Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Discovering Secret Destinations on Fulbright, By Misha Granado, 2007-2008, Barbados

My Fulbright grant was one of the most rewarding and exciting experiences I have ever had, and no words, pictures or videos can adequately capture its true essence. By building relationships internationally, Fulbright provides an opportunity for college graduates and professors and teachers to shatter any misconceptions held by Americans and host countries. As Martin Buber said, “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” A Fulbright grant is a journey filled with “secret destinations” which one is unaware of at the beginning of his or her grant. There is a vast difference between experiencing a country for a few weeks as a tourist and living in a different country. An academic year overseas provides an opportunity to fully immerse oneself in a different culture, develop a new routine and identify favorite places. A Fulbright grant allows for meaningful friendships to develop and, in my opinion, they are the shortest route towards personal growth. Through this growth, one also gives others an example to do the same.

Living abroad disconnects us from life’s daily routines and the comfort and security that family, friends and networks can provide. So who are we once all of these things have been removed? How do we handle life’s issues when the usual buffers are no longer there? How do we adjust to a new environment in which we are foreigners? Through which eyes do we view our new world: astonished, intrigued or judgmental eyes? These types of experiences are “secret destinations” for Fulbrighters, for the manner in which one responds to being in a new environment has a direct correlation to one’s level of personal growth.

The Fulbright Program provides grantees a myriad of benefits: regional enrichment seminars, networking opportunities with other Fulbrighters, an opportunity to gain international experience and exposure in one’s field, and to establish professional networks, among other opportunities. Each of these benefits are extremely rewarding both personally and professionally, but it is the relationships with host country colleagues, housemates, mentors and friends that help promote the Fulbright Program’s goal of fostering mutual understanding between the U.S. and other countries.

The Application Process

My campus Fulbright Program Adviser (FPA) was my greatest asset while I applied. I met with my FPA weekly to discuss my project and help with completing my application. Additionally, one of my English professors served as a second reader to provide feedback on my application’s narrative flow. As I contemplated the focus of my Fulbright project, the best advice I received was to build on my previous experience (academic, professional and personal) and tell the story of how point A led to point B that finally resulted in my desire to apply to Fulbright. Sometimes, we tend to omit key details about our own stories because we are so familiar with them and erroneously believe the details are not significant. But these details are the threads that tie our personal stories together and allow an outside reader to grasp who we are and why our projects should be supported.

My Fulbright project sought to identify the breast cancer screening barriers which may hinder a woman from obtaining a mammogram. Adhering to the advice I received, this project became my story’s thread that connected elements of my previous experience together: the academic focus of my project was public health and psychology (which I had studied); I had research experience with breast cancer screening barriers under my belt (my mother is a breast cancer survivor); and finally, I have strong personal ties to the Caribbean.

How I Selected Barbados and Identified My Affiliation

I conducted a Google search and quickly ascertained that Barbados is the only Caribbean country with empirical epidemiological data about their population’s breast cancer incidence and mortality rates. Here are a few important questions to keep in mind while selecting a Fulbright country:

(1) Is there a need or interest in your research or project? Remember that the potential host country will review your application during the Fulbright selection process.

(2) Is there an institution, organization or individual familiar with your topic? This entity will become your advocate and may have access to information and opportunities that you may not be aware of.

Once I obtained the breast cancer incidence data, I contacted the researcher who conducted the study, articulated who I was, what I had accomplished and that I was applying for a Fulbright grant. Most importantly, I asked if he would collaborate with me. He read my proposal and provided a letter of support all within the same week.

My advice to Fulbright applicants is to research your potential location, contact people and to always demonstrate professionalism and kindness in all interactions. Follow up with a thank you note. In an era of high speed technology, people still appreciate handwritten cards. This gesture will definitely be remembered.

One of your application’s objectives is for you to stand out. What makes you and your project unique? Why should the Fulbright Program select you? How will your project impact and benefit the host country? What legacy do you plan to leave? Fulbright offers a plethora of benefits for you as a grantee, but it is up to you to determine how your host country will benefit from your time there and all the unique things you can bring. Convey this information in your application and good luck!

Top photo: Misha Granado, 2007-2008, Barbados (center), pictured with two high school students, was invited to present at a college fair that focused on university/college life in the United States.

Bottom photo: Misha Granado’s project mentors Angela Rose (left), Professor Ian Hambleton (center) and Professor Anselm Hennis (right) at The Chronic Disease Research Centre.

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Webinar - Introduction to the U.S. Student Program, Thursday, April 8, 2010, 2:30 p.m. - 4:00 p.m. EDT

Fulbright staff will provide a brief overview of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program in preparation for the 2011 -2012 competition.

Space is limited.

Reserve your attendance now at:

All times are Eastern Time Zone.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about how to join 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, April 5, 2010

Searching for A Thread of Sky, By Deanna Fei, 2003-2004, China

As I now prepare for the launch of my debut novel, A Thread of Sky, it’s a bit unnerving to remember that if I hadn’t received a Fulbright grant, my novel might not exist today.

Seven years ago, I was facing my last months as an MFA student and struggling to write a story set in China from my sunlit desk in Iowa. When a friend suggested that I apply for a Fulbright, it seemed a far-fetched notion. As much as I was absorbed in my novel-in-progress, the story of a family of six fiercely independent women who reunite for a tour of mainland China, I knew that I was only beginning to sense its outlines. It was, of necessity, still embryonic, constantly shape-shifting; it did not seem to merit anything so official and distinguished as a Fulbright.

I threw myself into the application process partly out of desperation. I knew of no other opportunity that would enable me to live in China simply to research and write my novel. Also, I was not unmindful of the joke that my MFA diploma might as well be an application for unemployment benefits.

Even after I learned that I had been awarded a grant, and all through my post-MFA summer, which I spent back home in Queens waitressing at a sports bar, the prospect of my Fulbright year still seemed notional. It was only when I landed in Shanghai that September, with nothing to guide me but the study plan I had laid out in my grant proposal, that it all became very real: the story unfolding in my head, the characters that had taken hold over me, the day-to-day discipline of a writing life.

Of course, there were many steps—and seven years—between that study plan and the book that I now hold in my hands: hundreds of pages written and discarded and revised, a grant extension, signing with a literary agent, another arts fellowship, a move back to New York, a variety of jobs, more pages written and discarded and revised, signing with a different agent, submissions to publishers, finding the perfect editors, and more pages written and discarded and revised.

Still, the truth remains that my novel might not exist today not only because I might not have received my Fulbright, but because I might never have applied for it. In light of that, here is some advice for applicants and prospective applicants, particularly my comrades in the arts.

Seize this opportunity.

Funding for the arts is rare enough. An academic year-long grant that not only allows but requires you to do your work while engaging with another culture is unique. Don’t let this one slip past you.

Apply with conviction.

What makes your project vital? Why are you the one to do it? Why do you need to live in your proposed host country to complete it? These questions may be more difficult for applicants in the arts than for those in, say, public health or urban planning, but that’s precisely why you must answer them. This does not necessitate reducing your creative process to a thesis. What are you driven to explore? What moves you? Aim to beguile those reviewing your application the way you would a reader, a viewer, a listener of your art. After all, your application will be reviewed by selection panelists in the arts.

Make a detailed plan.

Make it real to others; make it concrete to yourself. Since the nature of what we do is more nebulous, this is even more crucial for applicants in the arts. Do not allow yourself the possibility of drifting through your Fulbright year.

In my grant proposal, I outlined my intention to make periodic trips to the cities on my characters’ itinerary, viewing the sights through their eyes, experiencing how the mood of each city might correspond or contrast with their conflicts, tackling the problems and possibilities of translation in relation to their linguistic duality, recording the parables and proverbs attached to each tourist attraction—including one that became the title of my book. I also planned to conduct formal research on contemporary Chinese history at Nanjing University and consult with members of the Chinese Writers’ Association.

As it turned out, I never carried out the latter parts of the plan. The first part, along with writing every day, comprised most of my year. I hadn’t anticipated how fully my daily life in China would become my daily inspiration; how even mundane activities such as buying breakfast, doing laundry, riding the bus, might transform themselves into scenes in my novel. Similarly, a casual observation about the strikingly forceful personalities of many Chinese women, in stark contrast to the Western stereotype of docile, dainty objects, led me to research the Chinese feminist movement. This eventually became a major storyline in the novel and brought several characters into focus as never before.

When you’re fully engaged in the creative process, you will diverge from your plan. A Fulbright grant gives you that time and space and freedom to wander. But first, you need a plan, as specific and directed as possible; otherwise, you might find yourself lost.

Brace for feeling alone—better, embrace it.

On top of the outsider status of any American in a foreign country (and, in my case, the double outsider status of being Chinese American in China), I didn’t have a single friend, relative, or co-worker when I arrived in Shanghai. I was affiliated with Fudan University, but I wasn’t taking classes and knew no one there. Among the entrepreneurial types that dominated the expat and local scenes, I was what the Chinese call linglei: a different species. I had met a few other Shanghai-based Fulbrighters at orientation, but we were scattered far apart; besides, their projects seemed utterly pragmatic and clear-cut compared to mine, and I didn’t feel like I had much to contribute to the conversation.

This was the ideal training ground for a novice writer—and, I imagine, for any aspirant in the arts. To be an outsider is to be an observer, to challenge easy assumptions, to take careful note. Perhaps most importantly, a solitary existence allows the creatures of our imaginations to assume central place. While I eventually struck up some close friendships, my only constant companions were my characters. They dictated my schedule, my writing, my research.

Set your sights on Fulbright—and far beyond it.

In my application, I wrote of my intention, upon returning to the U.S., of turning “this personal pursuit into a public work.” At the time, I had no idea whether I would garner any interest from publishers, whether the few chapters I’d written would ever appear in a book. That line was an important signal not only to those reviewing my application, but to myself.

Seize this opportunity to win a Fulbright—and know that whatever happens, it’s not an end. Make this moment the beginning of the rest of your life in the arts.

For more information on Deanna Fei and her debut novel,
A Thread of Sky (The Penguin Press, April 2010), please visit

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