When I barely entered the ivory tower, I wanted to know what I was going to do after graduation.As a freshman at Smith College, I had heard of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program through my college’s Fellowship Program Office.I did research online, read through theFulbright U.S. Student Program’s website and decided that getting a fellowship was the perfect way to wrap up my undergraduate experience and begin my life in the real world!
After thoroughly reading through several available Internet resources, I decided that I wanted to apply for a study/research grant.To where?It didn’t matter.I wanted a Fulbright grant.I stressed over the right classes to take for the non-existent research project I was trying to map out.I loved academic tracks, so I set myself on a government and women’s studies double major track.I brainstormed, drew charts, obsessed about solidifying premature ideas of maybe researching sex trafficking somewhere in Asia (that’s popular!), or perhaps some sort of policy governmental thing in Latin America (a lot goes on there, right?).Little did I know I was spinning my wheels in the mud, wanting something for all the wrong reasons – and getting nowhere fast.
Good thing I got sidetracked…
As my college years flew by, my passions and interests began to reveal themselves.I began to drop my government classes and started to take theatre classes.All of a sudden, what I thought was an extracurricular activity became my main interest, passion, and focus.I would skip joyously between my women’s studies courses and the directing lab for rehearsal.Unknowingly, I had opened up to changing my academic direction; my train had jumped off the track.Funnily enough, I was still moving along!In turn, I had forgotten about the half-hearted projects I once tried to force into fruition.
At the end of my junior year, I was chosen by the Theatre Department to direct one of the three main stage plays during the following school year.My interdisciplinary interests in studying race, culture and performance led me to become passionate about plays with cultural narratives, the history of colonization, stories about people of color, the importance of identity as well as performances about identity. I chose to direct Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters, a play about martial law in the Philippines.
Then, the summer before my senior year, my Fulbright research project fell into my lap.
I wanted to study theatre in the Philippines.When I began to honestly and truly think about what moved me and what I was passionate about, everything suddenly became clear.I began my application that summer with the help of my campus Fulbright Program Adviser (FPA) and a faculty mentor.Because I was already working on something I cared about, the resources were right at my fingertips.In preparation for my play, I contacted an international student from the Philippines, and she directed me to her former theater professor in Manila.Through this professor, I was able to request a host affiliation letter from the chair and artistic director of the Theatre Department at the University of the Philippines Diliman.I furiously worked on my application in between classes and my show rehearsals.As I wrote my study/research grant statement, I began to get a feeling of accomplishment because my Fulbright application was helping me to connect the dots between my passions and goals.
I get a lot of questions from current students at my alma mater about how to apply for a Fulbright: How do you choose a country?How do you create a project for a research grant?
I can make two suggestions:
1) Start early.Maybe you can pump out a study/research grant statement in two weeks, but it is impossible to obtain affiliation letters from your host institution unless you start early – especially if you’re applying to a country where access to the Internet, email, and faxes might be limited.You might have to write actual letters (remember snail mail?) or wait for mailed letters to be sent back to you.
2) Your project will come to you when it’s ready.You have to be honest with yourself.Follow your passions!Let go.Keep doing what you are crazy about. Your country of interest will be come clearer, and the research questions you want to explore will begin formulate.
To quote my alma mater’s fellowship website, “Applying for a fellowship requires a degree of soul searching.”It’s true.It’s unnecessary hard work to do work on a subject if you’re not interested in it.Make your fellowship application process a little easier on yourself and let go.
Photo: Krystal Banzon (right), 2007-2008, Philippines, in Baguio City.