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U.S. Fulbright

Straddling the Gap: How Sharing Diverse Experiences and Interests Can Help You Become a Fulbright Cultural Ambassador, By Katie Walter, 2009-10, India

October 13, 2010

I am in the finishing stages of a Fulbright-Nehru grant that examines conservation initiatives in the pilgrimage town of Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh, India. My research will offer insight into how to optimize public communication campaigns addressing conservation issues.

My journey has taken me from the narrow, medieval backstreets of traditional-minded Vrindavan, to the town’s mega temples, sprawling roads and luxury housing properties, to the office buildings and affluent areas of the capital city of Delhi. In each place, I have encountered varying degrees of concern over new development projects in Vrindavan: some critique them for helping to increase the number of visitors to the town while the basic infrastructural needs of local residents remain unmet; some believe that these haphazard development projects are a sign of well-deserved “progress;” while others still posit that they damage the town’s natural environment, which needs to be protected in the name of public health, local prosperity, religion and heritage.

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U.S. Fulbright

The Diplomacy of Mutual Inspiration: Combining Service and Creativity in a Fulbright Grant, By Franz Knupfer, 2008-2009, Nepal

September 14, 2010

As the Fourmile Fire rages in the canyons west of Boulder and smoke covers the city, the autumnal light has taken on a hazy, golden quality, like the lighting in a painting by one of the Old Masters. I’m reminded of autumn afternoons in Kathmandu, where the lighting was almost exactly like this. I’m reminded, too, of how much I miss Kathmandu and my friends there, and how much my experience as a Fulbright grantee in Nepal changed me. As I write this, it’s been almost two years to the day since I left the States for a Fulbright grant in Creative Writing in Nepal. Though I’ve been home almost a full year, I still remember the route I took from my apartment in the neighborhood of Hadigaun to the deaf school where I volunteered in Naxal. When I close my eyes, I can still walk through the rooms of the school and see my students in their classrooms.

In my Fulbright proposal, I wrote about how I planned to volunteer with the deaf community and write a collection of short stories. Though I wanted to learn and write about Nepal’s deaf community, I hadn’t realized how much I’d learn on a deeper level, on the level of the body; the body’s knowledge, in many ways, is far more ineffable and profound than the mind’s. It’s what we mean when we say, “you had to be there.” It’s exactly the kind of experience that writers and artists need for their work, but it’s also the kind of experience that can be of tremendous benefit to anyone.

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U.S. Fulbright

A Much-Appreciated Change of Pace, By Thomael M. Joannidis, 2009-2010, Cyprus

September 7, 2010

My Fulbright year in Cyprus was characterized by adaptability. Initially, I planned to “hit the ground running” and begin immediately gathering quantifiable research results for my proposed project. During my first days, however, I realized the value of taking things slowly and devoting some time to getting to know the people and culture, while also finding ways to connect with the community. At first, my New York upbringing felt quite at odds with accepting that things do not always work on a fast-paced schedule and that, in the meantime, I should sit with locals, enjoy the lovely weather and a Cypriot coffee. Yet, it was often in these moments – without a voice recorder or a list of questions – that my research began and people became comfortable enough to share their lives. Changing my project’s pace allowed me to begin understanding the soul of Cyprus, what matters to the people and the rhythm of their lives.

Volunteering with two non-governmental organizations which also served as my affiliations was essential to getting acclimated. The work I did with Hands Across the Divide, a grassroots, bicommunal women’s peace group (meaning that there were both Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot members), and Future Worlds Center, a large organization working in a number of areas including the promotion of civil society and peace, was not usually related to my research. I appreciated their time and willingness to assist me with my research and felt that the best way to thank them was to volunteer my time. On Fulbright, everything becomes a learning experience and an opportunity for personal growth. I supported staff by helping to facilitate and prepare for events on a range of topics including development education, youth activism and annual organizational meetings. Sometimes, my tasks were more administrative in nature, such as preparing agendas or taking minutes. At other times, I had an opportunity to present and actually participate in the programming. One of my best memories occurred when I volunteered to help at a bicommunal youth activism retreat which involved camping on a natural, undeveloped beach, surrounded by the sea on one side, and rocky terrain on the other.

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U.S. Fulbright

Guatemala: Great Differences, Great Faith, By Elizabeth R. Bell, 2009-2010, Guatemala

August 24, 2010

One of the advantages of being a Fulbright student is the opportunity to collaborate with other Fulbrighters. Through the exchange of ideas and sharing of diverse talents, Fulbrighters can accomplish great things together. When I teamed up with Kara Andrade, a fellow Fulbright student in Guatemala, we organized a symposium that brought leaders of historically conflicting religions together to foster an open dialogue promoting positive exchange, respect, and understanding.

Guatemala is a country built on differences. While many nations make a claim to homogeneity for the sake of unification, Guatemala has always been a country of plurality. Home to a large Mestizo or Ladino community, there is an even larger Mayan contingent – around 60 percent of the total population. And within the Mayan population, there are 21 different ethno-linguistic groups.

The face of religion is changing in Guatemala. Historically, one of the most Catholic countries in Latin America, it is well on its way to becoming the region’s first evangelical country and is currently second after Brazil (according to a report by Ayuda a la Iglesia Necesitada (ACN) in 2009). Now, 50 percent of inhabitants are evangelical, or “non-Catholic Christians,” who attend dozens of Protestant denomination churches. Mayan spirituality, on the other hand, is more difficult to measure because while the majority of Mayans practice some form, they also often practice another religion.

It is precisely this environment of religious, ethnic and linguistic plurality that our symposium attempted to mediate. On July 17, 2010, fellow Fulbrighter Kara Andrade and I held a symposium entitled, “El Día y El Destino: Desde los Derechos Hasta el 2012,” (“Day and Destiny: From Rights to 2012”) in which we heard from a panel of six religious leaders: three Mayan Daykeepers (leaders of Mayan community spiritual practices), an Evangelical pastor, a director of a Christian community organization, and a Catholic priest. We brought together leaders of these often opposing groups to speak about what role religion might play in Guatemala’s future. Will religion continue to divide the population? Will Mayan spiritual practices only be recognized through tourism? Or, will these leaders, with all of their differences, be a source of positive guidance and unification for future generations?

A Mayan Daykeeper once told me that Guatemala is a country of great faith. As a country that has been battered by a recent four-decade civil war and that is still plagued by ongoing violence, many people look to ritual practices of faith for answers. These leaders, both Mayan and Ladino, were given space to speak publicly about what role they and their practices might have in leading the way to Guatemala’s future. While discrete answers are rarely arrived at easily, the symposium revealed that religious groups are not insulated according to ethnic groups. A Mayan may be Catholic or another Christian denomination, or practice traditional, spiritual beliefs while remaining proud of their Mayan heritage.

Regardless of ethnic or religious background, all Guatemalans share a desire for mutual respect and partnership.

As Fulbrighters, this symposium put us in contact with members of the Guatemalan religious community with whom we would not have otherwise interacted, making the overall experience much richer. More importantly, it became a tangible way to give back to the community that had shared so much with us. The connections afforded to us through the U.S. Embassy made it possible to find a venue for our event and identify leaders to serve on the panel. While the symposium was a venture outside of our original Fulbright projects – mine involves studying Mayan spiritual practices and Kara’s research is on fostering community journalism – the effects were far-reaching. By using the resources available to us through Fulbright, we were able to serve the community in which we have been living: we provided a means for them to take steps toward collaboration, agreement, and understanding.

The symposium’s recorded webcast (in Spanish) can be found on the HablaGuate website.

A few tips for applicants:

1. Take advantage of the many available resources in your host country or find a way to build connections before you apply. Does your host country have a language program you can enroll in? A project you can volunteer for through an NGO? Once you have your project in mind and know the community in which you will be working, it’s important to show that you have their support in your Fulbright application. This is mainly accomplished through your letter(s) of affiliation. Additionally, the connections you build early on will help you to be much more productive once you arrive.

2. Make sure you are very clear in describing how your project is unique. Will you be doing something that is needed greatly, offering a new perspective on an issue or working in a neglected area?

3. Have a clear plan as to how cultural exchange will regularly take place. What will you be giving back to the community, and how?

4. Don’t give up. If you don’t make the cut one year, visit the host country if possible, build connections, and revise your project for next year’s Fulbright U.S. Student Program competition. Often, new experiences will give you fresh ideas that are even better than your original ones.

Top photo: Elizabeth R. Bell, 2009-2010, Guatemala (center), participates in a Mayan ceremony at the Iximche’ ruins, a sacred space in part of the pre-Columbian Kaqchikel-Maya capital city, that is still used today.

Bottom photo: Elizabeth R. Bell, 2009-2010, Guatemala, and her infant son admire the colorful sawdust alfombras (carpets) before watching the Catholic processions in La Antigua, Guatemala, held during Lent.

U.S. Fulbright

A Home Away from Home: Rediscovering Foreignness and Familiarity During My Fulbright in Spain, By Yasamin Rahmani, 2009-2010, Spain

August 1, 2010

The world begins and ends in Amrika. For my parents, that would be “um-REE-kah,” the Farsi-infused pronunciation of America. This was my family’s motto when we joined the multitude of transplanted souls who traded the familiarity of home for an embryonic opportunity of a better life. The phrase can be perceived negatively, suggesting a myopic America distant from the rest of the world. However, we were the uprooted, the mythical “huddled masses” and “the homeless, tempest-tossed” engraved on Lady Liberty. Our definition was born from a gold-plated dream that drew millions of immigrants to the United States. The dream—and its sometimes ugly underbelly—is always different, but for my parents it meant building the life that we could not have back in Iran.

I was eight years old when we moved from Tehran to Atlanta.

The journey was overwhelming – from the initial shock of cultural dislocation, to the slow process of adapting and finally integrating into my surrogate home. Resident alien, cultural chameleon, naturalized citizen, hyphenated American, Persian-or-Iranian, and just plain American—it was evolution on a small scale. I faced a whirlwind of triumphs and failures as my coming-of-age story collided into the uncharted territories of coming-to-America. The experience left a few scabby memories but no permanent scars.

I have come a long way since my days as a shy Middle Eastern girl, but once again, I find myself as a foreigner in a new country. Exactly one month from today, I will celebrate a year abroad in Valencia, Spain with the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. The grant allowed me to research under the mentorship of Dr. Almudena Ramón Cueto, a renowned spinal cord injury investigator. My project examines the regenerative potential of olfactory cell transplants as a treatment for people living with paralysis, a condition that currently has no cure. As a pre-medical student and a compulsive planner, you would think that going for a Fulbright scholarship was part of some preemptive plot, but it was never the plan. It was when my plans changed that the pieces of my Fulbright application fell into place. My first detour was the Petit Undergraduate Research Scholars program at the Georgia Institute of Technology. It was here that I fell for neuroscience research. A year later, I wandered off again on the Georgia State study abroad program to Spain. It was an unrelated effort to improve my Spanish. Junior year almost had me back on the pre-med track until I found out about Dr. Ramón Cueto. She was well-known in the research community, her entire scientific career was dedicated to finding a cure for spinal cord injuries, and her laboratory was located in Spain. It is funny how plans change. Instead of applying for medical school, I applied for a Fulbright grant.

My Fulbright experience has been an incredible year but the first few months were the most difficult. I found myself in that interstitial space between tourist, expatriate, and immigrant. I discovered my foreignness once again, this time not as an Iranian, but as an American. In many ways, my Fulbright year mimicked the same rewards and obstacles I faced growing up. These included the obvious language barrier, the struggle for balance between foreignness and familiarity, and the constant need to reaffirm that decision to move in the first place. They are all manageable hurdles with persistence and dedication. What lies past those challenges is that international spirit that is embodied within the goals of the Fulbright Program: of exchanging knowledge, people, and ideas. These are the true treasures of navigating a new country on a Fulbright grant.

To the prospective grantee, I urge you to take the plunge and apply.

The experience is a rare opportunity to add a new dimension to every aspect of your life. Professionally, you become more versatile and less conventional. Personally, you become more accessible and less afraid. The stereotypes melt and in the process of immersing yourself into a new culture, you become more aware of your own. For some, the host country becomes a new home country, making the voyage back filled with uncertainty. Born in Iran, educated in America and currently anchored in Spain—my personal world map labels all three as home. When will I go back? I imagine one day. And to where? That is the hardest question of all.

As you are preparing to apply, keep in mind the two essentials of a successful Fulbright application: matching what you are passionate about with a solid network.

1. Find your passion.

You certainly cannot buy it. You can hardly fake it. And nobody can come and give it to you. It is that unshakable energy that drives each and every Fulbright grantee. It is called passion, that elusive intersection of interest and talent. Everyone experiences it differently. But before even thinking about applying, take the time out to find out what you are passionate about. This will be at the heart of your grant proposal and will help you decide the focus of your project. More importantly, it will make it easier to persuade Fulbright reviewers to invest in your proposal. Genuine passion radiates easily, making for an authentic and convincing project proposal.

So what if you have not found it yet?

This may sound counter-intuitive, but avoid looking for it. The process will leave you feeling frustrated and disappointed. Instead, experiment. Surf the possibilities by trying new things, anything and everything. When something excites you, dive in deeper. Also try not to limit yourself by time. The beauty of the Fulbright Program is that there are no age limits: you can apply at the age of 22 or 32. You have a chance at it every year, so take the time to find out what you are truly passionate about.

Where do I start?

• Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture: Achieving Your Childhood Dreams
( An incredibly inspirational story.

• The Art of Manliness: Finding Your Calling Part IV
( A five part series on how to find your vocation. Ladies, please do not judge this website by the name. I promise you that the advice is universal, regardless of their intended male audience.

• Scott Young: Seven Steps to Evolving a Passion
A great article that puts things into perspective, showing that finding your passion is not an overwhelming, large-than-life task.

2. Build and maintain a professional network.

Your personal and professional contacts are one of the most important resources available to you. This is true whether you are applying for a Fulbright grant or just getting started with your career. But a network is so much more than colorful business cards and email addresses; it is all about the quality and diversity of these relationships, built one connection at a time. If you have a strong network, then it will be much easier to establish your host country affiliation. This is exactly how I acquired my affiliation in Valencia; my research adviser collaborated with the head of spinal cord injury research at the Shepherd’s Center, who had attended the Miami Center for Paralysis, where Dr. Ramón Cueto was a visiting professor. It was just a matter of leveraging my existing network to help put me in touch with Dr. Ramón Cueto.

Where do I start?

Manager Tools: How to Build your Network
This podcast is aimed at managers in the business world, but the basic principles can help you get closer to obtaining your affiliation. More importantly, they explain the difference between a real “network” and the fakeness of “networking.”

Manager Tools: How to Maintain a Network
Another Manager Tools podcast on the topic of how to maintain your network. You can’t build a network overnight, but with a few simple tools you can help sustain it. This website also contains a wealth of information that can be applied to all aspects of your career.

Once you’re on the path to finding your passion and building a professional network, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program has a wealth of resources to assist you in applying in addition to this blog:

Fulbright Directories

An often overlooked source of finding affiliations for your Fulbright proposal are the Fulbright directories of current and former Fulbright students and scholars. If you are having trouble finding an affiliation through your own networks, try reaching out to Fulbright U.S. grantees who have gone to your proposed host country and to Fulbright Foreign grantees from your proposed host country:

Fulbright U.S. Student Directory

Fulbright Foreign Student Directory

Fulbright Scholar Directory

Podcasts (available on iTunes)

Four types of podcasts are currently available:

My Fulbright Life:
Interviews with current Fulbrighters talking about their projects and experiences overseas.
Applicant Podcast: Interviews with IIE Program Managers and others on how to complete a successful Fulbright application.

Fulbright Alumni Roundtables: Interviews with Fulbright U.S. Student Program alumni grouped by world region or type of grant discussing their experiences in applying and being overseas.

Fulbright Guidance Sessions: Presentations with Q&A sessions on applying to the Fulbright U.S. Student Program held around the country.


Webinars provide an online forum for applicants to learn more about the program and to ask questions about applying. IIE Program Managers and Fulbright alumni moderate the discussions followed by question and answer sessions. Study or research and English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) applicants are encouraged to attend the session related to their proposed country of application. Check the home page regularly for dates and times.


The Fulbright Program has a YouTube page where you can view videos of students and Fulbright staff members talking about the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.


Join the official Fulbright page on Facebook to learn more about the Fulbright Program and connect with others – including Fulbright alumni, current grantees and other prospective applicants from around the world. Check the Fulbright Facebook page regularly for news, events, resources and more.


The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is now on Twitter! Students can follow the Fulbright U.S. Student Program and receive updates at:

Last but not least, you can speak with Fulbright U.S. Student Program staff Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., EDT.

Good luck!

Photo: Yasamin Rahmani, 2009-2010, in front of L’Hemisfèric, located in the City of Arts & Sciences in Valencia, Spain, designed by architect Santiago Calatrava.

U.S. Fulbright

On Using Your Time Outside of the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) Classroom, By Mark Beasley-Murray, 2008-2009, Fulbright ETA to Brazil

July 8, 2010

• What use you will make of your time outside the classroom? (Most ETAs work no more than 20 to 30 hours per week.)

Although this question is the last bullet point listed in the Fulbright U.S. Student Program website’s section on developing the Statement of Grant Purpose for Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) grants, it is certainly not least in significance.

Because I’m a Fulbright ETA alumnus and because there is much room for interpretation on how ETAs might spend those 20-30 hours per week outside of the classroom, I thought I would delve a little deeper and offer some suggestions.

So, how does one plan a worthy ETA side project in one of over 50 countries when the location and placement circumstances are initially unknown? Good question. Although there is no easy answer (sorry), there are several considerations to keep in mind while crafting a description of your proposed side project. The suggestions below have proven helpful to other Fulbright ETA applicants I’ve advised – and who were awarded the grant. My hope is that my two cents may prove helpful to you, too.

First, do not underestimate the importance of your time outside the classroom. Since much of your time will be spent outside of the classroom, Fulbright application reviewers are curious to know what you might be up to the other quarter or half of your work week. This is an opportunity to show what you hope to gain from your experience and how you might contribute to your Fulbright host country.

Second, keep in mind that the reviewers evaluating your Fulbright ETA application understand how difficult it is to describe a potential side project without knowing the particulars of your placement. Even though they recognize the difficulty of this task, they still expect you to be able to undertake it, however. Your ability to successfully describe an adaptable, worthwhile project will distinguish your application from other candidates with similar credentials who have not thoroughly thought through what they hope to accomplish. That said, it would be wise to heed the advice offered in the ENGLISH TEACHING ASSISTANTSHIPS: Developing the Statement of Grant Purpose section of the website: do not be overly specific or grand in your side project proposal. You may have a five-star, phenomenal, blockbuster idea for a research, vocational, or community service project. However, if the project is too location-specific or too involved, this may doom your otherwise strong application if it is seen as detracting from the primary focus of your grant – being an English teaching assistant.

Third, know the range of possibilities in the country to which you are applying. These may vary considerably (as was the case in Brazil where I was an ETA). Your placement may turn out to be far from what you anticipated. It may be urban or rural, in an institution of higher education, in a primary or secondary school with access to educational materials and resources (or without), in one school or several, and so on. Often, the range and nature of ETA placements are described in each host country’s profile. Research those country-specific placements as best as you can. However, keep in mind that, if awarded the grant, you may end up piloting a new ETA placement, let alone one that hasn’t been listed yet on the Fulbright U.S. Student Program website. If you have a preference for a particular type of ETA grant, describe how your side project would fit well with that specific placement but would still be adaptable to other placements as well.

Fourth, despite the uncertainty regarding your eventual placement, reviewers will want to be certain that you will be able to accomplish your proposed side project – regardless of the circumstances. While you should not to be too specific in your project proposal, this does not mean that you cannot outline the particulars of your project. Reviewers want to be able to envision your project as clearly as possible. This requires at least a few details. For those who are considering a community group or school-related project, there are some universal points you may want to consider when writing your project description, such as:

  • Is your project appropriate for the country to which you are applying? If so, why?
  • How does the project align with your expertise?
  • Who are the stakeholders in your project? If your project involves community members, how many participants do you aim to have? What is the age group? How will you attract participants? How does it benefit them?
  • What are the resources necessary to undertake your project? (Physical location? Art supplies? Computers or Internet connection?) And how would you go about ensuring that these resource needs would be met or overcome? (Additional non-Fulbright funding? Personal out-of-pocket funds? Jettisoning an online component?)
  • Where would the project take place? (In a school classroom? In a community center? In a park? In your host country apartment?)
  • When and for how long would the project take place? (How many weeks? How many days per week? How many hours per day? Will the project coincide with your placement school’s academic calendar?)
  • What will be the tangible outcome of your project? (Student projects? Theatrical productions? Artwork?)
  • Who is the audience for your project? How large is that audience?
  • How does your project promote the Fulbright Program’s mission of promoting cultural exchange and mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries?

The list above is not exhaustive. Each project will have its own particulars. Also, remember that it is not necessary to address every one of these questions in your Statement of Grant Purpose (in fact, given the online application space limitations, this would be a Herculean feat). Still, you should clearly and thoughtfully describe the details of how you will spend your time outside the classroom.

I hope that these suggestions on how to plan a Fulbright ETA side project prove helpful. If you have any questions regarding the ETA application process, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Good luck!

Photo: Mark Beasley-Murray, 2008-2009, Fulbright ETA to Brazil, reading to his students in a Pirai classroom.