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U.S. Fulbright

How to Stop Being a Control Freak and Get a Fulbright Grant, By Krystal Banzon, 2007-2008, Philippines

August 3, 2009

I was a little bit of a control freak.(I’m better now.)

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.

U.S. Fulbright

My Fulbright in Kingston, By Afreen Akhter, 2006-2007, Jamaica

March 30, 2009

I stepped into Kingston, Jamaica after a rigorous bout in the concrete jungle of New York City. I was completely thrown. I’d never inhabited a place where I was caught in so much earth. Mountains stretched above me on every horizon, and the roads were lined with greenery so vivid I swore I was awash in a painting.

As I grew to know the country better, I became more aware of the stark mix of prosperity and poverty in Kingston. The dichotomy is aggravated because of Kingston’s size. In this tiny urban sphere, I witnessed the most intense economic disparity on a daily basis.

Afreen Akhter, 2006-2007, JamaicaMy project was to study the use of theater as a vehicle for social empowerment and inter- and intra-community peace building. Alongside my independent research, I worked with a phenomenal theater collective called SISTREN. SISTREN was born in the infant climate of “democratic socialism” of the late 1970’s. It originated in the thick of a political system that supported grassroots movements and rediscovered the voice and power of the working class. For years, SISTREN was able to produce edgy, provocative theater that challenged conventional notions of “women.” Given the innumerable twists and turns of the Jamaican political climate, SISTREN has struggled and succeeded in the many years since its founding. My work with them focused on program outreach.

With the aid of the vibrant founders of SISTREN (who often fly about the main office screeching American oldies at the top of their lungs), I worked in the poorest parts of Kingston. I spent most of my time as a director of a women’s drama group in a community called Hannah Town. The Hannah Town women were, invariably, a combative, lively bunch. Most rehearsals had moments of violent outbursts, either verbal or physical in nature, which became easier to mitigate with time. Ironically, their real fire came out in those performance moments.

I remember my first street theater performance with them quite vividly. They stepped out of bounds of their enclave to an adjacent ghetto, clad in costumes that were bright and revealing. Despite the decades of conflict between the two ghettos and the innumerable lives lost on both sides, they performed on the opposing ghetto’s raw streets. In those minutes, their passion and love of the craft became truly apparent. The response was unbelievable. The opposing ghetto thronged the pseudo-stage and cried praise throughout. At the end, both communities came together to discuss the piece’s social import and share dinner. It was a profound moment.

Since then, they performed on many other streets, for the Prime Minister, the leader of the opposition party, and have many performances to come. Alongside Hannah Town, I attempted to start up similar theater groups in other Kingston ghettos, and implement literacy projects with members of the collectives. My time as a Fulbrighter, which continues to live on with me, was momentous.