Monday, August 31, 2009

Ethiopic Manuscript Culture and Its European Analogues, By Sean Winslow, 2008-2009, Ethiopia

As a scholar of the development of book technology, I have spent a lot of time studying physical objects and wondering about the mindset craftsmen had while producing books in the Ancient and Medieval periods. Since the production of manuscript books in Europe died out centuries ago, it is impossible to ask the producers about their techniques. The tradition of manuscript production that exists (in a reduced state) in the Islamic world is different enough from the one practiced during historical Christendom to limit its utility for the study of traditional European bookmaking. That is why I was excited, during the course of my research, to discover that manuscript bookmaking still survives in the Christian highlands of Ethiopia; it was simply a matter of getting the time and funds to go.

My Fulbright research project, Ethiopic Manuscript Culture and Its European Analogues, documents the remaining craft and tradition of book production in Ethiopia, and applies that knowledge more broadly to the history of book production in Europe and the Mediterranean world. Ethiopia was isolated from the Muslim conquests until the 20th century. As a result, it maintains a largely 4th-5th century style of book production. Additionally, it served as a bridge between the Mediterranean and Arab worlds: the traditional Islamic codex (like the modern book format) is based upon a form learned from Ethiopia, so comparative codicology (the study of books as physical objects) in the two traditions could help shed light on historical innovations in book production.

Based upon my interviews, I have attempted to gain insight into the mindsets of traditionally trained scribes and parchmenters, even learning a bit about magic writing and scroll-production along the way! The interviews have taken me through a large swath of the country; from towns to the remote countryside, bringing me into contact with many interesting people, some of whom I have interviewed and photographed. There has also been a great synergy between my field research and photography.

I had to apply twice to be awarded a Fulbright grant, so my primary advice to applicants would be, "Be persistent." The second time I applied, I spent a lot more time preparing by briefing my referees on the nature of the project and allowing more time for revising application documents. I think the time spent working on the application, the additional research and the language preparation I undertook all helped. I would encourage potential grantees to start early and to take their time during the application stage.

Marigeta (a type of priest) Birhanu decorates a leather cover on a modern printed book

The hands of Marigeta Haile Selassie using a bamboo pen to write characters of the native syllabary (called 'Fidel') of the Ge'ez language used by the Ethiopian church

Kes (Priest) Fente writing on parchment: traditional scribes produce parchment books using their knee as a writing surface.

Top photo: Sean Winslow taking advantage of dry season conditions to travel around Tigray, the Northern Province of Ethiopia; Sean's research focuses on the technological development of the book. During his Fulbright project, Ethiopic Manuscript Culture and Its European Analogues, he interviewed Ethiopia's last Christian scribes to gain insight into the mindsets of traditional book producers.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Finding Common Ground Through Music, By Rebecca Miller, 2008-2009, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) to Indonesia

As a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in West Papua, Indonesia, my success in the classroom depends on an authentic exchange more than my students' intellect and dedication to conjugating perfectly in all tenses. Teaching language sets the classroom course into the domain of real time communication – the creation of new words and thoughts - one that requires a space to meet and make meaningful exchanges. The ability to form words and comprehend their meaning is not enough. We all need to talk about something meaningful as well as ears to listen. For my students and me, music is that common ground.

Songs have been the foundation of my classroom curriculum. I never had to teach my students to sing. It is something we already shared. In my experience, Indonesian people love to sing and music is a very open, noncompetitive part of community life. As a teacher and a cultural ambassador, I listen to and learn the songs and stories of my neighbors and colleagues. I incorporate songs I know and love into English class, teaching students lyrics, asking them to write or verbalize their opinions of popular American music or to think critically and respond to the lyrics of songs they play off their cell phones.

I worked very closely with two Indonesian co-teachers who are talented, articulate English speakers and who are required to teach for a national exam that does not encourage functional literacy. My methods seemed strange: clapping games, singing pop songs, writing reflections on the lyrics, playing board games, acting out mini dramas. Why is our bule gila (crazy foreign) teacher making us play a clapping game in English class? To teach my crazy Indonesian students how to follow directions in English! These activities were my way of sharing ideas on how to teach English with my co-teachers. We developed our lesson plans together: they had knowledge of the Indonesian curriculum and fluency in the host culture, and I brought a different perspective on second language acquisition in the forms of games, songs and activities that promote functional literacy.

After school on Wednesdays, I worked with the student band program. I had an instant connection with many of those students because whatever their level of English, and despite my limited proficiency in Indonesian, we could pick up instruments and understand each other. Everyone knew how to play "Sweet Child O’Mine" by Guns N’ Roses and "All the Small Things" by Blink-182. Actually, everyone but me! Before going to Indonesia, I had never played either of those songs. My students had an “Aha” moment when they found out I didn’t know most of their favorite American rock songs. What a strange moment and true cultural exchange when Indonesian students half my age taught me "Sweet Child O’ Mine," an American song from before my time.

What I learned through all of this is that in order to make language happen, there must be something to talk about. Without a relationship built on common ground, there is no real reason to keep listening and nothing much to say. This is the power of language - it is a gateway to knowing other people. Authentic cultural exchange happens in little ways. Music helps my students make the leap from learning the rules of a language to finding meaning in it. The lessons from my Fulbright experience, the power of language and the value of common ground in my work as a teacher and in making friendships, have inextricably changed the way I look at life. The world feels smaller and at the same time, no less amazing and intricate.

Photo: Rebecca Miller (center), 2008-2009, Indonesia ETA with some of her students.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Paige Battcher, 2008-2009, English Teaching Assistant (ETA) to Thailand

Special thanks to the 2008-2009 Thailand Fulbright ETAs featured in this video: Paige Battcher, Kate Phillips, Derron J. R. Wallace, Karen Sharir, Chike Aguh, Ahna Boyum, Brad Foster and Zoe Samels.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Nine Tips for Letters of Reference and the Language Evaluation, By Jody Dudderar, Assistant Director, Fulbright U.S. Student Program

Letters of Reference/Recommendation

1. You should ideally ask for references from people who have knowledge of your field and the proposed host country and who can speak intelligently about your ability to carry out the proposed project. Recommenders should also comment specifically on the feasibility of your project with the resources available in the country of application, your linguistic and academic or professional preparation to carry out the proposed project, the project’s merit or validity and how well you know and can adapt to the host country’s cultural environment. They are free to comment on any other factors that may be significant to your successful experience abroad. If you are an applicant in the arts, letter writers should discuss your potential for professional growth.

2. You should not use reference letters from university placement services for your Fulbright application; Fulbright recommendation writers must address the specific issues on the Letter of Recommendation form. These issues are specific to the Fulbright Program’s goals. Reference letters addressing them will benefit an application. Letters from a service will be too general and will not add to an application.

3. You should request that your recommenders submit the letter of reference electronically. You must register each reference in the online application by going to Step 5: References/Report. From there, you can register up to three referees and up to two Foreign Language Evaluators. Once registered, the recommender/evaluator will receive an email with login and instructions on how to complete the form. Be sure to:

a) Let your recommender/evaluator(s) know in advance that you are requesting an electronic reference/report.

b) Provide them with a copy or summary of your Statement of Grant Purpose.

c) Remind them that they must print out the PDF version of the reference/evaluation, sign it, and give it to you in the sealed, stamped, self-addressed envelope, which you should provide to them. Once the recommender/evaluator submits the letter electronically, they can still access it to print it out but cannot edit it.

4. As stated above, it is generally best to ask for references from people who have knowledge of your field of study, project and host country. However, you may find it difficult to obtain all three letters of recommendation from people who can fulfill these guidelines. Including references from professors or other field specialists may not always be possible. Although we recommend trying to obtain as many letters as possible from people who meet our guidelines, you can submit a reference letter from anyone that you wish, including supervisors or employees, so long as their recommendation adds to your application.

The Language Evaluation

1. One of the biggest myths about the Fulbright Program is that applicants must be proficient in the host country’s language to even consider applying to a particular country. Although language proficiency can be a factor in competitiveness, you are not ineligible to apply if you lack foreign language proficiency. In general, you should have the necessary language skills to complete the project. Therefore, the onus is on you to design a feasible project.

2. If English is not the official language of your prospective host country, you must submit the Foreign Language Evaluation form. This is true even if:

a) You have no language skills in the host country's official language (or languages).

b) Your project does not require you use (speak, read, or write) the host country language.

If you have absolutely no language skills in the host country language, indicate this on the Language Evaluation Form and attach a statement outlining what you will do over the course of the next year to obtain a hospitality or survival level of the host country’s language before you would leave on your grant. You would not, in this case, need to have your language skills evaluated. The Fulbright Program’s main goal is to promote mutual understanding between the United States and the host countries, so learning some of the language before going shows a commitment to cultural exchange and demonstrates your sincere interest in learning about the host culture. If you have some knowledge of the host country’s language, you should have your skill level evaluated even if you do not need the language for the project.

3. Foreign language evaluations should come from an instructor in the language. For widely taught languages (Spanish, French and German, for example) you should find a language teacher for an evaluation. For less commonly taught languages, however, you may have an evaluation done by a native speaker of this language. If possible, we recommend obtaining an evaluation from a native speaker who is also a college professor. If that is not feasible, then any native speaker, except a family member, may complete the form. You may find a native speaker, for example, through the host country’s embassy or consulate, cultural center, or international students or faculty on your campus.

4. If your project requires proficiency in multiple foreign languages, you must submit a separate language evaluation for each of the languages required for your project.

5. If you are applying in the Creative and Performing Arts or in the hard sciences you often do not need to speak the host language for your project. In general, the language expectations for these projects are more relaxed than for academic projects. Because of the program’s goal of promoting mutual understanding, however, we recommend that you learn at least a hospitality level of the host language before the grant begins.

Critical Language Enhancement Award

The Critical Language Enhancement Award, also sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, is a supplement to the Fulbright Program and is available for students who have been awarded a Fulbright U.S. Student grant in a country where a critical need language is spoken. Application for a Critical Language Enhancement Award is made in conjunction with the Fulbright Program application.

The languages available for the Critical Language Enhancement Award are Arabic, Azeri, Bengali, Chinese (Mandarin only), Farsi, Gujarati, Hindi, Korean, Marathi, Pashto, Punjabi, Russian, Tajik, Turkish, Urdu, and Uzbek. Additional languages may be added and will be listed on the website.

The Critical Language Enhancement Award’s purpose is to cultivate language learning prior to and during the Fulbright grant period and beyond. Ultimately, awardees will achieve a high level of proficiency in a targeted language and will go on to careers or further study which will incorporate the use of this and/or related languages.

In 2010-11, up to 150 Critical Language Enhancement Awards will be available for grantees to pursue in-country training for between three and six months.

For further details, please see Critical Language Enhancement Award.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Webinar in Western Hemisphere tomorrow

Webinar Reminder: Fulbright Alumni Roundtable for Applicants (Western Hemisphere) on Tuesday, August 11, 2009, 2:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Fulbright U.S. Student Program alumni will discuss their experiences in the Western Hemisphere. IIE Program Managers will moderate the discussion as well as a question and answer session. Study or research and ETA applicants are encouraged to attend the session related to their proposed country of application.
This Webinar is primarily an opportunity to speak with alumni about their experiences. General questions can best be answered by visiting our website:

Space is limited.

Please reserve your participation in the webinar at:
All times are Eastern Time Zone.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar.

System Requirements
PC-based attendees
Required: Windows® 2000, XP Home, XP Pro, 2003 Server, Vista

Macintosh®-based attendees
Required: Mac OS® X 10.4 (Tiger®) or newer


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Webinar Reminder: Fulbright Alumni Roundtable for Applicants (East Asia/Pacific Region) on Thursday, August 6, 2009, 2:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Fulbright U.S. Student Program alumni will discuss their experiences in the East Asia/Pacific Region. IIE Program Managers will moderate the discussion as well as a question and answer session. Study or research and ETA applicants are encouraged to attend the session related to their proposed country of application.

This Webinar is primarily an opportunity to speak with alumni about their experiences. General questions can best be answered by visiting our website:

Space is limited.

Please reserve your participation in Thursday's Webinar at:

All times are Eastern Time Zone.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar.

System Requirements
PC-based attendees
Required: Windows® 2000, XP Home, XP Pro, 2003 Server, Vista

Macintosh®-based attendees
Required: Mac OS® X 10.4 (Tiger®) or newer

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Monday, August 3, 2009

How to Stop Being a Control Freak and Get a Fulbright Grant, By Krystal Banzon, 2007-2008, Philippines

I was a little bit of a control freak. (I’m better now.)

When I barely entered the ivory tower, I wanted to know what I was going to do after graduation. As a freshman at Smith College, I had heard of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program through my college’s Fellowship Program Office. I did research online, read through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program’s website and decided that getting a fellowship was the perfect way to wrap up my undergraduate experience and begin my life in the real world!

After thoroughly reading through several available Internet resources, I decided that I wanted to apply for a study/research grant. To where? It didn’t matter. I wanted a Fulbright grant. I stressed over the right classes to take for the non-existent research project I was trying to map out. I loved academic tracks, so I set myself on a government and women’s studies double major track. I brainstormed, drew charts, obsessed about solidifying premature ideas of maybe researching sex trafficking somewhere in Asia (that’s popular!), or perhaps some sort of policy governmental thing in Latin America (a lot goes on there, right?). Little did I know I was spinning my wheels in the mud, wanting something for all the wrong reasons - and getting nowhere fast.

Good thing I got sidetracked…

As my college years flew by, my passions and interests began to reveal themselves. I began to drop my government classes and started to take theatre classes. All of a sudden, what I thought was an extracurricular activity became my main interest, passion, and focus. I would skip joyously between my women’s studies courses and the directing lab for rehearsal. Unknowingly, I had opened up to changing my academic direction; my train had jumped off the track. Funnily enough, I was still moving along! In turn, I had forgotten about the half-hearted projects I once tried to force into fruition.

At the end of my junior year, I was chosen by the Theatre Department to direct one of the three main stage plays during the following school year. My interdisciplinary interests in studying race, culture and performance led me to become passionate about plays with cultural narratives, the history of colonization, stories about people of color, the importance of identity as well as performances about identity. I chose to direct Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters, a play about martial law in the Philippines.

Then, the summer before my senior year, my Fulbright research project fell into my lap.

I wanted to study theatre in the Philippines. When I began to honestly and truly think about what moved me and what I was passionate about, everything suddenly became clear. I began my application that summer with the help of my campus Fulbright Program Adviser (FPA) and a faculty mentor. Because I was already working on something I cared about, the resources were right at my fingertips. In preparation for my play, I contacted an international student from the Philippines, and she directed me to her former theater professor in Manila. Through this professor, I was able to request a host affiliation letter from the chair and artistic director of the Theatre Department at the University of the Philippines Diliman. I furiously worked on my application in between classes and my show rehearsals. As I wrote my study/research grant statement, I began to get a feeling of accomplishment because my Fulbright application was helping me to connect the dots between my passions and goals.

I get a lot of questions from current students at my alma mater about how to apply for a Fulbright: How do you choose a country? How do you create a project for a research grant?

I can make two suggestions:

1) Start early. Maybe you can pump out a study/research grant statement in two weeks, but it is impossible to obtain affiliation letters from your host institution unless you start early - especially if you’re applying to a country where access to the Internet, email, and faxes might be limited. You might have to write actual letters (remember snail mail?) or wait for mailed letters to be sent back to you.

2) Your project will come to you when it’s ready. You have to be honest with yourself. Follow your passions! Let go. Keep doing what you are crazy about. Your country of interest will be come clearer, and the research questions you want to explore will begin formulate.

To quote my alma mater’s fellowship website, “Applying for a fellowship requires a degree of soul searching.” It’s true. It’s unnecessary hard work to do work on a subject if you’re not interested in it. Make your fellowship application process a little easier on yourself and let go.

Photo: Krystal Banzon (right), 2007-2008, Philippines, in Baguio City.

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