She’s headed to Hungary to study rural communities

By Ann McCreary

Over the past 10 years, Sarah Brown worked her way — one online class at a time — through her bachelor’s degree in sociology.

After graduating last year with top honors from Oregon State University (OSU), Brown has achieved another accomplishment — she has been selected to receive a prestigious Fulbright award to pursue further study abroad.

Brown, who lives in Carlton, will move this summer with her family to Hungary, where she will spend a year researching how that nation supports and sustains rural regions and towns.

“I knew when I graduated I wanted to learn more about how other places sustain vibrant rural communities. I decided to apply for a Fulbright to expand my concept of what is possible from a small rural community,” Brown said.

The Fulbright Program is an international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. It is designed to build connections between people of the United States and people of other countries.

Recipients of Fulbright awards are selected based on academic and professional achievement, as well as their record of service and leadership potential in their respective fields.

“I have always been an active community member, since I was a little kid. I have volunteered, started organizations, sat on boards and attended countless fundraisers for nonprofits,” Brown said.

She is currently president of Room One’s board of directors, and is start-up coordinator for the Methow Housing Trust, a new nonprofit organization focused on creating affordable housing in the Methow Valley.

Devoted farmer

Brown grew up in California and Oregon, and first came to the Methow Valley in 1997 as a seasonal worker on a backcountry trail crew. Her husband, Brian Fisher, grew up in Wenatchee and loved the Methow Valley from an early age. The couple moved here permanently in 1998.

Brown devoted herself to farming for the next 10 years, growing fresh produce for local grocery stores, restaurants and farmers markets. In 2005, she decided she wanted to finish her undergraduate degree, and enrolled in OSU’s “ECampus.”

“I decided to pay as I went, which meant I needed to take one class a quarter,” Brown said. Ten years later, she received her Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology, with an emphasis on rural issues.

“OSU has some option for rural study through the ECampus program. But I had to fine-tune pretty much every class toward rural topics,” Brown said.

After finishing her undergraduate studies, Brown began considering how to apply what she’d learned. “I’ve been here essentially my entire adult life. At some point I was going to need a broader perspective,” she said.

She decided to apply for a Fulbright award and “cold-called” a professor in Hungary whose work she had read extensively, asking if he would act as an affiliate for her research there. Eventually, after several months of discussion, he agreed to help her and found a rural development center where Brown will work as an intern.

Brown said she will examine how programs of the European Union and Hungary support rural development and people who live in rural areas. She expects to write an article “to synthesize the work I’ve done into a form that’s useful and applicable to me.”

Taking the family

The Fulbright award provides Brown a stipend for living and housing expenses — “like a graduate student fellowship” — and pays for most of the family’s travel expenses to Hungary, she said.

The experience of living abroad for a year will benefit her entire family, Brown said. Her children, Cora, 7, and Gannet, 11, will attend school in Hungary. The experience will mesh well with the international focus of the International Baccalaureate program being adopted by the Methow Valley School District, Brown said.

Her husband, a project manager with Methow Salmon Recovery Foundation, will work remotely, she said.

As a Fulbright scholar, Brown will be able to participate in cultural training opportunities, meet other Fulbright recipients in the region, and attend conferences outside Hungary.

“One thing I have learned from communicating with other Fulbright families is that we’ll come back and the world might look different for us,” Brown said.

Brown is one of about 1,900 U.S. citizens who will conduct research, teach English and provide expertise abroad for the 2017–2018 academic year through the Fulbright Program.