Now, I know what you’re thinking, this is like the third time you’ve heard about people applying for a Fulbright award in our office. My co-worker, Rachel, was just awarded an ETA position for Spain, Emma is thinking about throwing her hat in the ring when she graduates, and now you’re hearing me talk about doing research in China, and you’re probably thinking they just give these awards out like candy, you’re wrong. If you were thinking, hmm… studying abroad is a great way to increase my chances of being awarded such a prestigious fellowship, you’re right. Of the 14 recipients from Temple (our largest group ever), 11 studied abroad through our office, some more than once, and some were even bloggers too!
Now, I’m not saying that you have to study abroad to be awarded an academic fellowship focused on the merits of international education and cross-cultural dialogue, but, c’mon, it doesn’t hurt. Also, just a disclaimer: this is what I did to achieve this award, and while I whole heartedly recommend these programs to anyone, keep in mind that this is far from the only way to be competitive for this award. In fact, choosing your own path and choosing programs that are the right fit for you are the best way to stand out and show who you are to the Fulbright selection committee.
The first program I did while studying abroad was perhaps my most important. I studied in an intensive language program at Zhejiang Normal University through our Confucius Institute on campus the summer after my freshman year. This program was a big deal for a variety of reasons.
1) This was my first time in China, which, to be fair, can be quite an undertaking for an inexperienced traveler.
2) It helped my Chinese. A lot. I could have gotten academic credit for this program, but it would have put me off the semester schedule for Chinese courses (i.e. 2001 in the fall, 2002 in the spring)… aaaaand I didn’t fill out the forms in time.
3) ZJNU wound up being the university that I will have my research affiliation with during this project. While I didn’t study with my research advisor during my time there, saying that I have studied at that university gave me a solid foot in the door to start reaching out to faculty members.
The next program I did was honestly one of my favorite experiences in my college career. The following summer I participated in the Woodenfish Foundation’s Humanistic Buddhism Monastic Life Program. It was a month of living in a Buddhist monastery, meditating, and taking Buddhist philosophy and Chinese culture classes. It was like summer camp, boot camp, summer school, and a meditation retreat all wrapped in one. Again, I could have received academic credit for the program, but it cost a couple hundred dollars, and I already had all my Religion credits out of the way, so I didn’t see the point. I think this program really made my application stand out. It’s off the beaten path, eccentric, and shows my passion about Chinese culture.
After this program and in the following summer I participated in a research cluster with the FROGBEAR organization. First in Singapore and the following year in Taiwan. These were only about two weeks each, but gave me a great taste of what I can hope to experience when I go on to do my own field research. Also, it showed the selection committee that not only do I have research experience, but I have research experience abroad. I distinctly remember sitting in the back of a beat up VW van, getting a ride home after doing research in the Taiwanese mountainside, and thinking, this is exactly what I want to do with my life.
Finally, the experience that my boss probably wants me to talk about most, was an academic exchange at National Taiwan University coordinated through the Study Abroad office at Temple for academic credit towards my undergraduate degree. I lived in Taiwan for a full year: I took two semesters at the best university in Taiwan, did a research project in the summer, rented my own apartment, set up a bank account, and basically set up a whole new life in Taiwan. A year was a long time, sure, but now that I’m on the other side, I can’t wait to go back and do it all over again. I learned how to overcome homesickness, learned about myself and my own culture, learned a heck of a lot about Taiwanese culture, and set up a network of friends that I can reach out to whenever I return.
That’s what I think the biggest takeaway the Fulbright committee wants to see. They want to see you expanding your network. They want to see you being a cultural bridge from our country to another. They want to see that, regardless of where you are, you can successfully reach out, work with others, and learn about yourself and the world in the process. So, with that being said, to all my prospective Fulbrighters out there, keep on meeting new people, getting out of your comfort zone, and doing the work you’re passionate about. Good luck!