Phillip Wenturine has never set foot on Richmond campus of Eastern Kentucky University, never rubbed Daniel Boone’s toe for good luck, never smelled the flowers on a sunny spring day in the Ravine.
But, to paraphrase Dr. Seuss, oh the places EKU has taken him. And he’s not through traveling yet.
When he graduates this May from EKU’s Bluegrass Writers Studio™ Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing Program, Wenturine will embark on yet another adventure to Portugal, this time as a recipient of a 2016-17 Fulbright U.S. Student Award. He will represent Eastern and the U.S. as a “cultural ambassador,” helping to enhance mutual understanding between Americans and the people in Portugal.
As he taught English and writing at Landmark Middle School in Jacksonville, Florida, the past three years, Wenturine took online classes at EKU and joined his classmates and faculty for two summer residencies in Lisbon, Portugal, where he studied under “some phenomenal writers and heard many established readers share their work.” In fact, it was precisely that opportunity to pursue his passion abroad that led him to Eastern.
“I’ve always had a case of wanderlust,” he said. “The fact that the MFA Program offered a chance for the residencies to take place overseas in Portugal was the primary selling point. So … it seems fitting that EKU is now able to help send me back to Portugal now that my degree in coming to a close.”
Wenturine will spend nine months on an English Teaching Assistantship, teaching college humanities 20-30 hours each week to speakers who have “some understanding” of the English language. He’ll also be assisting other professors “while teaching myself,” and giving presentations and guidance to Portuguese students hoping to pursue studies in the U.S.
“Portugal taught me how to find myself, and now I am inspired to give back,” he said. “I hope to gain ample teaching experience to help me with my future education and career endeavors, and I hope to bring my love of writing to the forefront as I aim to capture the history of Portuguese people in a new collection, much like the writing style of the lovely Fernando Pessoa.”
Wenturine, who grew up in rural southwestern Georgia (Cairo, pop. 10,000) and later Tallahassee, Florida before earning an undergraduate degree at the University of North Florida, has studied writing and film in France and China, where he also taught English as a Second Language at an orphanage, and traveled throughout England, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.
Still, there’s something special about the land of medieval castles and cobblestone streets on the Iberian Peninsula where southwestern Europe meets the Atlantic. “Something about the air in Portugal is just so refreshing,” he said, “and it’s like breathing constant inspiration. I am excited to teach, but also to write, and to make the best of this incredible opportunity. I’m also grateful to connect back with the many writers and friends that I met my first two summers and to continue making more connections.”
The last time Wenturine was in Portugal, he got a tattoo on his inner arm that reads, “Perder-me para me econtrar,” which translates “To lose myself is to find myself.”
“I was a bit unsure of what I wanted in life, but I just decided to take a chance on Portugal, and it has already opened doors. When I got back to the States, I got another tattoo on my back shoulder blade of a world map outline and a plane flying from Florida to Portugal, hoping that one day I would get to go back. It’s like it was meant to be, as now I am going back, and I can only hope more doors will open.”
Already, Wenturine has published fiction and non-fiction in Intrinsick Magazine, Aurora Magazine and The Talon Review, and has an upcoming short story, “Butterflies Thrive on Octane,” coming out in an anthology this year.
EKU’s Bluegrass Writers Studio™ touts itself as “one of the most affordable and progressive low-residency programs in the country.” Director Robert Dean Johnson heads a faculty that also includes Dr. Young William Smith, Julie Catherine Hensley, Nancy Jensen and Carter Sickels, all prolific published writers.
“Both (former Director) Derek Nikitas and Bob Johnson have done so much for me throughout this program,” Wenturine said. “Derek was so influential in getting me into the program and helping me get acclimated in Lisbon during my first workshop over there. I have taken most of my classes with Bob and, with his experience in non-fiction, he has really helped me shape my work. Many of my stories from my memoir have already been published. I cannot thank him enough for all of his guidance and patience with my writing.”
Wenturine also thanked Dr. Minh Nguyen, associate director of EKU Honors and coordinator of nationally competitive scholarships at EKU: “He was the best Fulbright Program adviser I could have asked for. He gave me great essay advice, and he was so quick to respond to any of my communication. I could really tell he was genuine in wanting to help me succeed.”
The Office of National and International Scholarships and Fellowships at EKU assists students with the deliberation and application process. The Office offers individual advising assistance to all EKU students in determining appropriate fellowships or scholarships to pursue, coordinating application materials, selecting recommenders, preparing compelling personal statements, developing project proposals or proposed programs of study, and interviewing. For more information, contact Nguyen at 622-8667 or firstname.lastname@example.org.