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November 5, 2012

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U.S. Fulbright

A Letter to Fulbright Applicants, By Julia Anderlé de Sylor, 2009-2010, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Germany

October 24, 2012



You have made it past the first stage of applying for a Fulbright grant. Those hours spent writing and revising Personal Statements and Statements of Grant Purpose, filling out seemingly never-ending forms, hunting down and begging professors for recommendations and language assessments, making copies, printing and finally, submitting your electronic application— it’s all over, finito, basta, fertig. You are officially halfway through the Fulbright application process.

You are now, to quote my father, a potential “Halfbright.”

Still ahead: what I found to be the most difficult aspect of applying, months of torturous uncertainty. 

Why am I congratulating you, then, when it’s not even over and you may not have been awarded a grant? Because just getting past stage one is a very remarkable accomplishment. I have spoken to many Fulbright alumni and it is universally agreed that the Fulbright application is one of the most time-consuming and energy-draining scholarship applications. It’s practically the equivalent of applying to ten graduate schools at once!

But is it worth it?


My Fulbright experience in Germany, in 2009 as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant literally changed the course of my life. Before coming to Germany (when I was still in the first stage of applying), I had planned on being in Germany for a year, and then applying to grad schools in the United States. I hoped to improve my German, take a few German literature classes at the Universität Bonn, and naturally, teach English in a German high school − all activities which would, with luck, increase my chances of getting into a prestigious Ph.D. program.

That was the plan. But, as Robert C. Gallagher once said, “Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.”

Now it’s 2012 and I am back in Europe. I had enjoyed assistant teaching English and studying in Germany so much that I decided to enroll in a dual master’s degree program in French-German studies at the Universität Bonn and l’Université Paris-Sorbonne. My first year, post-Fulbright, was spent studying at the Sorbonne and working as a Teaching Assistant in two Parisian high schools. This just goes to show that Fulbright really can change your life.

I am also incredibly grateful for the friends I met through Fulbright. Germany has a very strong Fulbright alumni network (which you can become a part of, even if you are not yet an alum), and they have both national and regional networks. The national network organizes four to five big events per year (including the unforgettable Winterball, which this year will take place in the beautiful Schwerin Castle in northern Germany), while the regional group helps to organize outings and smaller get-togethers such as Fulbright Thanksgivings. These networks emphasize an incredibly important aspect of the Fulbright Program: the meaningful, life-long connections you are bound to make. I cannot express how thankful I am for the long-lasting friendships that I have made through Fulbright.

I wish all of you perseverance and steady nerves for the next few months; despite all of the paperwork and countless hours, it really is worth it. I’ve been in your shoes and I know how the uncertainty feels.

Best wishes and good luck to all you stalwart “Halfbrights!” I stand with you in Ful-support!

Photo: Julia Anderlé de Sylor, 2009-2010, Fulbright ETA to Germany, with Ulrich Götz, German Fulbright alumnus and Fulbright Alumni Coordinator for Bonn and Cologne, attending a Fulbright information fair and speaking to high school students about the program

U.S. Fulbright

Putting the finishing touches on your online application? Make sure you’ve reviewed the application checklists.

October 12, 2012

The deadline for the 2013-14 Fulbright U.S. Student Program competition is Wednesday, October 17, 2012 (5:00 p.m., Eastern Time)!

If you’re in the final stretch of completing your online application, make sure you’ve fully reviewed the application checklists since components vary somewhat depending upon the type of Fulbright U.S. Student grant you’re applying for. 

Have last minute questions that need answering? Feel free to contact Fulbright U.S. Student Program staff or Embark Support. Good luck!

U.S. Fulbright

An American in Uşak, By Leslie Esbrook, 2010-2011, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Turkey

October 3, 2012

When I found out that I would be going to Uşak, Turkey, for my Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA), I didn’t quite know how to react. I looked online and only found references to ancient carpets. I looked on the map and saw that Turkey’s big cities were hours away. I looked in the dictionary and still did not know how to pronounce the name Uşak (it’s ooh-shock).  Needless to say, I knew I was in for a culture shock.

In reality, Uşak, as well as the other non-touristy towns of Turkey, are bursting with beauty, life and hospitality. I was assigned to Uşak University, a brand new university that possessed the dynamic energy and openness to allow me to design my own curriculum for courses, mentor students with aims of visiting the United States, improve a study abroad program and design a faculty class (with significant leeway to use non-traditional teaching methods and incorporate learning outside the classroom). As a first time teacher, I was consistently impressed by the breadth of English learning opportunities and the commitment campus-wide to support English-language activities. While statistics may indicate that Turkey is a country with rather high anti-U.S. sentiments, I experienced that the political divides cutting across ideological identities can dissolve by taking field trips to ancient ruins and sharing meals. Every day spent in Uşak was a new opportunity for me to both learn from and to teach others.

My first and main interaction with my town came through classroom experiences. Teaching at a five-year old institution with a developing English department, I helped to create curricula for first-year students and implemented them in classrooms of up to sixty students. When I started, it was challenging to be in a room of sixty raucous students, but I came to eventually know and appreciate all of them for their talents and abilities. Even the students who did not particularly want to learn English wanted to know more about American culture and asked questions about pop music or U.S. landmarks. Once I had acquired a better mastery of Turkish, I took over a class for the director of the health college and translated medical anthology texts with third year students from English to Turkish. The students’ participation and attention to detail made the two hour class pass by quickly, and left us all with a better understanding of the nuances of translation.

While eager to travel and visit other parts of Turkey, the best moments were often ones spent most simply: a picnic with students in the park, a stroll around the public gardens and a drawn-out game of backgammon over a constantly refilled strong glass of tea. By living in a place with relatively few social amenities, I became more in touch with myself. I learned, after a long while, to feel the extreme joys that Turks feel in offering help to strangers, in being with their families and in maintaining connections with friends. Turkish culture is one of a never-ending “pay it forward” mentality that is boundless in its act of giving. Sometimes in the United States, the sense of trusting those around us can be off-put by a sense of individualism and self-entitlement. Living in Uşak provided me with an opportunity to rediscover the communal trust most of us lose after childhood, an absolutely beautiful and unexpectedly rewarding gift.

This is not to say that my time in rural Turkey did not challenge, frustrate or disappoint me at times. I felt the push of bureaucracy against my American classroom conduct norms and the social pressures of conforming to my colleagues’ preferred teaching methods. Walking the streets, I suffered through high temperatures as I stuck to the shoulder and knee-covering outfits the majority of women wore, and I became frustrated at the more fluid sense of time after multiple get-togethers lasted well into the late evening hours. I constantly fielded questions from a nice older woman at my local gym as to why I was working out when from the looks of it I did not need to lose any weight. I was told repeatedly, and in a worried tone, that my diet consisted of enough sugar to fill thousands of cups of tea — even without my annual Halloween boost of candy supplies. Yet the benefits of sticking out my time as a Fulbright ETA in Turkey well outweighed any frustrations I may have had. I returned to the United States with a strong love of most things Turkish and a desire to maintain my connection to Turkey as part of my professional goals.

When I speak of Turkey, a final question that comes up frequently is religion. What was it like for me to be in a Muslim country and how was my own religious practice affected? Most people I speak with really have no sense of how religion impacts Turkish society. They have a sense that everyone walks around in hijabs and burqas. I tell people that Turkey should really be thought of as a Westernized country with an underlying respect for their traditions and culture, which emanate from religion. While this is not the place to delve deeply into the meaning of that statement, I assure Americans that moving to Turkey is culturally fascinating. As for religious practice, I found Turks to be nothing but accepting and curious to hear about holidays and observances to which they have never been exposed. I am Jewish and never hesitated to tell Turks about my religion. Everyone I met was overwhelmingly curious to hear what exactly that meant for me.

Lastly, my Fulbright ETA Program gave me an opportunity to strike up friendships over meals and, more often, dessert sampling. Experiencing the fresh tastes of Turkish food and receiving all of the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet led me to pursue an intensive side project. I published an English language cookbook of easy Turkish recipes, which was released this fall. I am proud to say it is the only Turkish cookbook written by an American non-native Turk (that I know of), and while the recipes are great, it also includes anecdotal tales of my travels in Turkey and short fun facts about the origins of the foods that underscore the rich history present in all things Turkish. In sharing my work with friends and family back home, I proudly added another dimension to their understanding of my time in Turkey and was able to bring back the intangible gift of the communal table that made my days in Uşak so joyful.

My experience in Uşak was a life-changing one and I have no doubt that it would have been so in any Anatolian town. Living in Uşak taught me an immense amount about myself and gave me a unique opportunity to impact the lives of those around me whom I never would have had the pleasure to meet otherwise. After completing my Fulbright grant, I began my first year at Yale Law School this fall, where I plan to keep up my Turkish language skills and eventually pursue a career in international law and diplomacy. In my limited free time, I even managed to publish an Op-Ed in a leading Turkish-English daily, with more hopefully to come. I encourage all Fulbright applicants to Turkey to take the time to explore towns like Uşak and see for themselves what makes the country a true cultural crossroads.

A few pieces of advice for future Fulbrighters:

  • Accept every invitation. More likely than not, you, as a potential cultural curiosity in small towns, will be an immediate celebrity. In your role as a celebrity and cultural ambassador, it’s likely that you will be invited out to dinners, lunches, picnics and a whole host of other meal-based events. Say yes! The learning curve for new cultures is always infinitely steep and befriending one person inevitably leads to befriending their friends down the line.
  • Be willing to experiment. If you’ve never taught in a formal setting and are worried about following precedents or your country’s common teaching practices, take a moment to consider how much potential your unique and fresh approach could bring. If you were particularly influenced by certain teaching styles in your own education, don’t be afraid to try them out or suggest them to colleagues; more often than not, your suggestions will be well-valued and respected.
  • If you need help, ask. I was often faced with a situation in which I simply did not understand what was being asked of me. It is completely appropriate to pause a conversation and ask colleagues or anyone in your town for help, advice or cultural clarification. If you are one of the first American Fulbrighters living in your host community, they may not know how much knowledge you are coming in with in regards to your particular assistant English teaching assignment. The responsibility falls on you to ask for necessary information. This may even include asking about the dates of holidays and exams, grading procedures and expectations on how much material to cover.
  • Make Fulbright your family. Overseas, we can all experience moments of loneliness, feelings of isolation, homesickness or frustration. Fulbrighters are one of the most intelligent, outgoing, and excited groups of people I’ve ever met. The friendships I made with fellow Fulbrighters will last a lifetime. We gave each other moral support and often discussed our comparative problems. Fellow Fulbrighters are a great source of inspiration and positivity, and can help remind you that you’re not alone.

Top photo: 2010-2011 Fulbrighters to Turkey Leslie Esbrook (left) and Kara Zinger (right) running the Istanbul Eurasia Marathon across two continents

Middle photo: 2010-2011 Fulbrighters to Turkey Jaime Gusching (left), Leslie Esbrook (center) and Jenny Coronel (right) hiking in Cappadocia, Turkey

U.S. Fulbright

A Slew of New Opportunities

September 27, 2012

In the last couple months, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program has added several new opportunities throughout the world, from Laos to Greece to Senegal, in both English Teaching Assistanship and Study/Research (full) categories of grants. Here’s a quick listing below, with three from just the last two days!

With the deadline only a few weeks away, could one of these new opportunities be the one you were looking for?

U.S. Fulbright

Food Web Interactions in a Changing Coral Reef: One Step to Forming a Baseline Ecosystem, By Maya deVries, 2010-2011, Panama

September 19, 2012


It’s no secret that the world’s coral reefs are declining at alarming rates. I witnessed this fact firsthand during my journey as a Fulbright U.S. Student in Panama. I conducted my research at Galeta Marine Laboratory, which is situated on Panama’s Atlantic Coast ten miles away from the Panama Canal. Disturbances to coral reefs, such as overfishing, waste disposal and oil release from ship traffic, have negatively affected many coastal communities whose livelihoods depend on healthy, productive oceans. To understand how these changes will impact the coral reef ecosystem, researchers must study interactions between coral reef organisms so that when a group of organisms is in decline, researchers will know how other organisms and overall reef health will be affected.

I studied feeding interactions between a ubiquitous coral reef predator, the stomatopod crustacean (or mantis shrimp), and its prey. With the help of five local undergraduate students at the Regional Branch of the University of Panama in Colón, we determined that stomatopods eat many small animals including hard-shelled prey, fish and worms. Stomatopods are also eaten by common coral reef fish. Thus, these little known creatures are actually very important links between the large and small animals that make up the Caribbean coral reef ecosystem.

Unfortunately, debris that destroys coral reefs also washes onto Galeta’s beaches. After three months of spending everyday in the water, I could no longer bear the sight of plastic, old shoes and tires on Galeta’s otherwise beautiful shores. In response, I created a beach cleanup program that organizes a cleanup every two months with local students and scientists. A highlight for me was when 350 local students, along with the U.S. Ambassador to Panama, volunteered at a beach cleanup that I organized with the U.S. Embassy. This program inspired me and Galeta Marine Laboratory staff to start recycling programs in Colón schools near Galeta. Galeta Marine Laboratory now gives talks to local schools about recycling, provides them with recycling bins and connects them to local recycling companies.












My most rewarding experience was working with Cambio Creativo (Creative Change), a non-profit organization started by former Fulbright Students. Cambio Creativo works with youth in the underserved community of Coco Solo, Colón. With Cambio Creativo, I taught students about biology and paleontology in their own “backyard.” Although only five minutes from Coco Solo, we took a field trip to Galeta since most students had never visited this unique marine reserve. These students are now regular participants in Galeta’s beach cleanup program.












Working on these outreach projects dramatically changed how I view my role as a scientist. In Panama, I learned that many important scientific research findings never reach a broad audience.  Yet, interacting with Panamanians at Galeta forced me to find concrete connections between the public and my academic research. The Fulbright Program encourages its participants to engage in cross-cultural exchange and direct involvement with local communities. This focus taught me how to bridge the gap between local Panamanians and academics so that their communities could benefit from the valuable scientific research generated in their country.

The Fulbright Program also gave me the courage to take chances.

For those who are interested in applying for this amazing opportunity, here are a few pieces of advice:

  • Have a relative or friend outside of your field read your whole application. That person should understand every word of your application and find it interesting. For example, my mother read mine!
  • If you are applying for a research/study grant, explain why your past experiences are relevant your project and your future goals in the personal and grant purpose statements instead of simply stating your accomplishments.
  • If your application is accepted and you become a Fulbrighter, try to say yes to as many opportunities in country as you can to get to know your local community, even if they are not directly related to your research. Your Fulbright year is your time to learn as many new things as you can about your country, so enjoy it!

Top photo: Maya deVries, 2010-2011, Panama (second from left), watches videos of stomatopod feeding behavior with undergraduate students from the Regional Branch of the University of Panama in Colon (from left to right: Nayara Rodriguez, Yarlenis, Gina Ruíz, Eudocia Rodriguez and Roxana Martinez)

Middle photo: Over 350 volunteers participated in Galeta’s beach cleanup sponsored by the Embassy of the United States, Panama

Bottom photo: Maya deVries, 2010-2011, Panama (third from left) with Coco Solo students learning about fossil snails found in dirt left from dredging for the Panama Canal in Cambio Creativo’s afterschool program