May 11, 2021

USD's Oyler Awarded Fulbright to Teach in Tajikistan

Ross Oyler, a recent graduate of the University of South Dakota, has received a Fulbright U.S. Student Program award for an English Teaching Assistantship for the 2021-2022 academic year from the U.S. Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.

Oyler is one of over 2,100 U.S. citizens who will study, conduct research and teach abroad for the 2021-2022 academic year through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Recipients of Fulbright awards are selected in an open, merit-based competition that considers leadership potential, academic and professional achievement, and record of service.

Oyler, an international studies and political science double major, will spend the 2021-2022 academic year teaching English in Tajikistan. The Fulbright English Teaching Award grants provide participants with the opportunity to assist in the teaching of English and American culture in Tajikistan’s American Spaces, as well as immerse in the local culture. He will live in one of Tajikistan’s eight American Spaces that serve as dedicated information centers that help introduce visitors to America’s story. The American Spaces also serve as a platform for public diplomacy and English language programs and help to build cultural bridges, according to the Fulbright organization.

“My application centered around leading outdoor education programs and clubs, so I am really looking forward to the opportunity to teach and share my passion for climbing and the outdoors,” Oyler said.

In 2019 and 2020, Oyler, a Rapid City, South Dakota, native, spent his junior year in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, as a recipient of the David L. Boren Scholarship, which funds study abroad by U.S. undergraduate students in world regions critical to U.S. interests. “Tajikistan is directly south of Kyrgyzstan so there will be a fair deal of cultural carryover and I will still be able to use Russian to some extent, though Tajik-Farsi is the primary language,” he said. “Tajikistan has a strong and strict central government in contrast to Kyrgyzstan so one of the most visible differences will be the absence of western commodities and personal freedoms—even more so than Kyrgyzstan.”

Another difference is the likelihood that Oyler will live in a small village—where most of the American Spaces are located—rather than city of 1 million where he resided when he was in Kyrgyzstan. “Living in a rural Central Asian community will be a drastic change, but one that I’m excited for.”

Oyler credits his professors in political science (Julia Hellwege and Eric Jepsen), international studies (Tim Schorn), Russian (Ilmira Dulyanova) and Honors (Melissa Berninger) for their mentorship, work and support. “I couldn't have done it without them,” he said.

David Earnest, chair of the Department of Political Science, praises Oyler’s commitment to service.

“Ross represents the best traditions of USD,” Earnest said. “As an ambassador for the university—and South Dakota as a whole—Ross uses his academic excellence in the service of others. In the College of Arts & Sciences, our mission is to educate the leaders who will solve tomorrow’s most pressing challenges. Ross is precisely the kind of citizen-student who will provide the vision and leadership we need during these unsettled times.”

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is administered at USD through Melissa Berninger, director of the University Honors Program and coordinator of Nationally Competitive Scholarships. More information about the Fulbright process at the University of South Dakota can be found at usd.edu/honors/awards.

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to forge lasting connections between the people of the United States and the people of other countries, counter misunderstandings, and help people and nations work together toward common goals. Since its establishment in 1946, the Fulbright Program has enabled more than 390,000 dedicated and accomplished students, scholars, artists, teachers, and professionals of all backgrounds to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas, and find solutions to shared international concerns. The Fulbright Program is funded through an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State. Participating governments and host institutions, corporations, and foundations around the world also provide direct and indirect support to the Program, which operates in more than 160 countries worldwide.