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U.S. Fulbright

Off the Drawing Board: Implementing Ideas on Sustainable Architecture in Igbogun Village, By Samuel Babatunde Ero-Phillips, 2010-2011, Nigeria

September 30, 2011

Being a Fulbrighter has helped me to fulfill a lifelong career goal: I have always wanted to design an artistic building made from sustainable materials which would effectively address social issues like community education.  On a personal level, being a Fulbrighter has also profoundly enhanced my knowledge of Yoruba culture.  Because I have a better understanding of exactly for whom and where I am designing, I am now able and determined to create practical proposals.  Because I was pushed to learn Yoruba, I am also much more adaptable to change.  

My Fulbright experience marked the first time I took learning another language seriously.  Learning Yoruba helped me to gain career experience because it allowed me to manage a construction site by interacting closely with workers.  By speaking Yoruba on a site, I changed people’s perceptions about Americans and helped to facilitate my acceptance into the local community.  I tried my best to assimilate as much as possible.  I prostrated to greet elders, fetched my own water, ate the same foods as locals and took public transportation instead of using a private driver.

What you choose to study on your Fulbright makes a big difference in terms of gaining acceptance within your local host community.  Researching sustainable architecture provided me with an excellent opportunity to engage a wide range of people.  From the families in Igbogun, to architecture students at Olabisi Onabanjo University, my project helped me to connect with everyone I met.  Building a school in Ibogun also allowed me to leave a lasting impression on my host community by investing in their children’s education.

An added benefit to building a school in Igbogun is that it will serve as a case study for designs I will create using brick and bamboo to address affordable housing in Lagos.  It’s a tangible example of sustainable architecture techniques that protect the environment, save money and create beautiful spaces that will connect people.  This career path feels natural to me, and I am happy that it has facilitated my growth as a leader in my communities both in the United States and in Nigeria by providing something useful for children. 

I started my Ph.D. at the University of Lagos (Unilag) during my Fulbright grant and I plan to return to Nigeria next year to continue pursuing my research until the primary school is complete.  Designing, fund-raising and building a project from start to finish is a rare opportunity that few recent architecture graduates are able to experience.  Currently, the library structure is up to the roofing level.  When I return, I will build classroom spaces using bamboo. The work I accomplished as a Fulbrighter literally laid the foundation for what I plan to do next.

Here are my tips for study/research applicants:

  • Research something practical that can affect people’s lives after you leave your host country.  Find a creative but professional approach on how to achieve it.  Is your research project about an interesting topic that only academics can discuss, or is it something that you can share with your local host community and use to engage it?  The benefit of the latter is that your host community will connect with your research immediately and will therefore appreciate both you and your work that much more.  Also, ask yourself: what impact will my research have on the larger society within my host country?  Can it be replicated?  These are considerations that will help support a good project. 
  • Describe why you are the only person who can make your project happen. Write about your personal and academic history and why they fit nicely into your proposed Fulbright project and life’s work.  Talk about your proposed local host connections and how they will help you to accomplish your research.  Also, focus on how you and those you’ll interact with will both benefit from your project.
  • Learn another language so that you can discuss your research project with those with whom you’ll interact in your host country.  Some countries in the Fulbright U.S. Student Program have language requirements, so check the Fulbright Country Summaries carefully first.  Speaking the local language is a great way to make new connections and will allow more people to give you feedback and ask questions.  And, by speaking regularly, you will become more motivated to improve your language skills as well as the research you’re conducting.  Be open about this.  Resist the temptation to stay in your comfort zone.  Loosen up and experience another way of life.

To see architectural drawings and renderings of my Fulbright project, click here.

To see construction photos of my Fulbright project click here and here.

Photo: Samuel Babatunde Ero-Phillips, 2010-2011, Nigeria, addressing the council of chiefs’ meeting in the village of Igbogun on Saturday, November 20, 2010, about his intention to build a primary school.  The model on the table shows the primary school in its completion.  A library made from adobe brick occupies the middle.  Adjacent to this structure on both sides are classroom spaces made from bamboo.  The larger model in his hand shows enlarged detail of the bamboo building construction.

U.S. Fulbright

Learning About Solar Energy with an Economic Lens in Bangladesh, By Holly Battelle, 2010-2011, Bangladesh

September 23, 2011

My Fulbright research has taken me to all corners of Dhaka and to some of the most remote places in Bangladesh. Solar technology was first used here in rural areas not connected to the national electric grid. Most of these off-grid homes use kerosene hurricanes for light, which can be expensive, low quality and have negative health impacts. As an alternative to kerosene, some organizations in Bangladesh provide small loans to households for solar home systems (SHS). The systems can provide an average of six hours of electricity for a household to power light bulbs, small fans or TVs in some cases.

My most memorable and rewarding days in Bangladesh have been spent in the countryside biking on narrow dirt paths flanked by never-ending rice paddies, hiking through beautiful green scenery, or sharing a water taxi with locals to talk about SHS. The rural villagers I’ve spent time with and the families with SHS are some of the kindest people I’ve met. I am often the first American they have ever seen, and it’s been an amazing experience to talk about solar or local culture over a cup of tea or cha.  For every question I ask locals, I respond to a question about myself, my family, research and country.

When not in the countryside, I’ve spent my time learning about the budding urban solar industry in Dhaka. Solar is becoming more popular in Dhaka due to new policies and because of frequent power outages. When the power goes out, homes and businesses will usually run a diesel generator. Many residences, however, are turning to solar to supplement their generators.

Based on my economics background, the Fulbright Program has allowed me to explore solar – a completely new interest and area of study for me. In addition to learning about the solar industry in Bangladesh, I have been doing both urban and rural solar cost estimates to determine how soon homes and apartment buildings can break even by investing in solar compared to kerosene and generator alternatives. I strongly encourage all applicants and future grantees to take advantage of their academic and professional backgrounds to discover new interests during their Fulbright year.

My general advice for study or research applicants:

  • Spend time thinking about who or which organization you’d like your host affiliation to be and what your expectations will be when you arrive.  Because it often takes many emails and phone calls to get in touch with a potential host, you should start early in thinking about your Fulbright application. Having a host that is excited about your research and who is willing to support you can really make a huge difference, especially in the beginning. For countries like Bangladesh, try getting in touch with previous Fulbrighters. Ask them if they know anything about your potential host or if they can give you suggestions. When communicating with your potential host, try to be as clear as possible about your expectations and whether or not they will be able to meet them.
  • Be flexible and open to modifying, expanding, focusing and perhaps changing your Fulbright project. This is one of the best parts of having a Fulbright grant. Technology, policies and cities constantly change, and a great deal can change from the time when you apply for your Fulbright to the time when you arrive. Roll with the changes and take advantage of having the flexibility to modify your research as needed.
  • Try hard to learn local languages. Since so much of Bangladeshi culture is intertwined with the language, some of the most rewarding moments during my Fulbright grant have been when I’ve been speaking Bangla. Even though I often struggle to explain myself in Bangla, the effort is always appreciated and can never be fully translated by someone else.

Top photo: Holly Battelle, 2010-2011, Bangladesh, sharing a water taxi with locals en route to a village with solar home systems (SHS)

Bottom photo: Holly Battelle, 2010-2011, Bangladesh, on top of her apartment building in Dhaka which has 1 KW of solar panels

U.S. Fulbright

Unexpected Rewards: Pursuing Media Studies and Volunteering in Botswana, By April Simpson, 2010-2011, Botswana

September 2, 2011

I didn’t intend to go to Southern Africa on a Fulbright last year to work on HIV/AIDS.  The purpose of my sojourn to Gaborone, Botswana, was to research the development of online news media and to teach media studies classes at the University of Botswana.  But my resolve to invest in both my academic and extracurricular lives brought me to Botswana-Baylor Children’s Clinical Center of Excellence, the first on the continent to focus exclusively on pediatric-HIV.

Through a volunteer gig writing articles for UNICEF-Botswana, I was introduced to the Baylor clinic, which is treating Botswana’s first generation of HIV-positive children to reach adulthood. Soon after I started, I also became a volunteer for the clinic’s Teen Club.  I helped to facilitate monthly meetings and interviewed the group’s young leaders, who shared personal stories of losing their parents to AIDS and felt stigmatized because of their status.

Despite some incredible challenges, many of these young people vowed to realize their goals and inspired me with their strength and honesty.  They could be themselves at Teen Club because unlike most teenagers, they all understood the burden of taking medications at the same time each day.  Many of them feared what might happen if their crushes or closest friends learned of their status and they typically shared this information with few people.  Practicing safe sex was crucial, but how do you tell a boyfriend or girlfriend that you’re HIV-positive?  I gained a wealth of professional experience, a deeper understanding of the challenges facing Botswana, and a greater appreciation for the value of community as I worked closely with and observed young people who were forced to build their own.

That was probably the best part of my Fulbright year — an experience that involved becoming more engaged with my local community – an experience I wasn’t looking for, but one that ended up having a great impact on my life.  If you’re about to depart on your own Fulbright grant, I encourage you to consider how you can invest in your academic and extracurricular lives.  I bet you’ll be at your best — as a student and as a professional — when you’re investing in both.

For those of you preparing to apply for a study/research grant, consider the following:


Can the study/research project you’re proposing be done anywhere else besides the country to which you are applying?  If so, why does it have to be carried out there?  In my proposal, I pointed specifically to government documents as well as to public and private investment in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), supporting Botswana’s goal of becoming a regional ICT leader.


What’s happening in your proposed Fulbright country that makes this project relevant right now?  Why is this important?  I observed that the University of Botswana’s Media Studies Department was revamping its curriculum to prepare students for a future in online journalism and that there was very little documented research on new media in Botswana.


Why are you best suited to complete your proposed Fulbright research and project?  What have you done in the past that makes this project a logical next step for you academically or professionally?  Before my Fulbright grant, I worked in newsrooms as a reporter and web producer, and started a blog for a nonprofit organization promoting gender advocacy and media training in Cape Town, South Africa.  I aspire to become a leader in the field of international media development.

Photo: April Simpson, 2010-2011, Botswana, at a Gaborone Nursery and Tea Garden shortly before First Lady Michelle Obama spoke at a women’s leadership lunch

U.S. Fulbright

Learning About Mexican Migrant Culture and Photography – A Fulbrighter’s Story, By Kathya Maria Landeros, 2007-2008, Mexico

August 24, 2011

My Fulbright adventure began with a three-day orientation held in Mexico City. It was not only an introduction to this dynamic city but also an introduction to my colleagues and fellow Fulbrighters. Assembled in Mexico City for the orientation was a diverse group of scholars, artists, scientists, researchers and business professionals. Our fields were equally diverse and included agriculture, anthropology, ethnomusicology, painting and sociology, to list only a few, and yet we were all united by a common interest – Mexico.

My research took me to Mexico’s central states where I photographed migrant culture in an area with high rates of historic migration. As a first generation Mexican-American, it was a familiar topic to me, but I had never lived in Mexico as an adult. Previously, I spent three years photographing Mexican-American culture in the United States, but now I wanted to see how migration had changed the towns’ landscapes to and from which many people migrated over several decades. Some of my fellow Fulbrighters were also interested in immigration research, and this allowed me to learn more from my peers.  In addition, I enrolled in a class on local and regional development at the Universidad de Guanajuato, my university affiliation.  The course gave me an opportunity to discuss with the professor and local students how underdeveloped areas prompted their populations to migrate to Mexico’s urban centers and to the United States.

There were several things I did that made my stay more enjoyable and helped me to feel like I was part of a community. I participated in local “talleres,” or workshops, and learned about some traditions such as making sugar candy for the Day of the Dead celebration. I tutored a student interested in photography and even tried my hand at tae-kwon-do. I quickly decided martial arts weren’t my thing, but I had to appease my curiosity after walking by the class, day after day, on my way down to the “mercado” or market. I traveled frequently to local communities, and my affiliations often helped with my initial introductions to them. Other times, I had to introduce myself to strangers, meet people on the local bus or in eateries and “pensiones,” and do my research on the ground. I can’t be shy as a photographer, but it also helped that many people were so welcoming – inviting me, a stranger, into their homes and allowing me to document their lives. Reflecting on my time in Mexico, I realize that it had been important for me to plan my Fulbright proposal meticulously on paper. The opportunity to photograph some events occurred only once, such as the winter holidays and “fiestas” when migrants return to their hometowns. Yet my plan of action would not have succeeded had I not been curious to learn from those around me and open to some degree of serendipity.

I also see that my time in Mexico was instrumental to my creative and professional growth as a photographer. Currently, I am enrolled in an MFA program in photography at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design where I am still working on projects that involve migrant culture. The Fulbright Program allowed me to dedicate myself, for the first time, entirely to this photographic endeavor. Imagine being given the opportunity to practice your craft on a daily basis. Prior to this, I had held many odd day jobs, balancing my photographic aspirations with the reality of having to pay for rent and other household expenses (not to mention film in my camera). I know many artists in similar situations and it is easy to get discouraged. The Fulbright Program was a much-needed affirmation of my photographic skills and an opportunity to pursue my project.  Aside from my persistence in working on my project, there were many things that I felt were stacked against my favor and that initially kept me from applying for a Fulbright. I was not a recent college graduate. I had changed my career path in my mid-twenties to pursue photography and was self-taught. I was only beginning to develop my resume as a photographer. I was fortunate, however, to have a dear friend who encouraged me to apply and made me realize that the Fulbright Program could offer an opportunity for professional development – especially in the creative and performing arts. I encourage those who are in a similar situation, those who share some self-doubt, absolutely to apply.

My advice to applicants applying for a study/research grant (including artists and writers):

  • Start the application process early and don’t be discouraged by it. The application can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be if you give yourself, and others assisting you, enough time. It doesn’t hurt to contact references and potential affiliations early on and ask for initial support – even if it is only to inform them of your interest in applying. Giving yourself ample time allows for more time to edit and revise your application and to ask for support. Questions are sure to arise.  If you are currently enrolled in an institution, or even a recent alumnus/na, the first person you should contact is your Fulbright Program Adviser.  As you get deeper into the application process, you should also feel free to contact the Fulbright U.S. Student Program Area Managers with any country-specific questions.
  • Attending an information or guidance session is extremely useful in getting an initial grasp on the proposal process and program requirements and will help you to identify and avoid common mistakes. There are also many online resources you should consult and may find helpful, such as the Fulbright U.S. Student Program website, this blog, podcasts, webinars and videos.
  • Cover the five Ws and one H in your proposal (who, what, where, when, why and how). This sounds elementary, but your project needs to be spelled out clearly to reviewers. You have two pages to convince them that what you are proposing can be done in an academic year, so make every word count.
  • Similarly, be sincere and specific about your intentions. The best proposals convey a sense of why the project can and should be carried out in the host country, and why you are the person to work on the project.
  • Affiliations that are well-researched have the potential to offer you much needed support, especially considering how quickly time will pass during your grant period.  They will serve as a point of entry for your research or to your local community, and it is in everyone’s best interest to have well-defined goals and expectations.
  • Remember that the Fulbright Program is about building mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other nations. It was helpful for me to read about Senator J. William Fulbright and the program’s history. Think about the fellowship as an exchange: an opportunity to contribute something positive to your host community in return for the hospitality and generosity that you are sure to receive.
  • Lastly, don’t give up if you don’t receive the Fulbright on the first time. Many people I’ve met applied several times before receiving a grant. There are many resources to help answer questions about the application process, including the folks who work for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, me and the other Fulbright Alumni Ambassadors. Good luck!

Top photo: Kathya Maria Landeros, 2007-2008, Mexico (center), in San Gertrudis, Mexico with some of her photographic subjects

Middle photo: Partial overview of Guanajuato’s buildings nestled in the mountains

Bottom photo: Kathya Maria Landeros, 2007-2008, Mexico, walking through a common “callejon” or narrow street, in search of a place to rent during her Fulbright year

To see more of Kathya’s photos, click here.

Questions for Kathya about her Fulbright experiences?  Feel free to email her at

U.S. Fulbright

Community Engagement and Mutual Understanding in the Netherlands, By Nathaniel Bastian, 2008-2009, The Netherlands

August 15, 2011

My Fulbright grant was unique in that in addition to being sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, it was supported by the Netherland-America Foundation (NAF), an organization seeking to strengthen the bonds between the United States and the Netherlands through exchanges in the arts, sciences, education, business, public policy and historic preservation.  As a Fulbright-NAF Fellow, I wanted to actively participate in community-wide events that maintained and fostered ties between the Netherlands and United States.

One such event was the 64th Annual Memorial Day Ceremony held at the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial. Located in the village of Margraten (roughly six miles from Maastricht), the cemetery is historically significant because of its location near the famous Cologne-Boulogne highway built by the Romans and used by Caesar, Charlemagne, Charles V, Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and Hitler.  As a military officer, I found this battlefield cemetery site, and similar sites such as Eindhoven, Nijmegen and Arnhem, fascinating because of the critical roles these battles played during World War II.

As both a Fulbright Fellow studying at Maastricht University and a U.S. Army officer assigned to the U.S. Embassy’s Defense Attaché Office, I specifically supported this event to help connect Dutch locals with fallen American soldiers’ family members.  During the ceremony, I escorted American World War II veterans and listened to a plethora of their war stories.  Additionally, I mingled with numerous Dutch leaders, politicians and business people from the surrounding area.  From my participation in the Memorial Day Ceremony at Margraten, I directly experienced the principal purpose of the Fulbright Program – to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.

During my grant, I also had an opportunity to participate in other Dutch-American sponsored events hosted by organizations such as the Dutch Fulbright Center and the U.S. Embassy in The Hague.  Although each event was different, they all enabled me to represent the United States and the Fulbright Program in the Netherlands.  As a Fulbright grantee, my involvement with Dutch communities not only enriched my life but also helped to promote the United States’ diplomatic goals.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program, sponsored by U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, is unlike any other fellowship, scholarship or grant offered nationwide because it allows participants to: 1) learn about foreign cultures and customs while developing language and leadership skills, 2) study and conduct research in any field of study with foreign professors at international universities (or with organizations, conservatories, labs, studios and non-governmental organizations – make sure to check the individual country summary requirements before applying), 3) assistant teach English, and 4) serve as U.S. cultural ambassadors.  Not only will your Fulbright experience be highly rewarding to you both professionally and personally, but you will be able to share the knowledge you gained as a Fulbrighter with everyone you connect with throughout your life.

Middle Photo: Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial

Questions for Nathaniel about his Fulbright experience?  Feel free to email him at