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U.S. Fulbright

Pursuing the Cradle of Gold, By Christopher Heaney, 2005-2006, Peru

June 24, 2010

The notebook was palm-sized with a fading yellow leather cover and fell open in my hand as I took it from the box full of other journals filled with the same spidery scrawl. My heart pounded as I flipped through its pages to the crucial month: June 1915, when the explorer Hiram Bingham’s dreams of excavating Inca cities died. And there, in angry handwriting that all but cut through the page, a Peruvian intellectual named Luis E. Valcárcel recorded what he really thought of the Yale Peruvian Expedition, which had exported Machu Picchu’s artifacts to New Haven, Connecticut. I had applied for a Fulbright study/research grant to Peru in the hope that I could find sources that might let me reconstruct Valcárcel’s challenge to the expedition. To find his actual journal – I was moved beyond belief.

Four years later, that feeling of good fortune – that rare privilege of cutting through the official version to get at the raw emotions of the past – has not faded. Just two months ago, I was lucky enough to publish a popular history based on my Fulbright research in Peru. Titled Cradle of Gold: The Story of Hiram Bingham, a Real-Life Indiana Jones, and the Search for Machu Picchu, the book explains how Bingham’s search for the last cities of the Incas helped ignite modern Peru’s passion for pre-Columbian history and incited a furious controversy over whether or not artifacts should be exported from their country of origin. The experience has been incredibly positive, but it hardly matches those moments in Peruvian libraries when I was a Fulbrighter, when kind archivists pulled me aside and suggested that I look in that box or this journal for the answers I sought. I wrote the book, in part, as a thank you to my local collaborators, to share their work beyond Peru and explain just why Yale University and Peru were still arguing over the spoils of Bingham’s expeditions.

As I write these words, I’m back in Lima again, this time as a graduate student in the Department of History at the University of Texas at Austin, continuing on my chosen career path as a writer and historian. And though I’ve been fortunate, I also know that I got to Peru on Fulbright for some key reasons – sometimes contradictory – shared by other successful applicants who received study/research grants.

1. Let your project choose you. I apologize if that comes off a little Zen. What I mean is, don’t apply solely because it’s the country you’ve always had pinned up on your bedroom wall or because it would be a cool place to research. Instead, think about what you have to give, the key questions that you feel like only you can ask, and then find the place that most needs those questions answered – the only place where those questions can truly be answered. If you do feel a deep connection to the site, all the better – but what makes your application stand-out – whether you’re a graduating senior. a graduate student or a young professional – is the matching of your sensitive questions to the site, your demonstration that you are the best person to ask them in that time and place. At their best, Fulbright projects are urgent, original, sensitive, and deeply serious about their goals and their modern relevance – be it historical analysis, choreography, or learning about local water management. That said…

2. Temper that passion with responsibility. Do your homework. There are questions that are poorly timed, but there are also questions that are so well-timed that they will put you or your project at risk. Once you have an idea of what you want to do, don’t spend months writing and crafting before talking to your Fulbright Program Adviser (FPA) (if you’re applying At-large and not through an FPA, you should still seek out advice from professors, teachers colleagues, etc.) or experts in the country or finding a host institution. Immediately begin making contacts, bouncing ideas off them, making sure that what you want to do is feasible or desired by the host country and institution, laboratory, conservatory, NGO, etc. – and then write. Your application will bear the marks of that collaboration. It will serve a local purpose. It will show that you have already created the relationships that will carry you through if you get to the country and realize that your specific idea is no longer feasible. Which leads me to …

3. Be open beforehand and adaptable once you’re on the ground. Projects do change. Another country’s Fulbright Commission director once told me that she’s surprised when they don’t. Your questions should provoke new questions, which should then change what you’re trying to learn or contribute. Although your application should demonstrate how well-thought-out and sincere your idea is, it should also show that you are not dogmatic – that you’re not looking to confirm old answers, radical or conservative. Be sensitive. Sit and listen. Keep a journal or blog. Realize that what you’re meant to deliver might not be an academic product, but a creative or social one, and vice versa.

4. Understand – and remember – how this project fits into your larger goals. The application process is only the beginning. You should show not only how you’ve reached this moment, but also where you hope to go with it. Be ambitious and bold with your goals, even if they change. Write the book. Make the movie. Create the website. And once you’re on the ground, keep up those connections and deliver, so that you can then turn around – as I’m doing this month – and hand back your finished project with deep, heartfelt thanks to the Fulbright Program and those that helped you along the way. It’s a great, great feeling.

Photo: Christopher Heaney, 2005-2006, Peru, relaxes after climbing Huayna Picchu, the peak overlooking the Inca site of Machu Picchu, whose archaeological history he studied as part of his Fulbright grant.

U.S. Fulbright

A Community Response to HIV/AIDS , By Chaunetta Jones, 2007-2008, South Africa

June 10, 2010

Molo, sisi! This warm, isiXhosa “hello” greeted me when I arrived in Grahamstown, South Africa to begin my Fulbright experience. Like many other Fulbright grantees, I never could have imagined that my time in-country would be so enriching and life-changing. While South Africa is currently enjoying the global spotlight as the host of the 2010 World Cup, the country remains challenged by how to meet the needs of the nearly 6 million South Africans infected with HIV/AIDS.

My Fulbright project was part of my larger dissertation research that examines what happens in communities when HIV/AIDS treatment has been made available. During my year in Grahamstown, I was affiliated with the Raphael Centre, an NGO that offers testing and support services to those infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS. As a medical anthropologist, I worked closely with HIV-positive men and women to trace how they make decisions about their care and treatment, and more specifically, how they decide if and/or how they will take antiretroviral treatment. While the nature of my project was extremely sensitive and it was challenging to deal with the types of suffering I witnessed, I will forever be grateful to those who shared their life experiences with me.

As a Fulbrighter, I took seriously my role as a cultural ambassador and fully embraced the tenant of “community engagement.” In addition to my research, I served on the Local AIDS Council, helped to organize World AIDS Day events, coordinated candlelight memorial services for HIV/AIDS victims, served as a foster mother for an orphaned infant, and – what I am most proud of—helped to create Camp Siyaphumelela. Siyaphumelela, isiXhosa for “We are coping/We are succeeding,” was designed to provide teenagers affected by HIV/AIDS with coping mechanisms to deal with the challenges they face in their everyday lives. Through the use of drama, dance, and music, camp participants are able to use various art media to express their emotions, and more importantly, create a trusting group of peers to support them long after their time at camp. With the tools gained during camp, the teens truly can say, “Siyaphumelela!”

A few tips for applicants:

1. My primary advice to Fulbright applicants would be to START EARLY! The process will take several months and it is very important to start working on the pieces of your application, particularly securing an affiliation, as early as possible. Also, I definitely recommend that applicants get feedback from their Fulbright Program Advisers (FPAs), professors and/or colleagues before submitting their applications. If you are a currently enrolled student, you must apply through your campus’s FPA if available. At-large applicants (those not applying through an FPA) should seek out advice and feedback from colleagues, experts in the field, and former teachers or professors.

2. In the Statement of Grant Purpose, you really want to make clear why you have chosen to do your project and why that project is a great fit for the country you have selected. I think it is important to demonstrate that you have done your homework, understand your project’s specifics and any sensitivities involved.

3. Think of the Personal Statement as a “narrative CV.” What about you, your academic training and unique life experiences make you the best person to carry out your project? These are the things that I think should be highlighted in your application, as well as the ways in which you demonstrate a commitment to promoting and enhancing cultural exchange. I would encourage applicants to be creative, but also make sure that your personal statement is honest and leaves readers with a true sense of why your project is important and who you are.

Good luck!

Top photo: Chaunetta Jones, 2007-2008, South Africa, with rescued orphans Asanda and Luvo who benefit from the Raphael Centre’s outreach and support services.

Bottom photo: Chaunetta Jones, 2007-2008, South Africa (top row, second from left), with several Camp Siyaphumelela participants.

U.S. Fulbright Unknown

Found in Translation: Investigating and Comparing the Japanese and American Stigma Associated with Schizophrenia , By Misty Richards, 2009-2010, Japan

May 25, 2010

People in Japan are polite. The traditions and history are rich. Efficiency is high. The bright lights of Tokyo cast a glow on the serene rock gardens and trickling streams that highlight the beautiful contradictions that resonate throughout the city.

Before I came to Japan, I was trapped in the A to B mentality that medical and/or graduate school tends to steer you towards. Having lived outside of this environment for the past 10 months, I can now look at this type of mentality objectively and see that it may not promote creativity or foster individual development. In my opinion, you need to stimulate new neurons to fire every day in order to come up with the ideas that will lead to important discoveries. This inside-out approach was once novel to me, but it is one I truly endorse now after my Fulbright experience in Japan. I feel so fortunate to be working on the first cross-cultural stigma study between Japan and the United States, specifically, comparing the levels of stigma associated with schizophrenia between the two cultures. The formal title of my projects is, “Found in Translation: A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Stigma Associated with Schizophrenia between Japan and the U.S.” and I am completing this research at the National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry in Tokyo. We are surveying hundreds of American and Japanese physicians, psychiatrists and psychiatric staff, as well as the general public, on their views of those suffering from schizophrenia. It has been an incredibly productive year and we truly hope that the results of our stigma study reach far beyond the pages of an academic journal. In the end, we hope that it will help advocate for those suffering from schizophrenia throughout the world, giving patients the resolve they need to adequately treat their illness.

Furthermore, I have been particularly impressed with the Fulbright conferences I have attended at the Japan -U.S. Educational Commission (which administers the Fulbright Program in Japan) concerning soft power, global relations and diplomacy, as well as talks given concerning the environment and climate change. Japan is a very diplomatic and conscientious country. To be a conscientious global citizen, I have learned that we cannot completely separate our lives from public policy or politics, the environment, other countries, technology and science. I believe these subjects to be imperative if we are to grasp the world’s future direction and to harness our individual potential to initiate progressive change. After all, it is when we open our minds to the global consequences of our actions that we can begin to understand that what we do today will affect future generations.

While living and working in Japan, I have met people from all walks of life. I feel so fortunate to have met so many interesting characters who have contributed to my overall impression that Japan is a wonder. Considering that I work at a psychiatric/neurological hospital, I encounter patients with schizophrenia (“togo shitcho sho”) and mental illness everyday. Moreover, I see patients with severe cases of epilepsy, brain retardation and rare genetic diseases as they try desperately to make their way down the hall. Each step for them is careful, calculated, and seems to take just as much courage as it does energy to execute. These people are my heroes, for they are alive and functioning in a world that may not be as considerate as it could be. The stigma, discrimination and shame that are often associated with such illnesses permeates all cultures and geographic boundaries, which is why it is a global problem to be solved and not one specific to Japan or the United States. We must understand – as scientists, physicians, and human beings – that a major part of healing and understanding brain pathophysiology resonates in comprehending the integration of nature with nurture. We often neglect the nurture aspect of this partnership, which is comparable to looking through a window at the world with the shades only half drawn. Seeing these people at the hospital and learning their stories reminds me that it is essential to open the shades completely to let the sunshine – or lack thereof – stream in.

It has been an incredible experience to learn more about the mental health system in Japan and to compare it with how mental illness is approached in America. I hope that the results of this first cross-cultural study on stigma levels between Japan and America concerning schizophrenia will elucidate ways in which we can help patients live life more comfortably and happily throughout the world.

Photo: Misty Richards, 2009-2010, Japan, with two fellow lab members at the National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry, researching both clinical and basic scientific aspects of schizophrenia.

U.S. Fulbright

How I Obtained My Affiliation, By Katie Day Good, 2008-2009, Mexico

May 4, 2010

Since returning from my Fulbright-mtvU year in Mexico, my conversations with applicants have reminded me of just how daunted I was by the application process. Somewhere in Mexico – between playing in a mariachi band, staring in awe at Diego Rivera’s murals and exploring Aztec ruins – I managed to forget all of the hours I had spent researching project ideas, writing and scrapping drafts and revising my essays. One step in particular was so confusing that it nearly led me to crumple up those drafts and quit. How was I supposed to get a letter of support from a Mexican institution when I had never been there before? Although Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (or ETAs) are assigned their host institutions and don’t need to obtain affiliations, Fulbright-mtvU and Fulbright research or study applications require letters of affiliation.

Securing an affiliation is one of the hardest parts of completing a Fulbright application, but I think it’s meant to be that way. Your affiliation letter shows Fulbright reviewers that: (1) you have really thought your project through; (2) you’ve made contact with people in your desired host country; and (3) they have found your project feasible and worthwhile enough to write a letter in support of it. In a way, your affiliated institution is your “pre-screening committee.”

But don’t crumple up those drafts! Securing an affiliation actually turned out to be surprisingly easy. It just took a little bit of planning and patience. The process was so easy, in fact, that I decided to spring for two affiliations instead of one (since my project took place in two Mexican cities). Here’s how I found them:

1) Check out the Fulbright U.S. Student Program website for details on the affiliation requirements. Each country has its own requirements. In some places, you can affiliate with only universities or laboratories. In others, libraries, non-governmental organizations, artists, laboratories, conservatories, or writers are also o.k.

2) Don’t worry if you don’t know anyone in your host country. Many grantees don’t. There are other ways to find potential affiliations. Ask your professors. Google is your friend. Do a little detective work to find out who might take an interest in your research. Since I wanted to make audio documentaries about urban Mexican musicians, I emailed anthropologists and asked them for the names of Mexican ethnomusicologists and radio producers. Most academics in the U.S. and abroad are familiar with the Fulbright Program and are happy to help you. The Fulbright student and scholar directories are also helpful ways to find contacts in your proposed host country.

3) Have a well-defined project idea by the time you make contact. You don’t have to know all of your project’s details. After all, your confirmed affiliation might end up influencing where and what you study, but know enough to be able to make a good sales pitch.

4) Don’t wait for emails! Pick up the phone. A lot of great mentors are out there and willing to work with you, but many of them don’t have time or are not able to answer emails quickly. Instead, call them and introduce yourself. Acknowledge what you know about their work and make a cheery pitch for your project. In my case, after calling several institutions in search of my affiliation’s phone number, I finally reached him at his home. We wound up talking for an hour, and within a week, I had an express mailed letter with his warm endorsement and signature in my hands.

5) Once you’ve made contact, offer to send your affiliation a copy of your project statement (or rough outline) so they have all the details for writing their letter. It doesn’t have to be long and amazing, just a few clear sentences expressing support of you and your project. Ask that they write it on institutional letterhead.

6) Give yourself enough time to do steps 1-5 so that you can give your future mentor plenty of time to write and send your letter.

Once in Mexico, I found that every Fulbright grantee had a different relationship with their host affiliations. Some worked with them everyday; others, like me, met or emailed with them every few months. In my case, my mentors helped me find more contacts and resources in local musical circles. They kept me updated on events that were relevant to my project. Nothing was required of me on a regular basis, but it was up to me to steer my project. Whenever I needed my mentors’ help, all I had to do was ask.

Photo: Katie Day Good, 2008-2009, Mexico, with her mariachi teacher, Pedro Gutierrez, at the School of Mexican Music in Mexico City.

U.S. Fulbright

Discovering Secret Destinations on Fulbright, By Misha Granado, 2007-2008, Barbados

April 21, 2010

My Fulbright grant was one of the most rewarding and exciting experiences I have ever had, and no words, pictures or videos can adequately capture its true essence. By building relationships internationally, Fulbright provides an opportunity for college graduates and professors and teachers to shatter any misconceptions held by Americans and host countries. As Martin Buber said, “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” A Fulbright grant is a journey filled with “secret destinations” which one is unaware of at the beginning of his or her grant. There is a vast difference between experiencing a country for a few weeks as a tourist and living in a different country. An academic year overseas provides an opportunity to fully immerse oneself in a different culture, develop a new routine and identify favorite places. A Fulbright grant allows for meaningful friendships to develop and, in my opinion, they are the shortest route towards personal growth. Through this growth, one also gives others an example to do the same.

Living abroad disconnects us from life’s daily routines and the comfort and security that family, friends and networks can provide. So who are we once all of these things have been removed? How do we handle life’s issues when the usual buffers are no longer there? How do we adjust to a new environment in which we are foreigners? Through which eyes do we view our new world: astonished, intrigued or judgmental eyes? These types of experiences are “secret destinations” for Fulbrighters, for the manner in which one responds to being in a new environment has a direct correlation to one’s level of personal growth.

The Fulbright Program provides grantees a myriad of benefits: regional enrichment seminars, networking opportunities with other Fulbrighters, an opportunity to gain international experience and exposure in one’s field, and to establish professional networks, among other opportunities. Each of these benefits are extremely rewarding both personally and professionally, but it is the relationships with host country colleagues, housemates, mentors and friends that help promote the Fulbright Program’s goal of fostering mutual understanding between the U.S. and other countries.

The Application Process

My campus Fulbright Program Adviser (FPA) was my greatest asset while I applied. I met with my FPA weekly to discuss my project and help with completing my application. Additionally, one of my English professors served as a second reader to provide feedback on my application’s narrative flow. As I contemplated the focus of my Fulbright project, the best advice I received was to build on my previous experience (academic, professional and personal) and tell the story of how point A led to point B that finally resulted in my desire to apply to Fulbright. Sometimes, we tend to omit key details about our own stories because we are so familiar with them and erroneously believe the details are not significant. But these details are the threads that tie our personal stories together and allow an outside reader to grasp who we are and why our projects should be supported.

My Fulbright project sought to identify the breast cancer screening barriers which may hinder a woman from obtaining a mammogram. Adhering to the advice I received, this project became my story’s thread that connected elements of my previous experience together: the academic focus of my project was public health and psychology (which I had studied); I had research experience with breast cancer screening barriers under my belt (my mother is a breast cancer survivor); and finally, I have strong personal ties to the Caribbean.

How I Selected Barbados and Identified My Affiliation

I conducted a Google search and quickly ascertained that Barbados is the only Caribbean country with empirical epidemiological data about their population’s breast cancer incidence and mortality rates. Here are a few important questions to keep in mind while selecting a Fulbright country:

(1) Is there a need or interest in your research or project? Remember that the potential host country will review your application during the Fulbright selection process.

(2) Is there an institution, organization or individual familiar with your topic? This entity will become your advocate and may have access to information and opportunities that you may not be aware of.

Once I obtained the breast cancer incidence data, I contacted the researcher who conducted the study, articulated who I was, what I had accomplished and that I was applying for a Fulbright grant. Most importantly, I asked if he would collaborate with me. He read my proposal and provided a letter of support all within the same week.

My advice to Fulbright applicants is to research your potential location, contact people and to always demonstrate professionalism and kindness in all interactions. Follow up with a thank you note. In an era of high speed technology, people still appreciate handwritten cards. This gesture will definitely be remembered.

One of your application’s objectives is for you to stand out. What makes you and your project unique? Why should the Fulbright Program select you? How will your project impact and benefit the host country? What legacy do you plan to leave? Fulbright offers a plethora of benefits for you as a grantee, but it is up to you to determine how your host country will benefit from your time there and all the unique things you can bring. Convey this information in your application and good luck!

Top photo: Misha Granado, 2007-2008, Barbados (center), pictured with two high school students, was invited to present at a college fair that focused on university/college life in the United States.

Bottom photo: Misha Granado’s project mentors Angela Rose (left), Professor Ian Hambleton (center) and Professor Anselm Hennis (right) at The Chronic Disease Research Centre.


U.S. Fulbright

Searching for A Thread of Sky, By Deanna Fei, 2003-2004, China

April 5, 2010

As I now prepare for the launch of my debut novel, A Thread of Sky, it’s a bit unnerving to remember that if I hadn’t received a Fulbright grant, my novel might not exist today.

Seven years ago, I was facing my last months as an MFA student and struggling to write a story set in China from my sunlit desk in Iowa. When a friend suggested that I apply for a Fulbright, it seemed a far-fetched notion. As much as I was absorbed in my novel-in-progress, the story of a family of six fiercely independent women who reunite for a tour of mainland China, I knew that I was only beginning to sense its outlines. It was, of necessity, still embryonic, constantly shape-shifting; it did not seem to merit anything so official and distinguished as a Fulbright.

I threw myself into the application process partly out of desperation. I knew of no other opportunity that would enable me to live in China simply to research and write my novel. Also, I was not unmindful of the joke that my MFA diploma might as well be an application for unemployment benefits.

Even after I learned that I had been awarded a grant, and all through my post-MFA summer, which I spent back home in Queens waitressing at a sports bar, the prospect of my Fulbright year still seemed notional. It was only when I landed in Shanghai that September, with nothing to guide me but the study plan I had laid out in my grant proposal, that it all became very real: the story unfolding in my head, the characters that had taken hold over me, the day-to-day discipline of a writing life.

Of course, there were many steps—and seven years—between that study plan and the book that I now hold in my hands: hundreds of pages written and discarded and revised, a grant extension, signing with a literary agent, another arts fellowship, a move back to New York, a variety of jobs, more pages written and discarded and revised, signing with a different agent, submissions to publishers, finding the perfect editors, and more pages written and discarded and revised.

Still, the truth remains that my novel might not exist today not only because I might not have received my Fulbright, but because I might never have applied for it. In light of that, here is some advice for applicants and prospective applicants, particularly my comrades in the arts.

Seize this opportunity.

Funding for the arts is rare enough. An academic year-long grant that not only allows but requires you to do your work while engaging with another culture is unique. Don’t let this one slip past you.

Apply with conviction.

What makes your project vital? Why are you the one to do it? Why do you need to live in your proposed host country to complete it? These questions may be more difficult for applicants in the arts than for those in, say, public health or urban planning, but that’s precisely why you must answer them. This does not necessitate reducing your creative process to a thesis. What are you driven to explore? What moves you? Aim to beguile those reviewing your application the way you would a reader, a viewer, a listener of your art. After all, your application will be reviewed by selection panelists in the arts.

Make a detailed plan.

Make it real to others; make it concrete to yourself. Since the nature of what we do is more nebulous, this is even more crucial for applicants in the arts. Do not allow yourself the possibility of drifting through your Fulbright year.

In my grant proposal, I outlined my intention to make periodic trips to the cities on my characters’ itinerary, viewing the sights through their eyes, experiencing how the mood of each city might correspond or contrast with their conflicts, tackling the problems and possibilities of translation in relation to their linguistic duality, recording the parables and proverbs attached to each tourist attraction—including one that became the title of my book. I also planned to conduct formal research on contemporary Chinese history at Nanjing University and consult with members of the Chinese Writers’ Association.

As it turned out, I never carried out the latter parts of the plan. The first part, along with writing every day, comprised most of my year. I hadn’t anticipated how fully my daily life in China would become my daily inspiration; how even mundane activities such as buying breakfast, doing laundry, riding the bus, might transform themselves into scenes in my novel. Similarly, a casual observation about the strikingly forceful personalities of many Chinese women, in stark contrast to the Western stereotype of docile, dainty objects, led me to research the Chinese feminist movement. This eventually became a major storyline in the novel and brought several characters into focus as never before.

When you’re fully engaged in the creative process, you will diverge from your plan. A Fulbright grant gives you that time and space and freedom to wander. But first, you need a plan, as specific and directed as possible; otherwise, you might find yourself lost.

Brace for feeling alone—better, embrace it.

On top of the outsider status of any American in a foreign country (and, in my case, the double outsider status of being Chinese American in China), I didn’t have a single friend, relative, or co-worker when I arrived in Shanghai. I was affiliated with Fudan University, but I wasn’t taking classes and knew no one there. Among the entrepreneurial types that dominated the expat and local scenes, I was what the Chinese call linglei: a different species. I had met a few other Shanghai-based Fulbrighters at orientation, but we were scattered far apart; besides, their projects seemed utterly pragmatic and clear-cut compared to mine, and I didn’t feel like I had much to contribute to the conversation.

This was the ideal training ground for a novice writer—and, I imagine, for any aspirant in the arts. To be an outsider is to be an observer, to challenge easy assumptions, to take careful note. Perhaps most importantly, a solitary existence allows the creatures of our imaginations to assume central place. While I eventually struck up some close friendships, my only constant companions were my characters. They dictated my schedule, my writing, my research.

Set your sights on Fulbright—and far beyond it.

In my application, I wrote of my intention, upon returning to the U.S., of turning “this personal pursuit into a public work.” At the time, I had no idea whether I would garner any interest from publishers, whether the few chapters I’d written would ever appear in a book. That line was an important signal not only to those reviewing my application, but to myself.

Seize this opportunity to win a Fulbright—and know that whatever happens, it’s not an end. Make this moment the beginning of the rest of your life in the arts.

For more information on Deanna Fei and her debut novel, A Thread of Sky (The Penguin Press, April 2010), please visit