Be bold. Being a Fulbrighter requires being bold above anything else. During my year in Singapore, the simple act of saying “yes” led to an amazing range of experiences: preparing dumplings by hand for Chinese New Year, running an ultra-marathon, creating many strong relationships that made me feel at home halfway around the world, and yes, eating sambal (barbeque) stingray.
As a researcher, I was studying dengue virus and how it morphs from a non-infectious to an infectious state. By itself, the project was quite technical and could have remained as an isolated series of laboratory experiments. However, by reaching out to the local public health officials, I gained insight into the effects of the disease from a social perspective and was able to contextualize my results in a broader picture. Relationships made in the lab also led to new collaborations, which led to the aforementioned holiday dumpling cooking sessions.
Outside of the lab, I largely explored the island through running. With the recommendation of a friend, I soon joined a Singaporean running club that ran throughout the country (which is less than 300 square miles). Friendships were forged through midnight lantern runs and post-run meals of prata and satay. One day, I was informed that I had been signed up for an ultra-marathon as part of the newly-formed “Siao Lang Runners” – which generously translates as “really crazy runners.” Feeling fairly intimidated, I was greeted by my teammates at the starting line with matching (and goofy) shirts and plenty of encouragement. Nine hours later–we had done it!
Sure, saying “yes” led to some suspicious looking dumplings and very sore legs. But they also opened many doors to Singapore and its people, individuals who made my experience a memorable one.
As an applicant to the Fulbright U.S. Student Program for a study/research grant, one of the most intimidating steps is finding a research mentor or affiliation to sponsor you and your project. My advice remains the same as before: be bold. Reach out to the best and brightest within your field.
I found my potential mentor by looking for dynamic research groups in my field of study, chemistry. After contacting him through email, we soon arranged for a video chat to discuss my ideas. This allowed me to share my vision for the project, as well as presenting myself as a committed and qualified researcher. In the process, I not only gained a sponsor, but was able to fine-tune my entire application to clearly define how it would benefit to both my host country and the United States.
So, to conclude: if you happen to be sitting at a Singaporean hawker center when a vendor offers you a taste of his famous sambal stingray? Go ahead, close your eyes and give it a try. It might just become your new favorite food.