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U.S. Fulbright

Nine Tips for Letters of Reference and the Language Evaluation, By Jody Dudderar, Assistant Director, Fulbright U.S. Student Program

August 11, 2009

Letters of Reference/Recommendation

1. You should ideally ask for references from people who have knowledge of your field and the proposed host country and who can speak intelligently about your ability to carry out the proposed project. Recommenders should also comment specifically on the feasibility of your project with the resources available in the country of application, your linguistic and academic or professional preparation to carry out the proposed project, the project’s merit or validity and how well you know and can adapt to the host country’s cultural environment. They are free to comment on any other factors that may be significant to your successful experience abroad. If you are an applicant in the arts, letter writers should discuss your potential for professional growth.

2. You should not use reference letters from university placement services for your Fulbright application; Fulbright recommendation writers must address the specific issues on the Letter of Recommendation form. These issues are specific to the Fulbright Program’s goals. Reference letters addressing them will benefit an application. Letters from a service will be too general and will not add to an application.

3. You should request that your recommenders submit the letter of reference electronically. You must register each reference in the online application by going to Step 5: References/Report. From there, you can register up to three referees and up to two Foreign Language Evaluators. Once registered, the recommender/evaluator will receive an email with login and instructions on how to complete the form. Be sure to:

a) Let your recommender/evaluator(s) know in advance that you are requesting an electronic reference/report.

b) Provide them with a copy or summary of your Statement of Grant Purpose.

c) Remind them that they must print out the PDF version of the reference/evaluation, sign it, and give it to you in the sealed, stamped, self-addressed envelope, which you should provide to them. Once the recommender/evaluator submits the letter electronically, they can still access it to print it out but cannot edit it.

4. As stated above, it is generally best to ask for references from people who have knowledge of your field of study, project and host country. However, you may find it difficult to obtain all three letters of recommendation from people who can fulfill these guidelines. Including references from professors or other field specialists may not always be possible. Although we recommend trying to obtain as many letters as possible from people who meet our guidelines, you can submit a reference letter from anyone that you wish, including supervisors or employees, so long as their recommendation adds to your application.

The Language Evaluation

1. One of the biggest myths about the Fulbright Program is that applicants must be proficient in the host country’s language to even consider applying to a particular country. Although language proficiency can be a factor in competitiveness, you are not ineligible to apply if you lack foreign language proficiency. In general, you should have the necessary language skills to complete the project. Therefore, the onus is on you to design a feasible project.

2. If English is not the official language of your prospective host country, you must submit the Foreign Language Evaluation form. This is true even if:

a) You have no language skills in the host country’s official language (or languages).

b) Your project does not require you use (speak, read, or write) the host country language.

If you have absolutely no language skills in the host country language, indicate this on the Language Evaluation Form and attach a statement outlining what you will do over the course of the next year to obtain a hospitality or survival level of the host country’s language before you would leave on your grant. You would not, in this case, need to have your language skills evaluated. The Fulbright Program’s main goal is to promote mutual understanding between the United States and the host countries, so learning some of the language before going shows a commitment to cultural exchange and demonstrates your sincere interest in learning about the host culture. If you have some knowledge of the host country’s language, you should have your skill level evaluated even if you do not need the language for the project.

3. Foreign language evaluations should come from an instructor in the language. For widely taught languages (Spanish, French and German, for example) you should find a language teacher for an evaluation. For less commonly taught languages, however, you may have an evaluation done by a native speaker of this language. If possible, we recommend obtaining an evaluation from a native speaker who is also a college professor. If that is not feasible, then any native speaker, except a family member, may complete the form. You may find a native speaker, for example, through the host country’s embassy or consulate, cultural center, or international students or faculty on your campus.

4. If your project requires proficiency in multiple foreign languages, you must submit a separate language evaluation for each of the languages required for your project.

5. If you are applying in the Creative and Performing Arts or in the hard sciences you often do not need to speak the host language for your project. In general, the language expectations for these projects are more relaxed than for academic projects. Because of the program’s goal of promoting mutual understanding, however, we recommend that you learn at least a hospitality level of the host language before the grant begins.

Critical Language Enhancement Award

The Critical Language Enhancement Award, also sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, is a supplement to the Fulbright Program and is available for students who have been awarded a Fulbright U.S. Student grant in a country where a critical need language is spoken. Application for a Critical Language Enhancement Award is made in conjunction with the Fulbright Program application.

The languages available for the Critical Language Enhancement Award are Arabic, Azeri, Bengali, Chinese (Mandarin only), Farsi, Gujarati, Hindi, Korean, Marathi, Pashto, Punjabi, Russian, Tajik, Turkish, Urdu, and Uzbek. Additional languages may be added and will be listed on the website.

The Critical Language Enhancement Award’s purpose is to cultivate language learning prior to and during the Fulbright grant period and beyond. Ultimately, awardees will achieve a high level of proficiency in a targeted language and will go on to careers or further study which will incorporate the use of this and/or related languages.

In 2010-11, up to 150 Critical Language Enhancement Awards will be available for grantees to pursue in-country training for between three and six months.

For further details, please see Critical Language Enhancement Award.

U.S. Fulbright

How to Stop Being a Control Freak and Get a Fulbright Grant, By Krystal Banzon, 2007-2008, Philippines

August 3, 2009

I was a little bit of a control freak.(I’m better now.)

When I barely entered the ivory tower, I wanted to know what I was going to do after graduation.As a freshman at Smith College, I had heard of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program through my college’s Fellowship Program Office.I did research online, read through theFulbright U.S. Student Program’s website and decided that getting a fellowship was the perfect way to wrap up my undergraduate experience and begin my life in the real world!

After thoroughly reading through several available Internet resources, I decided that I wanted to apply for a study/research grant.To where?It didn’t matter.I wanted a Fulbright grant.I stressed over the right classes to take for the non-existent research project I was trying to map out.I loved academic tracks, so I set myself on a government and women’s studies double major track.I brainstormed, drew charts, obsessed about solidifying premature ideas of maybe researching sex trafficking somewhere in Asia (that’s popular!), or perhaps some sort of policy governmental thing in Latin America (a lot goes on there, right?).Little did I know I was spinning my wheels in the mud, wanting something for all the wrong reasons – and getting nowhere fast.

Good thing I got sidetracked…

As my college years flew by, my passions and interests began to reveal themselves.I began to drop my government classes and started to take theatre classes.All of a sudden, what I thought was an extracurricular activity became my main interest, passion, and focus.I would skip joyously between my women’s studies courses and the directing lab for rehearsal.Unknowingly, I had opened up to changing my academic direction; my train had jumped off the track.Funnily enough, I was still moving along!In turn, I had forgotten about the half-hearted projects I once tried to force into fruition.

At the end of my junior year, I was chosen by the Theatre Department to direct one of the three main stage plays during the following school year.My interdisciplinary interests in studying race, culture and performance led me to become passionate about plays with cultural narratives, the history of colonization, stories about people of color, the importance of identity as well as performances about identity. I chose to direct Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters, a play about martial law in the Philippines.

Then, the summer before my senior year, my Fulbright research project fell into my lap.

I wanted to study theatre in the Philippines.When I began to honestly and truly think about what moved me and what I was passionate about, everything suddenly became clear.I began my application that summer with the help of my campus Fulbright Program Adviser (FPA) and a faculty mentor.Because I was already working on something I cared about, the resources were right at my fingertips.In preparation for my play, I contacted an international student from the Philippines, and she directed me to her former theater professor in Manila.Through this professor, I was able to request a host affiliation letter from the chair and artistic director of the Theatre Department at the University of the Philippines Diliman.I furiously worked on my application in between classes and my show rehearsals.As I wrote my study/research grant statement, I began to get a feeling of accomplishment because my Fulbright application was helping me to connect the dots between my passions and goals.

I get a lot of questions from current students at my alma mater about how to apply for a Fulbright: How do you choose a country?How do you create a project for a research grant?

I can make two suggestions:

1) Start early.Maybe you can pump out a study/research grant statement in two weeks, but it is impossible to obtain affiliation letters from your host institution unless you start early – especially if you’re applying to a country where access to the Internet, email, and faxes might be limited.You might have to write actual letters (remember snail mail?) or wait for mailed letters to be sent back to you.

2) Your project will come to you when it’s ready.You have to be honest with yourself.Follow your passions!Let go.Keep doing what you are crazy about. Your country of interest will be come clearer, and the research questions you want to explore will begin formulate.

To quote my alma mater’s fellowship website, “Applying for a fellowship requires a degree of soul searching.”It’s true.It’s unnecessary hard work to do work on a subject if you’re not interested in it.Make your fellowship application process a little easier on yourself and let go.

Photo: Krystal Banzon (right), 2007-2008, Philippines, in Baguio City.


De-Mystifying Fulbright English Teaching Assistantships (ETA), By Jody Dudderar, Assistant Director, Fulbright U.S. Student Program

July 27, 2009

The Fulbright Program has offered opportunities for U.S. students to serve as English teachers and teaching assistants at schools, colleges and universities abroad for many years. In recent years, the number of countries offering ETA programs has grown from just a handful to 43 in the current 2010-11 competition.

Currently, ETA positions are available in all world regions and additional countries have been added annually.

Since you may only apply to one country and one program, it is important to select carefully based on your educational and career goals, academic background and preparation, language proficiency, and geographic interests.

For example, ETAs in South Korea, Indonesia, and India are placed in elementary and middle/secondary schools and knowledge of the host country language at the time of application is not required. However, ETAs in South America and Mexico usually will be working with university and adult students and must have proficiency in the host country language. Program placements and language pre-requisites for the countries in Europe vary widely. Applicants are advised to read the Country Summaries carefully to learn about the nature of each program and any specific requirements. You should make certain that your Statement of Grant Purpose very clearly states why you have chosen a particular program and country, how your experience, training and skills match the type of placement in the country, and what you expect to contribute to and take away from an ETA experience.

Most ETA programs expect that grantees will engage in supplementary activities such as an independent academic, vocational, or community service project. You should briefly describe what you would like to do in the Statement of Grant Purpose. Because applicants will not know exactly where they will be located, this is not expected to be detailed. Applicants also should not make any location-specific plans for ancillary project. You simply need to indicate the activity or activities that you intend to pursue outside of the ETA responsibilities and why you have chosen this activity or these activities for the country to which you are applying.

Since you are only allowed one page for the Statement of Grant Purpose, you may wish to carry over some description of your supplementary activity or your personal interests in choosing an ETA Grant or a particular country to your Personal Statement. The combination of the two statements should be designed to cover all areas indicated above and any other relative information about you and the contributions that you can make as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant.

Finally, a few tips about applying for an English Teaching Assistantship:

Beware of the Competition Statistics

Some ETA programs are brand new and therefore may not have received many applications or much publicity in the previous year. In addition, the number of applications for ETA programs overall has doubled in the last two years, a reflection of the growth in the number of countries participating. Given this, you can not reliably predict the number of applications for this competition based on last year’s numbers.

Supplementary Activities

If you have a very specific proposal for study or research, you may wish to consider the study/research grant option, since in the ETA program you will not be able to choose where you will be placed, nor will you have enough time outside of the classroom to carry out extensive research. Furthermore, successful ETA’s are those who value the experience of working in an educational environment first and foremost.

Prior experience or training in teaching

Experience or training in teaching may be required or strongly preferred in some countries and not particularly relevant in others. Read the Participating Country Summaries and speak to an IIE Program Manager when in doubt.

Extensive experience or training in teaching

Remember, this is a student program. For some country programs, persons with university-level teaching experience or more than four years of teaching in schools, as well as persons who have completed a master’s degree in TESOL or a related field may be overqualified. In other cases, those with teaching experience are preferred. You may not fit perfectly the criteria of the country program to which you would like to apply, however, if you have specific reasons why you feel you would benefit from an ETA grant to that country then be sure to express this clearly in your Statement of Grant Purpose. Contact an IIE Program Manager if you have questions. We would encourage you to consider applying to those countries where your qualifications best match the requirements.

Feedback from current ETAs around the world indicates that, in many ways, this program exemplifies the original mission and goals of the Fulbright Program to increase mutual understanding among the people of the United States and the people of other countries. By reaching out to recent U.S. university graduates, in particular, and placing grantees throughout the host country, the ETA programs have broadened the Fulbright Program’s reach and impact, and grantees are having the time of their lives!



U.S. Fulbright

Requesting Letters of Recommendation, By Joe Schall, Giles Writer-in-Residence, Pennsylvania State University

July 20, 2009

Frequently, students are not aware of the conventions they should adhere to when asking for a letter of recommendation, and they approach faculty members either too nervously or in too pushy a manner. To be sure you are approaching the process professionally, follow these six principles:

1. Think Through the Application Process First

Before you approach anyone for a letter of recommendation, identify the number of people that you will need and the type of materials that you have to prepare. Many references will expect you to know this before they agree to write a letter.

2. Use the Application Materials to Help You Choose Letter Writers

Application materials are your best ally in choosing the best letter writers. Some applications, for instance, encourage you to choose individuals who can speak to your teaching ability or character rather than those with the highest stature. Take this advice seriously and follow it, seeking a best fit rather than a big name.

3. Choose People Who Know You Well and Help Them to Know You Better

Avoid abruptly asking someone for a recommendation letter after class, in the hallway, or via e-mail. Instead, make an appointment to discuss your needs. Offer the letter writer any materials that might help him or her write a more detailed letter, such as your resume or a draft of a research proposal that you prepared.

4. Respect a “No”

If someone you ask for a letter seems to be saying “no” to you, seek someone else. The person may be too busy or may not write you a positive letter.

5. Waive Your Access Rights and Invite the Letter Writer to Discuss Your Grades

On an application form, you will usually be asked if you wish to waive, i.e., give up your right to see the letter of recommendation. Do so. The letter writer will then be more comfortable and probably more genuine too, and the selection committee will expect and respect this. Also, invite the professor to discuss your grades, either to applaud them or to help explain any inconsistencies.

6. Provide the Letter Writer with a Deadline and a Stamped Addressed Envelope

Be sure you know to whom the letter is to be addressed, and give the writer a stamped addressed envelope to mail it in. Provide an exact deadline for the letter’s completion and gently remind the letter writer of it later, if necessary.

The above is adapted from Joe Schall’s Writing Recommendation Letters: A Faculty Handbook, with the author’s permission. Questions can be directed to Joe Schall (

U.S. Fulbright

Applying to the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, By Katie Ladewski, 2005-2006, Chile

July 13, 2009

I was drawn to the Fulbright Program because I identified with the program’s character. I am an intellectual. I am a civic participant and volunteer. I am a student. I am a family member and a friend. I represent my university and my community wherever I go. I have a strong sense of who I am, and I realized that the Fulbright U.S. Student Program emphasized the values I hoped to cultivate.

There are a lot of exciting opportunities out there for recent graduates and budding intellectuals. We can apply for scholarships to study at top universities around the world. We can volunteer in places from South America to the South Pacific and everywhere in between. The Fulbright Program, however, captured my imagination with its promise of a unique combination of cultural exchange, community involvement, and intellectual growth. I’m sure all of the programs I considered would have been amazing opportunities, but the Fulbright Program’s goals reflected the kind of experience I hoped to have and the kind of person I aspired to be.

It also helped that the Fulbright Program had a thriving exchange program with Chile, a country in which I had a keen interest. I had studied abroad in Santiago and had written an undergraduate honors thesis on the Chilean education system. In the ten weeks I spent in Chile during my study abroad program in Santiago, I had thrown myself into life with my Chilean host family, my classes, and my research. But the time was too short, and I left feeling like I had so much more to give and to learn.

The Fulbright Program offered a unique opportunity for me to return to Chile and pursue a more in-depth research project while immersing myself in Chilean life. I had studied economics as an undergrad and had always been interested in education. Studying Chile’s education voucher system presented an exciting opportunity to merge these two interests. Because one of the most hotly debated issues in Chile is how to improve educational opportunities for vulnerable students around the country, I chose to focus on the inequality in educational resource distribution among students from different socioeconomic backgrounds. I spent three days a week doing quantitative research at a university and two days observing and volunteering in schools throughout Santiago, and later in my project, throughout Chile.

My research was a primary reason for my stay in Chile, but I was heartened to know that spending time with my host family, talking with students and teachers during my research project, volunteering with rural children, and competing on a swim team were all considered respectable and worthwhile. The Fulbright Program valued the parts of my experience I valued – everything.

The Fulbright Program is an intense commitment of time and energy. A successful experience requires hard work, perseverance, patience, flexibility, and a sense of humor. But it is also an experience that will help you evolve into the kind of intellectual, civic participant, volunteer, student, family member, friend and community ambassador you hope to become. If you’re anything like me, I can promise you that the Fulbright experience will change your life.

Photo: Katie Ladewski (right) with students in rural Chile, 2006.