One of my favorite animated films tells the tale of a mouse with a dream to become a chef. Everyone thinks him crazy, but he strives towards his goal and proves to himself and those around him that anyone can, indeed, cook. My journey to becoming a 2015-2016 Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) to Latvia played out much the same. I am not what many would consider the “typical” Fulbright recipient. Many, including some professors, thought me crazy to even apply for the prestigious award. Well, I sure did prove them wrong.
You see, I did not graduate high school and immediately enter a university as is expected of my generation. My family could not afford the living expenses my scholarships failed to cover, and I could not shake my intense desire to serve my country. So, my path took me to Parris Island, South Carolina and the United States Marine Corps; that path came to an abrupt conclusion when I found myself medically unfit to continue serving. At that point, I did as my father before me and entered the police force. I enjoyed being a police officer, but I always regretted not getting a degree. The demanding schedule of a police officer made attending school incredibly difficult. I decided to end my police career, worked a few random jobs, and enrolled in Faulkner State Community College at the age of twenty-seven. When I completed enough credits, I transferred to Auburn University.
In my junior year, while others of my age were beginning families and buying homes, I took a leap of faith and approached Dr. Paul Harris, the Associate Director of the Honors College at my university, about applying for a Fulbright grant. He enthusiastically encouraged me to apply, despite my own reservations about my age. After much consideration, I applied for an English Teaching Assistantship to Latvia.
Months rolled by without a word of response about my application. May 1, 2015 seemed like any other warm southern day. Driving to an undergraduate history conference at Mississippi State University, I received an email notification near the Alabama-Mississippi state line. I pulled onto the side of the road and stared at the screen in shock. I received an offer to join the Fulbright community. My life would never be the same.
My journey to Fulbright involved a strange path through the military, police, and odd jobs; I turned thirty-one during my time in Latvia. I thought my experience unique and non-traditional. As I continue to meet more Fulbrighters from across the country, however, I realize how untrue that belief is. There is no “typical” Fulbrighter. They arrive to their grants from all parts of the nation and from all walks of life. The Fulbright Program shatters labels of age, religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and all others. To be a Fulbrighter, one must simply have a passion for peaceful cooperation and understanding of other cultures. Just as the mouse learned in his journey, anyone, no matter their origins, can be a Fulbrighter.
My best advice for a successful application is quite simple:
- Be on time! Obvious, I know, but both the university and national Fulbright deadlines are incredibly important!
- Be flexible! Consider applying to countries that are non-traditional destinations. The experience of living somewhere none of your family or friends have visited can be very rewarding!
- Be confident! With the right determination and willpower, anyone can be a Fulbrighter. That includes you! Your confidence will shine through in your application.
- Be yourself! You are unique and will bring something new to the Fulbright Program. Let that originality flow into your application.