America isn’t what it used to be. Where hard work and a solid dream used to be the keys to success, population booms and technological advances changed that outlook long ago. Today’s greatest tool toward success is education, and with more and more American high school students going on to college, the competition for jobs in the real world has never been steeper. With that being said, what is the trick to getting ahead in this world today where everyone seems to be competing for the same chances for greatness in life?
Higher education is definitely the first step. A bachelor degree today holds the same value that a high school diploma did during the baby boomer era. This realization is filling up graduate programs at an astounding rate all over the country, as students study harder for even longer in an attempt to get ahead. However, there is more thing that you can do to make sure that you stand out from the crowd when you find yourself in that pile of resumes for your dream job.
Employers greatly value life experience, especially when they are dealing with entry-level 20-somethings. Truly living your life can set you apart from the masses, and one way that you can do this is through travel. Many students avoid the thought of travel no matter how glamorous and exciting it may seem, due to the factor of expense. Many students hardly get by with the income they carry while pursuing their education, leaving the traveling and the true living to those who come from wealthy families.
However the Fulbright Foundation, a government-sponsored financial assistance program, was established specifically for people like you students with that itch to do something with their life besides sitting in a classroom, but left with no way to pay for it.
Supported by the U.S. Department of State, the Fulbright program is the biggest beneficiary for exchange students, giving them a chance to travel abroad and gain life experience and a unique learning environment as well.
Having awarded around six thousand grants in a recent fiscal year, the annual average number of grants given to U.S. students tops out at over 1200. Fulbright gives out over $250 million to U.S. students and to foreign students looking to use the United States as their first overseas experience
The money awarded can only be used for the international exchange, but it covers an extensive amount of needs. In the full grant program, these include round-trip transportation, living costs, book & research allowances, health insurance, tuition, and language courses if needed. The travel grant program awards money for students who need a supplemental income for their travel and study expenses. A portion of the full grant program’s benefits may apply as well.
The amount of money in which each awarded student receives varies greatly, depending on where they are traveling to and for what purpose. The grant covers one academic year of study (8-12 months), and diversely supplies the needs of each individual’s excursion. Due to this fact, it is impossible to list monetary amounts, however you can receive estimates and more information about the finances available by speaking with your local Fulbright Program Advisor.
While application statistics also vary from year to year, the average worldwide ratio of applications to awards is 5 to 1, meaning that five people apply for every one grant available. In 2005, the West Coast received 22% of the grants available to American students while the Northeast received 25%, the Midwest, 21%, The Rocky Mountain region 14%, the South 14%, and the Mid-Atlantic 3%. As is the case with any scholastic-based, government-assisted program, these percentages and ratios vary with each year, but this is the average.
While there is no level of financial hardship that you must fall into in order to qualify for the grant, Fulbright definitely values hard workers and go-getters that will bring prestige and functionality to the grant program. You must hold at least a Bachelor degree at the time of application (some exceptions will be made, however very few), and you must be in good health and able to travel & see your project/study time through to completion.
The Fulbright program excels at funding opportunities for students that cannot be obtained elsewhere. Just ask S. Carlson for an example of this sort of opportunity! Studying dance in West Africa until June of this year, Carlson is learning cultural dances and is slowly shedding her “White American” image as a dancer. Slowly learning to move her body like the natives in her temporary home of Benin, she continues to grow and experience in ways that she never would have been able to without the Fulbright grant.
However, as Carlson is learning, traveling and studying with a Fulbright grant does not give you a ticket out of the typical mishaps of participating in the performing arts. On her raw and explosive blog, she documents her first performance as an “African”,
“The lights came up and, of course, the wrong song started playing. They eventually got the song right but the level was way too low such that I felt naked and exposed onstage. This would prove to be an omen of impending disaster. Around the middle of the first song, my strapless costume top started a slow and agonizing descent.”
She goes on to elaborate about how despite this terrible first experience overseas, she received accolades, and she continues to move forward with her study and observations. This sort of tenacity is typical (and required) of a Fulbright grant beneficiary.
However, Fulbright grants aren’t all about the performing arts. C Kilbane, a graduate from Santa Clara University, has recently gone to Peru to observe and find ways to improve the debt-for nature transactions found there. Working in the genre of environmental studies this way gives her an edge on other future job applicants she will go up against, and she is lucky that she got the opportunity! Only 10 grants were issued this year for study in the nation of Peru, and the documentation and monitoring that she will complete while she is there will make a lifetime of difference both in Latin America and back here on the home front. For more information on Kilbane, you can read an extensive article on her and her experiences with the Fulbright program on the Santa Clara University website.
S. Premjee, a Fulbright scholar from 2002 truly mastered the realistic world perception that Fulbright hopes all of their students will obtain. Traveling to the United Kingdom she says,
” I sort of feel like a World Citizen now that I have traveled outside of the US and actually lived outside the US I have a recognition of the globe that I think is kind of difficult to have when you don’t move. Moving is quite a luxury it’s a privilege, and so I feel like I have a global consciousness that I only had before through books but not through actual experience. My advice to Fulbright applicants would be to prepare ahead and to be thinking about specifically what you hope to be getting out of the experience because the better sense you have of that ahead of time the better you can communicate that on paper.”
Seizing the day and determining how to do so is the mantra of many Fulbright applicants hoping to receive the grant money and the chance to go out and experience the world with a new sort of eyes.
While the program is fantastic at providing young people with such experiences, there are some definitely downfalls to it as well. One of these is the fact that, as mentioned earlier, the competition is steep. Secondly, you will have to come up with a way to express exactly what it is you want to do overseas and make it sound unique and innovative enough that you can outshine your academic rivals.
With continuous budget cuts in this country and the furthered emphasis that the program has on bring international students to the U.S. as well, you are trying to get a piece of a pie that is literally available to the whole world. Providing funding to over 150 countries all over the map, you will need to be dynamic, original, excellent academically, and possess a bit of persistence that is out of this world.
With that being said, the Fulbright application process can also be tiring and lengthy, as you speak with advisors and submit your application both through snail mail and electronically so all involved in the selection process can have access to your materials. After you complete the application (twice!), you will be interviewed and then perhaps selected. Just like any other government-funded money, you will be given the run-around several times before actually seeing results one way or the other.
However, as many Fulbright recipients will tell you, the waiting and the effort put forth is well worth it if you are selected. D. Geng, a Fulbright alumnus from 2005 who went to China to study rural education. As a teacher and writer, she was able to return home and provide a sense of awareness and a great amount of information not available to Americans otherwise.
She states, ” It is too soon to say whether these [rural Chinese] schools will survive, much less serve as replicable models. Yet the move from passive sympathy to personal action and participation has already been made..”
Bringing the world’s struggles and victories into the mainstream media & global marketplace is the main responsibility of a Fulbrighter. Are you up for the challenge?
You can begin your journey to becoming a Fulbright grant recipient by preparing yourself first, and then applying second. Priority goes to those with outstanding academic or professional records, and having a background in the language spoken in your country of choice doesn’t hurt your chances either. You must be able to present a coherent grasp as to what you will be doing while in your field of study overseas, and your personal qualifications must cause you to stand out and prove you to be a valuable addition to the Fulbrighter family.
Students are also chosen by the extent to which they show their project will help to advance the Fulbright mission of promoting inter-nation understanding and tolerance, and the requirements for each destination country vary. The number of awards for each country is diverse and if you have your sights set on a nation that many people apply to work 7 study in, then your chances are slimmer.
Final selections are made known through letters sent between mid-March and late June, and once you receive the grant, you should be prepared for take off! Not using your grant money or abandoning your project midway can lead to serious repercussions and you may find yourself writing a pretty hefty personal check to the government.
After meeting with your local advisor and extensively researching your nation of particular interest, it is advised that you visit Fulbright’s homepage to ensure that you have taken all appropriate steps.
Following this, you can obtain the online application and get started. While an actual completed application is illegal as it would be at risk for plagiarism, below you will find an example of an application partially filled out for reference purposes.