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U.S. Fulbright

Adjusting Expectations and Finding My Project

August 28, 2013
Barbara Grossman-Thompson

Photo: Barbara Grossman-Thompson, 2012-2013, Nepal (left), and her guide and research assistant Bhagwaati Pun, reach Thorong Pass in Nepal during a 30-day trek in the Annapurna Conservation Area.

When I boarded a plane bound for Kathmandu, Nepal in August 2012, I was cautiously optimistic about the trajectory of my proposed Fulbright U.S. Student Program Study/Research grant on tourism economies in the Annapurna Conservation Area. Two months after my arrival, it was increasingly clear that, like many researchers, I would have to adjust my expectations. I spent a month trekking in the Nepali Himalayas accompanied by my guide, research assistant, translator, and friend Bhagwaati Pun, when I realized that my original research plan would need to change fast. Proper paperwork was held up, the research had already been done, and more importantly, the Nepali people I spoke with were both kind and frank in conveying their disinterest in my intended project! I felt lost and anxious about how to proceed. As a graduate student conducting her dissertation fieldwork, I felt my academic future was on the line.

I decided to take some time off from the academic side of things and put all my attention toward further developing my relationships with the wonderful community I was living in. My affiliate organization, Empowering Women Nepal (EWN), bi-annually organizes a free, month-long training for women interested in working as trekking guides. In Nepal, guiding has traditionally been done by men. EWN’s guide training gives women the opportunity to continue their education, learn new skills, see other parts of the country, and earn their own salary. During my participation in the training, I drew on my own background as an outdoor educator to teach classes on wilderness first aid, professionalism, and managing client-guide relationships.

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U.S. Fulbright

Good Karma: Volunteering While on a Fulbright Grant in Nepal, By Franz Knupfer, 2008-2009, Nepal

March 21, 2012

When I visited the Naxal School for the Deaf on my first day in Kathmandu, the students crowded around me asking questions. “What’s your name?” they asked. “Where are you from? Are you Deaf?” I touched my index finger to my ear and then my mouth, the sign for Deaf in both Nepali and American Sign Language. I was Deaf, too, and I knew immediately that I had found a community that was willing to accept me as one of its own. In fact, I was beginning to realize that I am part of a much larger community of more than one billion people with disabilities worldwide.

The focus of my Fulbright research in Nepal was creative—I was there to work on a collection of short stories. Just as importantly, though, I knew that I wanted volunteering to be a big part of my project. In my Fulbright application, I had mentioned that I planned to teach at the Naxal School in order to find inspiration and material for my stories.

Of course, that was only part of the reason I wanted to volunteer. As a former AmeriCorps volunteer who spent two years working on environmental projects in Portland, Oregon, I knew that volunteering would help empower both the community I was working with and myself. Also, it felt good to volunteer. Volunteering gave my Fulbright experience a deeper, more fulfilling meaning that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. It gave me the opportunity to make new friends and to give back to the community that was so generously hosting me for ten months.

I volunteered to teach art and American Sign Language at the Naxal School. Soon, I discovered that my students were used to learning drawing through copying and rote memorization, just like their hearing peers in most of Asia. My goal was to teach my students to think creatively, so I taught them art techniques like shading, perspective and drawing three-dimensional objects. Eventually, I showed them how to combine all of these techniques to make a landscape, and I was rewarded one afternoon when I came into the classroom and discovered that my students had drawn a landscape on the board for me.

After school, I taught students American Sign Language and learned more Nepali Sign Language in return. During lunch breaks, I sometimes played soccer and cricket with the students. Through my experiences, I made many close friends and I also got to know a Deaf Sherpa who eventually became my guide for a month spent in the Everest region of the Himalaya. Near the end of my time in Nepal, I helped arrange an overnight camping trip around the Kathmandu Valley with ten of the older students.

While volunteering is not a requirement for a Fulbright grant, I highly recommend it. Citizen diplomacy is an important part of the Fulbright experience, and in my mind, volunteering is citizen diplomacy at its best. Fulbright grantees, with or without disabilities, may find it particularly rewarding to volunteer within the disabled community of their host country. There are many opportunities to work with people who have disabilities, especially in developing countries. Disability-related organizations and people with disabilities are helping to lead a new worldwide human rights revolution that is working towards full inclusion and participation in all aspects of society for people who have disabilities. Volunteering has the potential to leave a high impact and allows Fulbright grantees to see disability in a new context.

In Nepal, being disabled has traditionally been considered a karmic curse and people with disabilities often weren’t allowed to marry. That is gradually changing, as more people with disabilities are being included in society and are working, marrying and speaking out for their rights. While I was in Nepal, I felt anything but cursed—instead, I felt blessed to be there on a Fulbright, and by volunteering, I wanted to spread some of that good karma around.

Photo: Franz Knupfer teaches students at the Naxal School for the Deaf in Kathmandu how to draw a three-dimensional landscape.

Franz Knupfer now works as the Project Coordinator of the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange, a project administered by Mobility International USA and sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. Specific resources for people with disabilities interested in applying for a Fulbright grant can be found at:

U.S. Fulbright Unknown

Seeing Through the Mirror, By Liz Lance, 2008-2009, Nepal

December 21, 2011

After visiting Nepal periodically since studying abroad there as an undergraduate, I returned on a Fulbright grant to work on a documentary photography project on beauty and body image in young women. I spent the next ten months interviewing and photographing my subjects, and although I worked independently, I still benefitted from a support network for encouragement and inspiration. Not long after returning to Nepal in September 2008, I began hearing about—a community of photographers and photography enthusiasts, Nepali and bideshi or foreigners, that met monthly for photography viewings and discussion. In short order, I spent the first of what was to be many Saturday mornings in the company of a dynamic group of primarily young Nepalis who were engaged in multimedia storytelling and other creative pursuits.

The connections I made through helped propel my work in fascinating directions throughout my Fulbright year. I traveled with Kathmandu musicians to Palpa District in Western Nepal, where I spent a few days with a young woman who ran a beauty parlor. I visited Dhaka, Bangladesh, with a contingent of Nepali photographers for the biannual Chobi Mela International Photography Festival. I met another engaged group of creative storytellers at VENT! Magazine, and with them, I taught a two-day photojournalism workshop to about 15 Nepali photographers.

By the end of my grant year, when I had completed five multimedia stories on different women, I presented my work to the community and engaged in a layered discussion on beauty and femininity with a packed house of Kathmanduites. was all that I was looking for and more: not only a supportive and inspirational community, but also a series of open doors that facilitated the growth of my project in unexpected and fulfilling ways. Beyond the scope of my work, also introduced me to a number of Nepalis who would come to be great friends.  I even helped introduce two friends who will marry in the coming year!

In all of this immersion into the community of Kathmandu artists, I began to think less and less of myself as an American among Nepalis, and more as photographer among other photographers. But I think the impetus for that was as much a reflection of how I was being treated by my Nepali friends and colleagues as it was how I felt about living in Nepal on my Fulbright grant. My Nepali slang had sharpened enough that I no longer needed constant translation for their colloquial shorthand, my Nepali friends were passing around the same viral YouTube videos that my friends back home would send me, and we were all updating our statuses and posting photos on Facebook (when not suffering from Kathmandu’s crippling rolling blackouts). Though we came from vastly different cultural upbringings, we looked to the same sources for creative inspiration and “geeked out” in eerily similar ways over technical achievements in Photoshop and FinalCutPro. As is often the lesson in cultural exchange, we were more alike than we were different (though they had decidedly better food).

Over a year earlier, back home in San Francisco, I spent three months researching and honing my Fulbright proposal; foregrounding the issue––beauty and body image––I was examining and stressing the contribution I would make to their domestic and international understanding. Though I will never know the specific reasons why I was awarded a Fulbright grant, I think one of my proposal’s strengths was the public nature of my proposed work. A journalistic project naturally lends itself well to projecting an issue into the public discourse that allows for meaningful cultural exchange.  And while every project need not become journalistic, nor every journalistic project be funded, an application that includes a specific and organic avenue for sharing it with your community at home and abroad is likely to appear stronger. I was also able to craft a successful proposal because of my friends’ input. I sent a draft around to four or five people who gave me very specific feedback.  I was able to incorporate their suggestions, such as restricting my project proposal to elements that were reasonable to achieve in a ten-month period because I began working on my proposal so far ahead of the deadline.

As I reflect back on my Fulbright experience of almost two years ago, I realize the most rewarding aspect of it was how unexpected it was. When I was preparing my Fulbright application, I never imagined myself connecting to a creative community in the way I would end up doing largely because I didn’t know one existed. But by following a tip from a few friends, my Fulbright experience transcended my original two-page proposal in more ways than I could have imagined.

Photo: Liz Lance, 2008-2009, Nepal, interacts with students during a photojournalism workshop she taught with VENT! Magazine in June 2009

Questions for Liz about her Fulbright experinces?  Email her at

U.S. Fulbright

Announcing a New Fulbright Opportunity for Public Policy Students and Young Professionals

November 8, 2011

On behalf of the U.S. Department of State, we are pleased to announce the Fulbright Public Policy Fellowship – a new component of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program and a new opportunity for public policy students and young professionals.

The Fulbright Public Policy Fellowship will allow U.S. citizens to contribute to the strengthening of the public sector abroad by serving in professional placements within foreign government ministries or institutions while simultaneously carrying out an academic research/study project.  The fellowship will help advance public policy research agendas, fosters mutual understanding and builds lasting ties between the U.S. and partner countries. 

Selected Fulbright Students will work side-by-side with the citizens of other countries to tackle the toughest public policy problems of the day.  This new exchange is the vanguard of international public diplomacy, as it leverages the excellence of the Fulbright program to achieve global development objectives.

Fulbright Public Policy Fellows will serve in partner country governments, which include:

  • Bangladesh
  • Cote d’Ivoire
  • The Dominican Republic
  • Guatemala
  • Haiti
  • Jamaica
  • Mongolia
  • Nepal
  • Nigeria
  • Thailand
  • Tunisia

The U.S. Department of State and partner country governments will coordinate professional placements for candidates in public policy areas including, but not limited to, public health, education, agriculture, justice, energy, environment, public finance, economic development, housing and communications.

Candidates must be in receipt of a master’s or J.D. degree by the beginning of the Fellowship (Summer 2012) or be currently enrolled in a Ph.D. program.  Applicants must apply At-Large and have at least two years of work experience in public policy-related fields.  Final selection will be made by the Presidentially-appointed J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.

More information, including complete eligibility requirements, please contact Theresa Granza, or Walter Jackson,  For more information on how to apply, please visit

Applications for the 2012-13 competition will be accepted from November 4, 2011 through February 1, 2012; Fulbright Public Policy Fellows will begin their assignments in summer/fall 2012.

U.S. Fulbright

The Diplomacy of Mutual Inspiration: Combining Service and Creativity in a Fulbright Grant, By Franz Knupfer, 2008-2009, Nepal

September 14, 2010

As the Fourmile Fire rages in the canyons west of Boulder and smoke covers the city, the autumnal light has taken on a hazy, golden quality, like the lighting in a painting by one of the Old Masters. I’m reminded of autumn afternoons in Kathmandu, where the lighting was almost exactly like this. I’m reminded, too, of how much I miss Kathmandu and my friends there, and how much my experience as a Fulbright grantee in Nepal changed me. As I write this, it’s been almost two years to the day since I left the States for a Fulbright grant in Creative Writing in Nepal. Though I’ve been home almost a full year, I still remember the route I took from my apartment in the neighborhood of Hadigaun to the deaf school where I volunteered in Naxal. When I close my eyes, I can still walk through the rooms of the school and see my students in their classrooms.

In my Fulbright proposal, I wrote about how I planned to volunteer with the deaf community and write a collection of short stories. Though I wanted to learn and write about Nepal’s deaf community, I hadn’t realized how much I’d learn on a deeper level, on the level of the body; the body’s knowledge, in many ways, is far more ineffable and profound than the mind’s. It’s what we mean when we say, “you had to be there.” It’s exactly the kind of experience that writers and artists need for their work, but it’s also the kind of experience that can be of tremendous benefit to anyone.

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U.S. Fulbright

On Being a Fulbrighter in the Developing World, By Michelle R. Kaufman, 2007-2008, Nepal

September 7, 2009

My Fulbright grant took me to Nepal, where I lived in Kathmandu and studied women’s reproductive health. I consider receiving a Fulbright U.S. Student Program grant one of my greatest achievements so far, and as cliché as it sounds, it really was the experience of a lifetime. I was fortunate enough to be there during one of the most historic times in Nepali history—when the monarchy was abolished and the Maoists were elected to a majority of the Parliament seats.

My research involved designing and pilot testing a sexual health education program for Nepali women. With the help of a Nepali research assistant, I first completed a series of interviews and focus groups with various women about their experiences and previous sex education. Based on the data gathered from these interviews, I then designed a program called Let’s Talk!, which taught women about basic sex education, STDs/HIV, proper male and female condom use, various forms of birth control and how to discuss using protection with one’s partner. The results were far more successful than I anticipated they would be, and I established what will be lifelong relationships with several people.

But undertaking a Fulbright grant in the developing world is not easy, nor was every day fun. To be perfectly honest, there were many days when I would have jumped on a plane and left had I been given the chance. Battling things like fuel shortages, 40 hours a week without electricity, pollution, a lack of hot water (or no water at all), and being paranoid that everything I put in my mouth contained parasites or bacteria made my fellowship challenging in ways that pushed me to my limits. To be a Fulbrighter in the developing world takes a whole other skill set that many people, including myself, could not have anticipated.

Nepali people are so kind in general and genuinely helpful that even when things were tough, I had a supportive community. I made close friends with Nepalis my age, was offered help with my research and was invited for tea and dhal bhaat (a traditional Nepali meal) on many occasions. I was treated just like a member of the family. When I was dealing with challenges and missing my support network back in the U.S., my Nepali family stepped in.

Reflecting upon my time in Nepal, I now realize that even though it was occasionally a challenging experience—perhaps the hardest experience of my life—it was also one of the most valuable. I now appreciate more of the little things I took for granted in my life back in the U.S. (clean water, reliable transportation, sanitation, and uninterrupted electricity). And I find that I have a better understanding and deeper level of empathy for the way most of the rest of the world lives. But most importantly, I understand how important family and close friends are in getting through trying times. Living among Nepali people taught me that as long as you have that support, everything else is tik chha—Okay.

My advice to those pursuing a Fulbright grant in the developing world is threefold. First, keep in mind as you apply for the fellowship, additional challenges will exist. The experience of a Fulbrighter in France will be far different from that of a Fulbrighter in say, Uganda, simply because of the additional challenges of meeting your basic needs. While a Fulbrighter in these two countries will have similar experiences in terms of adjusting to cultural differences and perhaps the language barrier, the additional adjustment of going from the developed world to the developing will be tough.

Second, when you get to your host country, take the time to immerse yourself in the local community and find a support network. Having a “family” in your host country will be your most valuable asset. Also, find other foreigners, whether they be other Fulbrighters, expatriates, or Embassy staff. Having a community of people to talk to as you go through the adjustment process will make it much smoother. When you can laugh together about picking up intestinal bacteria, it makes it easier to handle!

And finally, go with a sense of humor. Leave behind your need for control. I found that the best way to cope with the adjustment to a different culture, environment and way of life required accepting the fact that most of what was happening around me was completely out of my hands. And when I could laugh about it, laugh at myself and how I reacted in the situations, I was better able to cope. This was probably the biggest change I saw in myself as a result of my Fulbright experience and it was for the best.

My time in Nepal as a Fulbrighter will continue to transform me and my research—perhaps for years to come. I continue to be in close contact with my Nepali family and look forward to visiting them again in the near future. Although it challenged me and pushed my limits in many ways, I would never trade the experience for anything.

Photo: Michelle R. Kaufman, 2007-2008, Nepal, shows a group of rural Nepali children a digital photo of themselves on the trail to Nagarkot.