In 2011, my husband and I were ecstatic to find out that I was selected as one of thirty Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) to Brazil for the 2012-2013 academic year. We spent an incredible ten months in Ilhéus, Bahía, teaching English, giving cultural presentations and volunteering in the community. I was even more excited to learn that I was chosen to be one of ten Fulbrighters asked to return to Brazil the following year to serve as mentors as the Brazilian Fulbright ETA program expanded from thirty to one hundred and twenty grantees. We were relocated to the north of the country and spent another challenging and fascinating ten months in Belém, Pará, right at the edge of the Amazon.
Though I have plenty of stories and experiences to share about my time as a Fulbright ETA, what I would like to highlight are the amazing opportunities that I’ve had because of my Fulbright experience, along with how valuable it is to stay connected to the U.S. Department of State’s and the Institute of International Education’s (IIE) alumni communities after the grant period ends. Some of the many advantages include having stories to share in interviews and applications, increased chances for professional development and volunteering, networking and internships.
Before the grant ends, Fulbrighters have to think about their next step, whether it be to pursue a graduate or professional degree, or apply for a job. My daily experiences as a Fulbright ETA gave me vivid and relevant examples that I could use in interviews and applications to illustrate new skills acquired. Soon after my Fulbright experience, I was accepted as a Rotary International World Peace Fellow and am currently studying at International Christian University in Tokyo, Japan. I was told that it was my Fulbright experience, especially in terms of foreign language learning and teaching, and cultural adaptation, my application was considered particularly strong.
Though it’s common for us to think that Fulbright ends on the last day of the grant, the truth is it’s just the beginning. There are several fantastic opportunities for alumni including the Fulbright Alumni Ambassador Program. Though I wasn’t an ambassador, I did volunteer at one of Fulbright’s Enrichment Seminars that bring together first-year Fulbright Foreign and U.S. Student alumni to dialogue about the experience. Though this requires a separate application, the experience was worth it, as Fulbright exposes you to valuable networking and professional development. Another popular option is to work together with other alumni to develop a proposal and start a project with the U.S. Department of State’s Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund. A new opportunity this year was the Citizen Diplomacy Challenge that gave all U.S. Government exchange alumni the chance to compete in a contest by sharing about their exchange experience on social media.
Finally, it’s possible to stay connected with Fulbright and the State Department with a Virtual Student Foreign Service (VSFS) internship. This year, I’m working as a virtual intern for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) in Washington, DC, even though I am currently based in Tokyo. My project is called “Fulbright Digital Storytelling” and involves curating past Fulbright data and experiences while developing new and effective ways to share international exchange experiences online. By staying connected with the State Department, IIE and continuing to work on Fulbright projects, I was recently invited to a reception in Tokyo to meet Assistant Secretary of State, Evan Ryan. We talked about my Fulbright experience, international exchange and my current virtual internship.
Though my grant experience as an ETA in Brazil was transformative, both personally and professionally, the opportunities with Fulbright since the grant ended have been equally life-changing. Not only do the memories and skills acquired help make job and academic applications more competitive, but the Fulbright network and the support and opportunities continue to be numerous and invaluable. I’m grateful to be a Fulbright alumna and am looking forward to future ways to stay connected, be involved, share my international exchange experiences and encourage others to do the same.