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Injy Johnstone (23) started studying for her master's degree in environmental law in Boulder, at the University of Colorado, on Monday.
She completed a bachelor of environmental science at the University of Otago and a bachelor of laws, which she started at Otago and finished at Victoria University of Wellington.
The former Kaikorai Valley College pupil said she had been in foster care since she was 14.
''[Getting the scholarship] was really cool. It was a surprise.
''I think the most important part for me was that I was a foster child.
''It's the first time someone from a foster background has got a scholarship,'' she said.
It was good to be able to show what foster children - who were already in a situation where they were disenfranchised - were capable of.
Foster care had been a last resort for her family, and the experience of being in care - where she realised foster children had rights, but needed to know how to access them - had inspired her to consider studying law.
She was also working with an Oranga Tamariki advisory group.
When it came to environmental science, Ms Johnstone said her inspiration had been her high school teacher Simon McMillan - who coincidentally had also received a Fulbright scholarship.
She chose to study in Boulder, which she said was ''Trump country'', because of the research into climate change that was happening there.
When Ms Johnstone finished her studies she planned to work with the United Nations, getting involved with initiatives looking at climate change in developing countries.