Best practices, tips for Fulbright applicants

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By Douglas Esser
The U.S. government will pay you to study, research or teach abroad for up to a year through the Fulbright program, which also makes an impressive resume entry when you return home.

You can read about the various Fulbrights online and receive help through University of Washington Bothell’s Office of Global Initiatives and Director Natalia Dyba. But here are some best practices from Dyba and tips from two current Fulbright applicants that you might not read anywhere else.

TIP:  Start by searching the Fulbright website by type of grant and country. Be strategic. Look at the candidate profile section to match your skills to what the host country is seeking.

The Fulbright is the U.S. government’s premier educational and cultural exchange program, designed to increase mutual understanding between citizens of the United States and other countries. Each year, about 8,000 grants pay for students, scholars and professionals to study and teach in more than 150 countries.

TIP:  You need strong academic or professional preparation, demonstrated leadership ability and adequate language skills. “Are you able to take initiative and get things going on your own?” Dyba asks. “You’re going to have to figure something out on your own, every day.”

The program is sponsored by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and administered by U.S. embassies and local governments.

TIP: In addition to being feasible, a research project must be acceptable to the host government. This is not an opportunity for Americans to “go show them how it’s done.”

There are two main programs for U.S. citizens: the Student Program, for those who have a bachelor’s degree, and the Scholar Program, for those who have an advanced degree or expertise in their field. Under each program, there are many types of grants.

TIP: “Don’t propose something you can’t do, and don’t forget the rest of the world doesn’t speak English,” says Dyba.

Expect to be involved in the community, especially in your “off” time. You’re an ambassador.

TIP:  “Indicate you’re interested in getting to know the people of the local country,” Dyba says.

One applicant, Kelsey Bolinger, is a 2016 UW Bothell graduate in society, ethics and human behavior and in media and communication studies. She’s looking for a Fulbright to support a master’s program in Scandinavia, partly because she speaks only English.

TIP: English is so widely spoken in Scandinavia, most countries there don’t have a language requirement, and a Fulbright may not be as competitive as in England or Australia.

Bolinger says applicants should use all resources, especially those available through the Office of Global Initiatives.

TIP:  “As a UW Bothell alumni you have a really valuable and accessible resource,” she says.

Bolinger also says applicants should have a simple, strong plan without reservations.

TIP: “Be concise and true to yourself,” she says. “Put your full self forward in applications. Put in all your passion.”

The application will require personal data, a personal statement, transcripts, foreign language evaluation and three references.

TIP: “Essays are the heart of the application. Market yourself,” says Dyba. Demonstrate language or cultural experience. Be aware of contingencies and address any concerns about feasibility.

References are really, really important. They “can make or break an application,” says Dyba.

TIP:  Letters must be on official letterheads. References should be relevant. For students, at least two of the letters should be from academics, such as your professors. Another one can come from someone familiar with your community engagement or an employer. Talk to the writers well in advance to address expectations and weaknesses.

The deadline for the Scholar Program is Aug. 1. For students and alumni, there is a UW campus deadline of Sept. 7, after which they will receive feedback to strengthen their application before the Oct. 11 national deadline.

TIP: Participate in the summer cohort at UW Bothell. Meet every two weeks. Share ideas on how to make your application stronger. The next meeting is Wednesday, June 29, 9:30-11 a.m., in UW1-103.

Another applicant, Cruz Garibay, a 2016 graduate in health studies and in law, economics and public policy, is considering applying for a Fubright in Latin America where he can connect with his Latino heritage and use his Spanish.

Garibay hasn’t decided whether he should teach English or look for a research project. But, he’s taking advantage of the opportunity to participate in the cohort of Fulbright applicants and “push myself to the next limits.”

TIP: The application process is a valuable experience in itself, a confidence builder with a big potential payoff.

“Pushing those first steps and being able to apply for things that might seem out of your range – everything is within reach if you put the effort forth,” says Garibay.