As promised, here are some notes I took while at the Transcultural Exchange Conference in Boston a couple weeks ago. I spoke about Fulbright grants a little at my talk during the first day of the conference, but the next day I was fortunate to hear Fulbright spokesman, David Abrams speak and I learned a couple new things about this amazing web of overseas programs. Anyway, first, a brief explanation of the Fulbright Program from their website: The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to “increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.” With this goal as a starting point, the Fulbright Program has provided almost 300,000 participants—chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential — with the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.
There are several programs administered by the Fulbright Program. Go here to figure out which program is right for you: http://fulbright.state.gov/fulbright/about/whichgrant. The two most people and former students of mine ask me about is the program for students, post-doc or MFA graduate students, and young professionals/scholars/artists and the other one for scholars (who can also be artists, by the way) There are also Fulbrights for professors from American universities to teach abroad and several other programs, all under the umbrella of the Fulbright Program, but I am going to just deal with the two travel programs for artists/independent scholars/professionals and students. If you are still close to your first or second degree and it was less than five years ago that you got it, you should apply for the Full Grant for students. In order to be eligible for a Full Grant, under the auspices of the U.S. Student Fulbright Program, you must be:
- A U.S. citizen
- A graduating senior; hold a B.S./B.A. degree; be a master's or doctoral degree candidate; or you are a young professional or artist, and
- Are thinking of studying, teaching or conducting research abroad, and
- Are in good health
- Round-trip transportation to the host country
- Maintenance for the academic year, based on living costs in the host country
- Book and research allowance*
- Medical Insurance
- Mid-term enrichment activities in many countries or world regions
- Full or partial tuition, in most cases (see relevant Country Summary for details)
- Language or orientation programs, in some cases (see relevant Country Summary for details)
- These grants provide some funding for research, books, and/or supplies. Grantees with projects that require extensive research support, in-country travel, study materials, or equipment should explore additional funding from other sources to supplement the Fulbright funding.
Example: I got a Fulbright (from the Fubright Scholar Program) when I was 35 yrs. old and was ten years out of grad school. I had no academic affiliation but applied as an independent scholar to collect stories from the Sámi (formerly known as Lapps) in Northern Norway, and to study their material culture in various museums.
Some random notes and tips regarding Fulbrights:
• Describe in detail what you are doing to do. One of the biggest mistakes on applications is writing way too much background information on a subject rather than dealing with the project you want to pursue.
• Think about your methodology: How are you going to do what you are planning to do? Talk about this in a detailed and articulate way.
• Why that country? What does that country offer to your research (or your art) that another one wouldn't? You have to have a reason to go there.
• How will the experience contribute to your personal and artistic development?
• Make sure that your project doesn't sound insurmountable. Be realistic. For instance, if you are planning on going to India for nine months, don't write about a project that would take you over three years to complete. Think about what you can actually achieve in the set amount of time that you have, given all the cultural barriers you might encounter.
A Couple Misconceptions:
• You have to be fluent in the host country's language.
Nope. It really depends on the project. If you are applying to France to translate all of Proust's work then yes, you do need the language. But if you want to go to, say Brazil, and do a series of paintings based on the cultural history of Carnival, then you don't need the language. It really depends on the project. The Fulbright Program is very understanding when it comes to people in the arts wanting to pursue creative projects abroad.
• You need to have letters from institutions from the host country.
Up until recently, I actually thought this was necessary, because when I applied years ago I heard that it did. But the truth is that it depends once again on where you are applying to and why. The description of the award listed will tell you whether or not you need letters. Read the description very carefully. Example: The description of the award says getting invitation letters from the host country would be advantageous to your application. And let's say your research is entirely dependent on your access to specific museums somewhere. You must then write those places and tell them you are applying for a Fulbright and ask if they would be willing to send you an invitation letter to come and perform research at their institution. Make sure you say you do not need office space or financial assistance, etc., but that you just need a letter inviting you to visit them. And do this way in advance. If the deadline is October, do you do this in the middle of the summer? Absolutely not. You do it way months before. Things are slower in some countries and in the summer, many people go away on vacation for four to five weeks. Also, it is much better to get a snail mail official letter than some email message. Much better. On the other hand, some countries really prefer you NOT to get invitation letters. Asian countries in particular. If you have any questions about the letter issue or anything at all, it is a really good idea to call the staff person at the Fulbright office who is responsible for the country you applying to travel to. Most of the staffers are friendly and helpful and you can bypass a lot of problems by just calling their office directly.
• If you get accepted to a residency overseas you can apply for a Fulbright to pay for your travel.
WRONG. That is not what a Fulbright is for. A Fulbright must be used for your research in the host country, not for funding to attend a residency. Sorry. That would be really cool but it ain't gonna happen.
• You won't get accepted to a country where you have already been.
Well, that's not really true. It depends on many things. Take me for example. I had been two Norway twice before I applied, but the time lapse had been ten years. If I had just been there the year before, or if I had relatives there and went back frequently, then it would definitely lessen my chances. But I hadn't been to Norway for ten years and I also wanted to do research on a place that I had never been to in the north, above the Arctic Circle. The Fulbright Committee looks at several things when making their decision. I had also traveled to Europe, North Africa and the Middle East but that didn't seem to matter either. It also depends on the rest of the applicant pool. Let's say two people apply to go to England and study papermaking techniques at some traditional paper mill. Their applications are almost identical. But one of them had just been to England the summer before. That could be the tipping point. But I wouldn't worry about it. Just apply and see what happens.
A couple other questions people always ask me:
• If I apply for a Fulbright, can I also apply for other grants to supplement my trip?
Yes, in fact that is a great idea. However, when you mention to either source that you are applying for funding elsewhere, make sure that what you are applying for is not duplicated. For instance, Fulbright grants give you airfare to and from the host country but do not offer in-country travel money (I think there is an exception for some arts programs in Africa but that's about it). Look carefully at what each grant is willing to pay for and what they are not and see if you can try for both. As I said in my grant article ("Finding Money for Your Dreams"), applying for more than one grant shows resourcefulness. Just don't double-dip, if you know what I mean.
• What if I get a Fulbright to do specific research but end up going down a very different path than what my proposal had mapped out?
I think it's best to go with a plan but leave yourself open to a new culture, to new ideas, to the unexpected. I knew a guy who went to Ireland to study labor history and ended up spending half his time at pubs learning traditional fiddle tunes. He did his research, but his life became immensely enriched by his musical connections in that country. I went to Norway to do anthropology research, came back and wrote only one article about the Sámi, but now, years later, I am plotting out a graphic novel that is set in the place where I lived and incorporates all kinds of mythological and historical details I learned while I was there. My point is that you never know what will happen to you in a new country and even though you must go with a detailed plan, leave yourself open to change.
Thanks for reading this....these are just a few little pointers on Fulbrights. For the real meat and potatoes of the Fulbright Grant Program, visit their websites: http://us.fulbrightonline.org for students and/or artists/scholars, etc. less than five years out of school or http://www.cies.org/us_scholars/us_awards/FAQs.htm for artists/scholars over ten years out of school.
Good luck and feel free to leave comments and questions. Good luck!