The summer before I departed for my Fulbright year in London, my head was in the clouds with visions of what my life there might look like. I scoured the internet for any information I could find about my university and the neighborhood I planned to live in. I plotted all kinds of extracurricular activities and made plans to get involved with the local community – and in a city as diverse and dynamic as London, I knew the possibilities for imbibing the local culture were endless.
Fulbright awards to the United Kingdom are unique in that at the postgraduate level, scholars carry out their research within the framework of master’s programs at universities around the country. As the Fulbright-University of the Arts London Postgraduate Scholar, my master’s thesis research at London College of Communication (LCC) explored how an individual’s interaction with screens affects modern reading habits and our relationships with printed books. My time at LCC afforded me the unique opportunity to investigate this nascent subject in an interdisciplinary environment while building bonds with some of the most creative and inspiring individuals in media.
There was never a dull moment during my Fulbright year – I was on the go constantly and found opportunities for intercultural engagement everywhere I went. But of all those occasions, the most consistent occurrences were at my local CrossFit gym, CrossFit London. I began CrossFit right before my move to London – of course, as I was envisioning my life the summer before, I figured that I would keep at it but could not have imagined it would be the source of cross-cultural exchange and camaraderie that it was.
Three to four times a week, I found myself throwing barbells around a bare-bones warehouse gym space built into the underbelly of an East London railway bridge. Sweating and striving for physical feats many consider crazy alongside Brits and other transplants from all over the world – typical city dwellers, from bankers to baristas, artists to academics, and everyone in between – was one of the most enriching cultural exchange experiences imaginable. Labels that define us are left at the door and everyone is faced with the same simple task: the workout on the whiteboard. It is simple but never easy, and pushing past conceived limitations with people you become accustomed to seeing on the same days, at the same time, week after week builds bonds in a way that few other experiences can.
A bit of advice for those putting together a Fulbright application: seek out unique opportunities for engaging with your community in the host country. In your proposal, be specific about your intentions – just as important as demonstrating your aptitude for academics and your commitment to your research is showing that you are not only willing and able to adapt to your surroundings, but that you will pursue activities that will create possibilities for intercultural exchange. Once you begin your Fulbright year, stay open to unexpected sources of inspiration and learn from everybody you meet. You are sure to build relationships that will last a lifetime.