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U.S. Fulbright

Life as a Fulbrighter is Good: Here Is How I made it Happen, By Brett Martin, 2007-2008, Italy

December 29, 2009

After graduating college with a degree in economics and psychology, I did what everyone else I knew who graduated was doing: I moved to New York City and worked 80 hours a week as an investment banker. I liked it, but it became obvious that I was much more interested in building my own business than buying and selling pieces of other peoples’ businesses. I began looking for a platform that would enable me to learn how businesses are built before taking the plunge. One night, I bumped into a friend I hadn’t seen in a while:

“Where have you been?” I said.

“Studying resource mobilization in Argentina.” he replied.

“That’s awesome!” I responded. “How did you pull that off?”

And that’s the first time I ever heard about the Fulbright U.S. Student Program – a magical program that enables passionate people to pour themselves into pursuing their dreams while promoting goodwill abroad. Most people think that you need to be a 4.0 student to get a Fulbright grant. Not true. You don’t even have to be a current student (!), but you do need to at least have your bachelor’s degree or equivalent. Through your application, you just need to be passionate enough about your cause and becoming an American cultural ambassador to convince the U.S. Government that you are worth funding, and will make good use of your time abroad. I can only share my Fulbright experience, but here’s my advice to potential applicants.

1) Pick a topic of great interest to both the U.S. and host governments.

1. Grant writing 101: you are asking these governments for a lot of money. Pick something that they care about.

2. I chose “The Effect of Globalization on the Italian Textile and Fashion Industries.” Italy’s family textile businesses have been decimated by low-cost, Asian imports. The Italian government wants to know how to make those businesses more competitive. Guess who else is worried about low-cost, Asian imports? You got it, Uncle Sam. Fulbright funds hundreds of projects every year that are politically and culturally expedient, so there are many options to choose from.

2) Pick a relevant and timely topic.

1. It’s better work on something new and exciting than to pick a topic that’s been beaten to death.

2. Globalization was about as hot as it gets in 2006. A woman in my Fulbright class studied the Slow Food Movement. The Italian Fulbright Commission was basically asking for her autograph.

3) Pick a topic that is personally relevant.

1. You need to convince the selection committees that you are PASSIONATE about whatever it is you propose to study, be it textiles or sea snails. Since the Fulbright Program does not require an end-of-grant report in order for you to receive funding, the committees need to know that you are going to follow through on your work and that you’ll be an excellent cultural ambassador.

2. I wrote about seeing Italian textiles manufactured by a family business first hand during my undergrad study abroad in Siena. I also demonstrated my commitment to the garment industry by interning at Dolce & Gabbana.

4) Pick a topic that leverages your unique skills.

1. Are the skills you have particularly relevant to the project on which you propose to work? They should be.

2. I studied industrial and competitive dynamics 80 hours a week for two years straight on Wall Street.

5) Bring skills that aren’t available in the host country.

1. This is similar to my previous point except that not only should you be qualified for the job at hand, few in your proposed host country should be able to do what you do.

2. Italy doesn’t have a crazy excessive work culture, so there are very few people there who have spent 80 hours a week trying to understand why some companies succeed and others fail.

6) Bring back unique skills that will benefit the U.S.

1. Uncle Sam is usually footing at least half the bill for you trip, so make sure he is getting something out of the deal (in addition to all of the good will you are going to spread!).

2. As mentioned in my first point, I brought back a better understanding of how small and medium sized businesses can compete with low cost foreign businesses. I’m currently putting the results of my Fulbright research into practice by starting my own business.

7) Secure as many solid affiliations as possible.

1. Nine months is NOT a lot of time to produce anything meaningful, especially when you have willingly immersed yourself in a culture and language you may know little about and in which you may not function “efficiently” in the first place. The Fulbright Program wants to know that you are going to hit the ground running. To do so, you are going to need some support and infrastructure in the form of an affiliation.

2. Most people have some connections from their current university or with professors from their study abroad experiences. I didn’t have either, so I just cold emailed over 75 business school professors all over Italy. I included examples of my work and offered to work on their projects for free. I ended up with my own office (and wonderful secretary) in the best business school in the country.

8) Use every possible question, no matter how small, to convey the value you will bring. Every word counts.

1. This is obvious.

2. I think I wrote the equivalent of entire paragraphs in a few single line spaces in my application.

9) Read everything on the website and talk to past grantees.

1. You can learn a lot by looking at who received grants and what they did. Talking to past grantees will give you an idea of what to expect. You may also listen and watch former grantees talk about their experiences.

2. I definitely got help from my buddy who was a Fulbrighter. Stick it out.

3. Make sure to check in with your campus Fulbright Program Adviser, if applicable. It’s never too early to start learning about your school’s Fulbright application process and deadlines.

4. The application process can be boring and tedious and easy to blow off. Don’t blow it off. It’s worth it. You’ll thank me later. I promise.

Photo: Brett Martin, 2007-2008, Italy, taking a break from the office to check out the sailing at La Spezia.

Brett Martin was a Fulbrighter at the Universitá Bocconi in Milan. His Fulbright research on organizational bottlenecks was recently published in the Harvard Business Review. He is currently building a better way to find new restaurants at

U.S. Fulbright

Your Student Will Appear When You Are Ready: Finding My Paper Weaving Teacher in Seoul , By Aimee Lee, 2008-2009, South Korea

December 21, 2009

My search for a papermaking teacher started a year before I applied for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program grant and ended nearly six months after I arrived in South Korea. I knew it would be hard but didn’t realize that I would find much more than I originally sought.

I arrived in South Korea in June 2008. Soon afterwards, on a sweltering afternoon, I was with a family friend whose neighbor discovered that I was researching hanji (Korean handmade paper). She said that the owner of the local market’s oil shop made hanji dolls. I was not interested in doll making but I went all the same, only to be told by the butcher that the oil shop had shut down because of an accident that had killed the owner’s children. I left and didn’t give it a second thought.

After visiting various paper mills across the country, I eventually found the right hanji teacher for my needs who was a papermaker that I had contacted months before even applying for my Fulbright grant. During my apprenticeship with him in the brutal winter of January 2009, my hanji teacher and I were outside one day stoking a fire. Besides teaching me how to make hanji, he also taught me how weave paper cords known as jiseung. I asked if he had had a teacher. He said he did, but that his teacher’s story was tragic. His teacher had had a business and a family, but his two children and sister-in-law had been killed instantly in a car accident. His wife remained trapped in the car during the accident and suffered bad burns. He consequently shut down his shop and stayed home to care for his wife. I was shocked at the similarities between the two stories and asked where his teacher’s shop was located. It turned out that his teacher’s shop was indeed the very same one owned by the man I had tried to find the previous summer.

In February 2009, my hanji teacher introduced me to his jiseung teacher. I soon started taking jiseung lessons at his home while getting to know him and his wife and earning their trust. He hadn’t had a serious student in a while since most quit because jiseung is so difficult. But I stayed for eight-hour sessions while his wife cooked incredible meals to sustain us. He was a third-generation master who learned from his father and grandfather, and wanted to pass the craft along to his daughter. His son had not been interested in jiseung, but his daughter had showed interest at an early age which made her loss even more devastating. Even though they were only a decade older than me, it was clear that I became their surrogate child and disciple.

As an artist and ambassador for hanji, I encouraged my jiseung teacher to exhibit his work so that it didn’t stay hidden on the 10th floor of a high-rise apartment in Seoul. A month after I left South Korea, he presented a solo show in Insadong’s Ssamziegil – a famous building in a tourist center. He then went on to further exhibit his work and win a top prize. Neither of us knew that we would find each other and nurture each other’s work. The reciprocal nature of our student-teacher relationship made it one of the most meaningful experiences of my Fulbright year and a reminder of how unexpected tragedies as well as unforeseen opportunities can transform lives.

Since returning from my Fulbright year in South Korea, I have had four solo exhibitions, shown in several group exhibitions, lectured on my work and research and taught a class in a paper technique. All of my solo shows have either used or featured hanji in the hopes that using South Korean handmade paper will help raise awareness not just about the paper itself, but its applications in artwork. The largest and best publicized show I’ve had was my solo exhibit at the Diaspora Vibe Gallery in Miami called, “Native Intelligence.” I used hand-ground ink traditionally used in calligraphy, paper felting and large sheets of hanji to create a themed show that synthesized my Fulbright research while mining my ancestry and connection to the Korean landscape.

I recently returned to Miami during the 2009Art Basel Miami Beach show to promote my show and present artist talks. An audience member asked, “Do all Fulbrighters come out of their research with this much work to show?” I didn’t have a definitive answer, but I have been able to present four shows, fueled by my Fulbright research, within the span of three months. I can only imagine that most of us who conduct Fulbright projects in the creative and performing arts return with fruitful research outcomes, inspired and fully energized.

Top photo: Aimee Lee, 2008-2009, South Korea (left), and her paper weaving teacher, Na Seo Hwan, weave a traditional lantern out of Korean handmade paper, known as hanji.

Second photo: Aimee Lee, 2008-2009, South Korea (left), and her paper weaving teacher, Na Seo Hwan, brush lacquer onto pieces made from woven hanji (Korean handmade paper) in northeastern Korea at a traditional family paper mill called Jang Ji Bang.

U.S. Fulbright

Eleven Years after Hurricane Mitch: Case Studies of “New” Communities, By Ryan Alaniz, 2009-2010, Honduras

December 3, 2009

Drive north from the capital of Honduras, Tegucigalpa, for about 35 minutes and soon you will descend into a beautiful, mountainous valley called the Valle de Amarateca. You will notice thousands of pine trees, green scrub brush and pockets of identical houses (post-Hurricane Mitch communities) scattered about the valley. Billows of smoke rise from the Café Indo coffee processing plant on the right and the Café Maya plant on the left. The smell is inviting on a calm day. Soon, you are in the lowest part of the valley where brown dirt roads wind their way up into the mountains well worn by foot, tire, and hoof. Take the last road on the left – the one before you head up the mountain on the other side of the valley. If you’re seated in the back of the car, remember to hold onto the seat in front of you to avoid hitting your head on the roof due to road dips and bumps. Climb around the cow pastures and honk while turning corners so that oncoming traffic can hear you approaching. Follow the sign up the hill to Divina Providencia. Workers cutting grass will stop and wave or nod, wondering who is entering their community. If they know you, they will shout with a raised hand, “Compa!” or “Tio!” endearing names reminding you of the friendships you maintain. Be careful of the skinny dogs and roaming cattle on the road. As you enter the community, you will notice aspects of the glory and sadness that are Honduras: people laughing alongside burning trash, kids playing barefoot with a flat soccer ball on a dirt field, abandoned cars alongside beautiful gardens and gentle smiles that turn into frowns when talking about politics. In this country, one of the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, life is simpler and more complicated than in the U.S.; simpler because people consume less and are more apt to live in the present given an uncertain future, and more complicated because of the enormous hurdles Hondurans and their country face in developing economically.

Being a Fulbrighter has enabled me to study Divina Providencia and three other “new” communities built for victims of one of the worst disasters in history: Hurricane Mitch, which struck Central America in 1998. Although much has been written about natural disasters (mitigation, relief, recovery, reconstruction, etc.), academics and the press have written little regarding the long-term trajectory of these communities. My research addresses this research gap by asking why the following community measures – health, crime, civic participation and social capital – are so different in places that are similar in terms of infrastructure and demographics, located within ten kilometers of each other. I hope my findings will not only highlight strategies for future post-disaster reconstruction efforts but will also provide insight into how a community is created (or not) from scratch, the role of NGOs in supporting or stifling these efforts and perhaps offer lessons on how to create healthier U.S. neighborhoods.

Photo: Ryan Alaniz, 2009-2010, Honduras, with his son Santiago outside their home in Ciudad Divina Providencia heading out for a walk to the river.

U.S. Fulbright

Learning to Embrace Your Fulbright Country, By Lindsay Bacurin, 2009-2010, India

November 19, 2009

For my first two months in India, my Fulbright research has been going fairly well. When you arrive in your Fulbright country, something you quickly realize is that getting what you need doesn’t happen in the same way as it does in the U.S. I have also come to realize that Americans are used to being very independent and that we prefer doing things ourselves. Along with being patient on Fulbright, you have to let go of your independence to some degree and ask for help. Let go of some of your expectations, including the amount of time in which you want to accomplish things. Otherwise, you will become very frustrated!

On my Fulbright grant, I have been studying whether the city of Gandhinagar, which was planned by an Indian but also highly influenced by Chandigarh’s city plan, has adapted more to Indian culture and how people use space compared to Chandigarh, which was planned by a European. I have traveled to both cities, spoken with a number of planners and professors, and have been observing how people use space in India.

My trip to Chandigarh was really eye-opening. I had already been to Gandhinagar several times and expected Chandigarh to be lacking vibrancy because Gandhinagar’s plan was based on Chandigarh’s. But Chandigarh is different; people gathered in public spaces everywhere. Actually, after seeing Chandigarh, I think you can’t compare the two cities at all. The similarities lie only in the physical planning of sectors and roads. There are so many other factors that have contributed to each city’s unique development. For example, Gandhinagar, located 20 km north of Ahmedabad, is only a satellite town even though it was originally planned separately. In contrast, Chandigarh has developed into a major regional hub. The Punjabis are so proud of their city! They are proud of the design, cleanliness and green landscape. When you talk to someone in Gandhinagar about the city, no one likes it because it lacks social vibrancy. Since Gandhinagar was planned to be a purely administrative town, there has been little job diversification and few other opportunities for the city. Also, strict control of land development has resulted in streetscapes that lack the shops and street life of most other Indian cities. As a result, most people seem to prefer to live in Ahmedabad. Overall, it was really interesting to finally see Chandigarh – this city I had read so much about!

My advice for future Fulbrighters

Be prepared to be patient and frustrated. The research methods you planned will probably not work as expected. The data will not be available, it may be dependent on the help of a few certain people, or it will take much longer than expected to obtain. Day-to-day things will be difficult: finding the right shop that sells what you need, washing clothes and getting an Internet connection.

Fully immerse yourself in your country! Don’t just pursue the comfortable way of doing things, stick with ‘American tourist’ experiences or with the ex-pat community. The one choice I have been happiest with has been rooming with two Indian women. They have been a great resource when it comes to asking questions about culture, teaching me Indian cooking and wonderful company. They have kept me from feeling lonely or homesick.

Talk to as many people as possible! Take advantage of the professors and professionals at your place of affiliation or host institution. Unless you feel unsafe, never decline if someone invites you to do something!

Photo (courtesy of Caryn Schadegg, 2009-2010, India): Lindsay Bacurin, 2009-2010, India, enjoying the Ganesh Chathurthi festivities and observing how space is used for religious events. In this case, the entire Ellis Bridge over the Sabarmati River was closed for immersing statues in the river.

U.S. Fulbright

Polishing Your Application, By IIE Staff

October 15, 2009

1. Make sure that your application follows the directions and is neat and easy to read. A 12 point non-script font is required with one-inch margins. Make sure that the paper copy mailed to IIE is on 8½ x 11″ white bond paper only.

2. Be sure your name, field and country are on each page of the application.

3. Do not send resumes. They will not be passed on to the screening committees.

4. Make sure that you are not proposing a multi-country project that is not allowed, (i.e., across world regions, or between or among countries that do not allow multi-country projects).

5. Make sure that you are not listing alternate countries as a 2nd or 3rd choice; this is not allowed.

6. If you are applying for one of the English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) programs, be sure to select “Teaching Assistantship,” code 5120, as your field of study. Only applicants applying for an ETA program should use this code.

7. Please do not staple anything to the application.

8. Please collate the application in numerical page order and fasten all pieces together with a paper clip or binder clip. Do not staple the application.

9. Make sure to answer both questions asked in item #27 pertaining to felony convictions.

10. Don’t forget to SIGN the application at the bottom of Page 1.