As part of the Fulbright Commission’s 70th anniversary celebrations, we are producing a series of profiles of current Fulbrighters and alumni. Raegan Sealy graduated with MFA in Poetry at The New School for Public Engagement in New York City in 2017, after her Fulbright Postgraduate Award at the New School. Here, she shares her perspective on her Fulbright experience.
What made you apply for a Fulbright?
To be honest, I had no idea what Fulbright was or how prestigious and competitive the awards were. I just knew that I wanted to study at this specific university in the US and I was searching online for grants to fund US study for UK students.
Where did you go for your Fulbright?
I went to The New School for Public Engagement in NYC to study for an MFA in Poetry. The link between poetry and public engagement was exactly what I wanted to study and this was the only institution in the world I’d found making that link. It was also situated in NYC, and it was super important for me as a writer and performer (especially with the degree program being very vocational) to be surrounded by performance opportunities, diversity, other artists and some of the best arts and cultural institutions in the world.
What were you doing before you started your Fulbright?
I graduated from my undergrad degree in Creative Writing in 2014 and knew that I was going to apply for the Fulbright. Once I set a goal I’m pretty one track minded. I moved to Nottingham and spent a year working to save enough money to help me make the move. I was also writing and performing with some amazing local artists at that time, including Debris Stevenson and Honey Williams. Working with those two phenomenal women, even for one year, massively shaped my future work.
What did you do immediately after?
Before I had finished my Fulbright I had already launched Sound Board NYC, my project that uses creative writing, music and performance to engage and empower at-risk youth. We work in juvenile detention centers, prisons, youth centers, substance abuse programs and foster homes amongst other venues and run programming that equips participants with the creative tools they need to process trauma, express emotions constructively and connect with peers and services.
What are you doing now?
Right now I am still living in NYC, growing Sound Board with the help of TNP Academy and writing and performing my own work. The impact my experience has on the lives of others is the basis of everything I do. I grew up in a low-income family with domestic violence and substance abuse issues. I spent long stints in foster care and had my own substance abuse issues by the time I was 11. I moved schools a lot and dropped out completely aged 15. As a teenager I was groomed and sexually abused by a group of older men - an experience outrageously common amongst girls in foster care. The reason I’m not dead or in prison is because I had the language to tell my story - I had music and writing. Writing and performing gave me the self-actualization, confidence, clarity and connection that I needed to change my story. The work I do as an artist and with Sound Board now, is focused on empowering other people to reclaim their narratives.
How would you say your Fulbright award shaped you?
My Fulbright award had an astronomical impact on me both personally and professionally. It has without a doubt been the most important part of my experience in the US. Firstly, it would not have been possible for me to come to the US without it, but the people I have met through Fulbright, the family I have found, the support and guidance – is invaluable. What connects all Fulbrighters is their shared purpose and commitment to creating a better future for all people and a better world, in all the diverse and unique ways we as humans are capable.
What impact did your Fulbright award have on your understanding of the people and culture of the US?
I had never been to the US before I stepped off a plane by myself to move here! Of course, it was not what I thought. The US is an incredible country, so full of wealth, opportunity, diversity and culture. Fulbright gives awardees a really helpful orientation, with conferences, host-family dinners, speakers and field trips. But you don’t experience the reality of the US until you leave the conference hotel, walk off the college campus, or look behind the storefront. As wealthy as America is, there’s massive wealth disparity: homeless vets with no shoes sit in sub-freezing temperatures outside Gucci on Fifth Avenue. There’s extraordinary diversity and the biggest clash of cultures in the world here, and there’s also abhorrent racism, inequality and oppression. The good news is, there’s lots of amazing people, including many Fulbrighters, working to change this picture. But in order to make real change, everyone needs to be included: we need to look, see, listen, and work together. I feel like that’s the true meaning of Fulbright.
Are there any partnerships that have come out of your Fulbright experience?
Yes, so many! My relationship with The Nantucket Project is currently shaping most of my working days. I’ve also had a huge amount of mentoring and support from the International House of New York. Sound Board has partnerships with the New York Public Library amongst other local and national institutions. The people I’ve met and connections I’ve made here will form the basis of my career for the foreseeable!
What do you plan on doing next?
Sound Board is growing every day and I’m currently being booked for speaking/performing gigs and workshops all over the USA. I have an album due for release this year and lots of dates upcoming with the band too. It’s busy, and difficult, but worth it. I’m still constantly trying to raise money to fund Sound Board programming. It’s my goal to have creative programming in every single institution that works with at-risk youth, and to create an online platform for sharing the stories of Sound Boarders in a way that will engage a mass audience and influence policy change.
What impact has your Fulbright award had on you?
Fulbright completely changed my life. Where I’m from people don’t go to university, let alone pursue a masters, let alone move to the USA to do it on one of the most prestigious scholarship programs in the world. Being a part of an alumni that includes 57 Nobel Prize and 82 Pulitzer winners (not to mention Sylvia Plath!) is humbling, and demands me hold myself accountable to myself, my work and my purpose, as well as the Fulbright mission, for the rest of my life.