Fulbright Student, 2009-2010
Seven Steps to Fulbright
Man in the Mirror: if there is one thing that I would say about the Fulbright selection process...it is mostly about attitude. After the initial selection, I had an interview. Diana Constantinescu wanted to be there for me and we arrived just 2 minutes before the scheduled time. It was only nine in the morning when the commission kindly asked whether I was nervous about being the first interviewee. I responded that actually I had been looking forward to talking to them for a long time. Then I started discussing non-formal education, multidisciplinarity etc. For me it was a discussion; I didn't even feel like it was an interview. Afterwords, I went out for a tea with Diana, and I had the feeling that (ful)bright days were dawning.
When the red carpet meets red tape: after I was selected as a finalist, I had to go through a long administrative process that took almost a year: TOEFL, GRE, school selection and admission, visa, plane ticket and all the travel preparation included. It would have been very difficult to go through this process by myself. The Fulbright team offered me guidance all through this time and constantly communicated with me. Having a Fulbright scholarship in not only about the money, it is also (and even more) about the support you receive,in both Romania and the US, from people working on your behalf. It was flattering but not always easy. I was used to doing things my own way, so there were moments when I was "grumbling" and yelling, "Look what they are trying to do to me!" But now when I look back I understand that following the required rules didn't exclude having flexibility as well and that being part of such a 'structured' system doesn't necessarily make you less innovative.
Opening doors by saying "Fulbright!": in the beginning I was quite ignorant of the way I used the word Fulbright. From people's reaction, I came to understand that Fulbright is a kind of magic word: they say 'wow', their eyes shining, and continue, "So you must be smart!" After that they are more willing to listen to you, to support you with your activities, etc. In the fall, when I was looking for a house, being a Fulbrighter made things much easier; people tended to be more understanding and open for negotiations, mostly because of the trust that comes with being part of a widely recognized network. Later on, when I was at the Fulbright seminar in Seattle (see http://cristiana.info/state/because-sometimes-time-is-measured-in-academic-years/), I got to understand why Fulbright is such a magic word: because of what people have heard, they expect Fulbrighters to be the best and the brightest.
Blink Blink Ego: it is quite easy to figure out that Fulbright is a 'good thing'. In the last evening of the Fulbright seminar, we had dinner at the Space Needle, a rotating restaurant in Seattle, where you can see the sunset over the ocean and skyscrapers. On the festive tables, near wine and delicacies, Fulbright buttons were waiting for us. Surrounded with champagne and great music, evening outfits and engaging company, it is easy to feel on top of the world but even easier to lose perspective from all the attention and to begin to not only see it as an expression of a good life but also use it to overfeed one's ego. I am fine with "satiating" the ego; I don't preach a stoic life. Ego is great as long it helps you to feel empowered and resourceful; but there is a very thin line between this and transforming one's achievements into what in Latin was referred to as "bread and circus", which can divert one's attention by speaking big words, and doing small things.
More jokes, less drama: during the Fulbright seminar, I somehow resonated with people that I had no clue I would have something in common with. When one of my colleagues told me that he is from Pakistan, to me it was like any other country. But when he started joking about terrorists, I didn't join the laughs. Once I became more comfortable with my Gypsy identity I also started joking about the most common stereotypes; there was a feeling of mutual understanding between us. From that time, I was aware that the source of these jokes is the stigmatized images we have internalized about our origins. By comparison, I understood that jokes about Gypsies with thieves and travelers are less harmful. Opening my eyes and broadening my horizons I realized that indeed we, in Europe, might have a lot of problems with Gypsies, but ours are less frightening than others.
With great power comes...: if you don't know how this quotation ends, go and see Spiderman before reading further about Fulbright :). As it might be clear so far, Fulbright brings resources and recognition; it is considered a great honor at both the national and the international levels. I will be first to admit that Fulbright is a magic word and a way to feel empowered. But I also realize that this is not enough, that Fulbright is more than a new 'identity' to be proud of: It is a great responsibility and a framework that encourages you to do creative work. Being a Fulbrighter is a duty to question yourself, who you are, what is 'that thing' you could do as the highest of your potential, and how can you contribute to others' lives. Of course you can see this as an obligation, as a burden on your shoulders or as an opportunity to use the resources you receive to make an impact.
From worst to first: the last question would be, "Can I do it?" I already answered this question, it is your turn now. If you have doubts about how good you are, the only thing I can do is to tell you about when I became interested in Fulbright. Because I was too enthusiastic about extracurriculars and doing things my own way, I fell behind and failed the final undergraduate dissertation. That might be a reason for you to reconsider your merit. If you go even further and decide to be a Fulbrighter, do me a favor: first become a nerd for few months and improve your transcript, second do something relevant for your country, and third be so captivated and so happy with your work that you don't even dream of 'escape'. Good luck!
My fulbright experience
Students at the advising center
- RomericanJourney - by Damaris Lois Bangean
- A Most Unexpected Year - by Melanie Shoffner
- Eric Fretz
- Polar Bear in the Balkans - by David Jimenez
- Romaniadventure - by Anna Sherod
- Romania plus Hannah equals a blog - by Hannah Wolf
- A Palette for Thought - by Elijah Ferbrache
- A Year in Romania - by Anne Murray
- Lauren Hermele
- Katelyn Arlene Browher