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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.

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.