It’s a huge honor to be chosen, a lot of people apply and very few get accepted, so it’s really cool that I got it and also that my best friend got it for two different countries. I’m really looking forward to getting to go.”

Carrie is currently teaching Spanish at Conrad Ball Middle School in Loveland, so one of her major goals with this trip she says is to officially become fluent in Spanish. Her original interest in Argentina came sort of by accident, Carrie had initially applied to study abroad in Chile in college but due to political unrest at the time in the region, her program ended up getting moved to Argentina and it was then that she fell in love with the culture and the history.

“It’s a really cool place; while I was there I got really into 20th century Argentine history and ended up completing my undergraduate thesis on a political topic related to the late ’70s, early 80’s Argentine dictatorship,” Carrie said.

Both Carrie and Olivia had no idea that one another was applying for the grant and it was only discovered after having sent in their applications that their great minds were thinking alike, so to speak. The application process for the Fulbright Grant is especially time-consuming, they each started their applications last August and submitted them in October. They each found out they were semi-finalists that following January and then Carrie found out she was a finalist in March; however, Olivia wasn’t notified of being a finalist until around June or July of that summer.

“It’s a really long process and we each had our own approaches to dealing with the waiting but luckily we had each other and were able to kind of talk it through and commiserate in the torture of waiting to hear back,” Carrie said.

Olivia was a history major in her undergrad at the University of Puget Sound in Washington State, where she got her Bachelor of Arts in History and focused a lot on South and Southern Africa and even studied abroad for three months in Durban in South Africa where she became interested in decolonization theory. She saw firsthand how progressive the region is, especially for education policies, so while she’ll be teaching at the University of Zambia, her hope is to eventually bring back ideas and stories to the U.S.

Left to right: Carrie Walker and Olivia Babcock during graduation from Loveland High School in 2018. Now, both newly college graduates, are setting off for a new journey overseas the Fulbright Program. Photo courtesy of Olivia Babcock.

“I’m extremely excited, I’ve had a lot of international experience and it’s something that I want to continue to have after having graduated from college and I think a grant is a really amazing opportunity to learn from another culture and different education system and hopefully bring ideas back to the U.S.,” Olivia said. “The whole area is striving really hard to make a lot of changes in civil society and so I learned so much with the organizations while I was there in South Africa and I was just wanting to go back to a different country and continue to build my understanding of the region.”

A part of why Olivia found out later than Carrie about being a finalist was because she took a bit of a risk in her application process by applying to a country she didn’t have as much experience in. Olivia said she originally had applied for Botswana but because of the high number of applicants to that country, she was listed as an alternate. When a brand-new program was opened for Zambia, she quickly applied and was one of only two people to be selected.

“I feel super lucky because I would rather be in Zambia because it’s a country that I had more interest in and more experience in, so I’m really excited that it all worked out the way it did,” Olivia said.

Though much is still uncertain about the future for both Carrie and Olivia beyond the time they’ll be spending abroad, one thing that is certain is that they’ll continue to be the best of friends despite any amount of miles that may come between them.

“We were best friends for those four years, and we’ve traveled all over the country and world together,” said Olivia. “I would say that our passion for learning and dedication to travel has helped us remain close even when we were 3,167 miles apart. We’re planning to visit each other in Zambia and Argentina respectively and I have no doubt we’ll remain friends for the rest of our lives.”

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