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An Inside Look at The Fulbright: 6 Questions Answered

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The following questions are a reflection of points that I was still confused and curious about even after researching the Fulbright website thoroughly, as well as common questions that I have been asked by people who are wondering if the Fulbright may be right for them.

The End Goal

#1. So, there's no dissertation, no thesis, no presentation. What exactly is the end goal?

It's been said many a time that the ultimate goal is the mutual understanding between the grantee and the local community. There is a huge amount of emphasis, by Fulbright representatives and Fulbrighters themselves, on the idea of cultural ambassadors people who are not only open to internalizing every aspect of an experience abroad and willing to educate others about their home just as much as they are being educated about their host country.

But the most important thing to realize about the end goal? It is what you make of it. Especially for those of you interested in research/study grants, you will have complete control from start to finish. No one will be holding your hand or keeping you on task its all up to you, which is as liberating as it is challenging. The best way to prepare for this kind of work is to make sure you choose a topic and design a project that you truly love.

#2. Do Fulbrighters often turn the research they complete during the year abroad into something more (book, dissertation, movie, etc.)?

Although you will never be asked to hand in a final project, many do turn their research or experience abroad into something more. If you feel passionate about what you have found and you let the Fulbright program know, they will probably support you and provide some great publicity. You can see a few examples of just that on the Fulbright U.S. Student Blog, where various alumni share stories and advice about their Fulbright projects; some of whom continued working with ideas that began as Fulbright proposals. There is also an ambassador option, wherein Fulbright alumni commit to publicizing and working with the program after they have completed their year abroad.

When and How to Apply

#3. The crucial question for all students looking at a fast-approaching graduation, or recent graduates: do I need to apply now? How much would it affect my chances if I wait a while?

The main advantage to applying during your senior year of undergraduate school is that you would still have access to the Fulbright Program Advisor (FPA), a designated Fulbright adviser who is there to bolster your application. According to Stew Gilson, an ETA Fulbright alumni, the FPAs dont do any screening, theyre just there to help. Although Stew applied At Large two years after he graduated from Williams, he still enrolled the help of his FPA. He explained that the FPA would edit his proposals, practice interviewing him, and criticize his work constructively as someone who knows what the Fulbright program looks for. Despite the fact that he was two years out of undergraduate school, Stew found the Williams FPA ready and willing, as did another alumni, Katie Day Good, who used her FPA a year after her graduation. Applicants are responsible for dreaming up, designing, and coordinating their application, she said, but the resources and experience of the FPA are an invaluable aid.

Whether or not you use your schools FPA, you may still be wondering if the time at which you apply for a grant affects your chances of receiving one. According to representatives at IIE, it absolutely will not hurt your chances if youre a few years out of college, a young professional, or in graduate school. If you choose to apply later on, with or without the help of an FPA, you will apply At Large, but this will not give you any kind of advantage or disadvantage over those who apply through their schools.

#4. Is it a problem if you have already travelled in the country to which you are applying for a Fulbright?

If you have studied abroad in the country that you would like to now travel to on a Fulbright, this will not be a disadvantage. If you have spent more than a year cumulatively, however, this may affect your application. A main goal of the Fulbright program is to allow people who haven't had a lot of experience abroad to gain some. At the same time, this does not mean that you should randomly apply to a country youve never been to and know nothing about selecting a country to apply to is one of the most important steps in this entire process, in part because so much of the application process is determined by the country you apply to, as I mentioned in my last article. Your application must demonstrate an in-depth understanding of as well as your personal relationship to your chosen country.

The Supervisor and Affiliation

#5. Who supervises your work and how much control do they have over you?

The nature of the supervision you receive depends on the kind of grant you receive. For a research/study grant, you will be working with a supervisor and a host affiliation but the closeness of your relationship with these two entities is up to you. While some Fulbrighters meet with their in-country advisors/host affiliations frequently, others just keep in touch via email. Day Good, in a very helpful and informative blog post on the Fulbright U.S. Student Applicant Blog, explains that the flexibility and openness of the Fulbright grant allows each grantee to develop a different relationship with his/her supervisor and host-affiliation, depending upon goals and experience.

For those interested in an ETA grant, the meaning of supervision is slightly different. Gilson explained that for his Fulbright in Delhi, the ETAs acted as their own support network and met frequently to exchange advice. Although this grant is advertised as a teacher assistantship, Gilson was absolutely a full-time teacher with upwards of 50 students in class every day. This worked for him he had plenty of experience and knew that he was throwing himself into the unknown from the start. The ETA grant may therefore be different from the research/study grant in terms of structure and purpose, but both require a certain amount of flexibility and enthusiasm.

#6. How do I find an affiliation in a country I'm not even living in?

The toughest question for research/study grant applicants: the affiliation. It may seem confusing and incredibly daunting to find an affiliate to sign onto your humble research proposal but it is possible. Unfortunately IIE cannot provide you with a list, they advise using contacts/professors you already have who may be able to connect you with entities overseas. Past affiliations range from libraries, NGOs, laboratories, museums, and universities to individual people: musicians, writers, artists, etc. In the same blog post mentioned above, Day Good provides a handy checklist for those struggling to wrap their mind around what exactly an affiliation is, and how to find one.

  • Dont worry if you dont know anyone in your host country. The best place to start is the Internet. Beyond your personal contacts, Google and the Fulbright student/scholar directories will be the best tools to begin your search.
  • Have a good sense of what your project is about before you seek out an affiliation, you will need to make a good sales pitch. This doesnt mean you need to have every detail figured out for the affiliation you end up with may determine a number of different factors, like where and when you travel.
  • Be aggressive. Emails will sit around inboxes for days, but if you start making phone calls you will surely have a better response rate.
  • Once you find an affiliation, send them a short synopsis of your project. This way, when they write a letter for you, they will have a clear idea of what theyre endorsing and how to do so.

One last note on the affiliation: Fulbright programs from certain countries will find an affiliation for you. Before you begin frantically scouring the web for the most legitimate sounding overseas entity, do yourself a favor and look into the affiliation procedure for your country.

Tidbits of Personal Advice

The most informative parts of my interviews with Fulbright alumni/representatives were not necessarily the direct answers that they gave me, but the tidbits of personal advice that fell between the cracks. One of the most frequent pointers I heard from the Fulbright folks I chatted with: this grant requires flexibility. Be prepared to be unprepared, to deal with the unexpected, and to make the most of nearly any situation. This is an important state of mind to enter not only when applying for/beginning a Fulbright, but also anytime you want to make the most of travel, study, or life abroad.

Editor's note: Make sure, that you also check other scholarships options to guarantee that you'll get the one which is most suitable for you. You can do that right here, on ScholarshipPortal!

A Few Fulbright Stats
  • Western Europe is the most popular region in which to apply to
  • The U.K. is the most competitive country to apply to within W.E.
  • The ETA grants in Andorra/Spain are the most competitive in all of Europe
  • Scandinavian countries do not require the grantee to speak the local language
  • Germany offers the most grants each year with 80 full Fulbright grants and 140 ETA grants
  • Russia is the most competitive country with the toughest language requirements
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