It was during his time at Northeastern that Michael Nelson explored his interests in meditation and the outdoors. Those linked devotions inspired him to apply for—and win—a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship.
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program offers a variety of growth opportunities in more than 140 countries to graduating U.S. college seniors, graduate students and young professionals. Nelson will use his Fulbright Scholarship to teach English in Laos, enabling him to visit Southeast Asia for the first time.
“Laos really struck out as a cultural crossroads that had a rich history of Buddhism and was often overlooked by the typical tourist,” says Nelson, a 2020 Northeastern graduate in physics and computer science. “When I was a Northeastern student, I was lucky enough to cross paths with meditation techniques that eventually changed my life. Laos is home to the cultural and spiritual influences that allowed these practices to spread across the world and I feel obligated to give back to the land and the people that helped me as best I can.”
Nelson’s plans for teaching in Laos will be influenced by his love of nature. Nelson is a crew leader in Ridgecrest, California, with American Conservation Experience, a nonprofit that works with volunteers to “help restore America’s public lands.”
Nelson says his membership in the Northeastern University Huskiers and Outing Club (NUHOC)—which offers hiking, camping, climbing and other outdoor activities—helped him realize that “living outside was something I could turn into a career.”
“Conservation work allows me to give back to the spaces that have offered countless adventures for me in a way that is also fun,” says Nelson, who has spent more than 400 nights sleeping in a tent over the past two years while working for American Conservation Experience. “Teaching people how to care for the land and watching them grow is very exciting and heartening. There is so much wisdom and beauty to be found in nature and being able to facilitate access to others motivates me to get up each morning.”
Nelson plans to be flexible with his teaching plan in Laos. His initial goal is to start an outdoor program that connects families and children with nature by creating a space where everyone is on equal terms with their natural surroundings. Activities like hiking, cycling and camping could offer opportunities for his students to compare and contrast their relationships with nature, providing cultural insight for them as well as for their teacher.
Nelson hopes his Fulbright experiences will help him pursue a career as an outdoor educator of everything from rock climbing to backpacking to downhill skiing. His time in Laos will help make him a better teacher able to connect with people of all backgrounds, he says.
Ultimately, he would like to become a mountain guide in foreign countries.
“I was ecstatic,” Nelson says of earning the Fulbright Scholarship. “But also a bit nervous. It means leaving my job, my friends and my family for many months.”
Taking on those nerves and exploring new frontiers are crucial to the adventurous plan Nelson has staked out for himself.
“This opportunity is incredibly important to me,” Nelson adds. “Fulbright allows me to truly test my adaptability while being able to experience intimate cultural immersion.”