So...what is a Fulbright?

January 3, 2018

When I tell people I was awarded a Fulbright scholarship their reactions typically fall into two categories: awe, or they have no idea what a Fulbright scholarship is.

 

If you fall into the second bucket, here is a quick run down courtesy of their website:

 

"The Fulbright Program was established in 1946 under legislation introduced by then-Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas. The Fulbright Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The Fulbright Program awards approximately 8,000 grants annually. Roughly 1,600 U.S. students, 4,000 foreign students, 1,200 U.S. scholars, and 900 visiting scholars receive awards, in addition to several hundred teachers and professionals. Approximately 370,000 "Fulbrighters" have participated in the Program since its inception in 1946. Currently, the Fulbright Program operates in over 160 countries worldwide"*

 

Essentially there are TONS of Fulbright scholarships, for TONS of reasons. If you are willing to utilize your persuasive writing skills, it is an opportunity to ask the government to award you money to study what you want, wherever you want. 

 

Studying at Cornell, I held aspirations of going abroad. However, I was always playing either ice hockey or rugby, and did not have a free semester to make the trek.

 

Through my undergraduate studies learning about the American education system I realized that we were not doing a great job, scratch that, doing a pretty awful job at providing equitable education opportunities for students from different socioeconomic backgrounds. My junior year defined for me that I wanted to work in education, and in my senior year I applied for Teach for America and for my first Fulbright. 

 

Round one, I applied for a research Fulbright to study the education system in South Africa. I made it through the second round interview, but quickly realized that my research plan was not well formulated enough to be awarded the grant. I did not progress in the interview process, but was accepted into Teach for America.

 

The next seven years of working in education were exactly what I need to mature enough both personally and professionally to submit a strong Fulbright application. 

 

The beginning of those 7 years, while I was teaching in the Mississippi Delta, I became close with Ms. Smith. Ms. Smith was a consultant that the school had hired to help students pass the biology state test. She had been a teacher in Jackson for her entire life, prior to changing careers to independent consulting. She always came with instructional resources and helpful tips. Ms. Smith quickly recognized my passion for teaching and improving. My third year in the Delta she asked me present with her at the National Association of Biology Teachers conference. 

 

When Ms. Smith was still a teacher she took a year and moved to Japan on a Fulbright scholarship. She told me stories of her time abroad, and claimed that it was the best professional development opportunity she ever had. As a teacher, I was always looking for new ways to improve my praxis. I figured I would put the Fulbright on the back-burner until the time was right. 

 

In Mississippi and Brooklyn, I worked primarily with minority students from low-income backgrounds. Many of the difficulties faced by both the schools and students were because of the racism and classism inherent in the American public school system.

 

As my years in the classroom passed, I also started to recognize how brutally schools treat issues of sexual diversity. The culture created by both students and staff alike was hostile towards anyone who did not prescribe to a cis-heterosexual orientation. 

 

Personally, I did not figure out about my own sexuality until college.  As a teacher, I was able to examine the high school experience through the lens of my new discovered identity. Nothing about the degraded emotional health of LGBTQ+ youth surprised me. 

 

 

In my Master's program at Columbia, I began to focus more on LGBTQ+ education and practices to make schools more inclusive. 

 

 In July of 2016, after six years of teaching, and finishing my first year of graduate school, I decided to apply for the Fulbright program for the second time. 

 

This time my vision was clear, I would study the education system of one of the most progressive and accepting countries of LGBTQ+ people, and how they teach about sexual diversity. The Netherlands legalized gay marriage back in 2001, over a decade before the United States. In their schools they start what Americans would consider "sex education" in kindergarten. Teachers regularly converse students about what we would consider sensitive topics such as consent and birth control. 

 

Inclusive sexuality education results in The Netherlands having the lowest teenage pregnancy rate in the world, and some of the lowest rates of HIV and STDs**. 

 

As a biology teacher, I made it my job to construct an inclusive sex education unit. I started with a conversation about gender identity, biological sex, and sexual orientation, and discussed all the different methods to combine an egg and sperm, not limiting information to heterosexual sex. 

 

With a background in science, time in the classroom, and experience with research through my Master's program, I began writing my application. 

 

I decided to apply for the Fulbright Award for Distinguished Teachers. The application process was a combination of college, Teach for America, and graduate school, but on steroids. I constructed a personal statement, crafted proposal for the entirety of what I wanted to research, and planned out the exact intricacies of how I am going to complete my project.

 

On the weekly hour long subway ride up to graduate school I wrote my application on my phone using Googledocs. To keep myself motivated I perused Pinterest before bed each night for images of Amsterdam. After drafting, editing, and having multiple friends read and critique my work, I submitted my application on December 1st. It was an excruciatingly long four months until I heard anything. 

 

In March, I received an email from the state department informing me that I made it through the first round, and would need to schedule an interview with the Dutch Fulbright Commission. On a snow day later that month, I sat in my room wearing full professional attire, including heels, for a Skype interview. When the time came and went for which they were supposed to call me, I realized, due to a bizarre daylight savings shift, I was exactly an hour early. I immediately called my friend Denise to give me a mock interview until the correct time came. After my real interview I waited another month to hear their final decision.

 

On April 24th , I opened up my email...

 

My girlfriend surprised me with an amazing gathering of all my friends to celebrate. 

 

 Feeling like Dutch Royalty 

 

For the past eight months, I have been anxiously preparing, getting documents in order, and working on my literature review for what is sure to be quite the journey. My friends and family have been fantastic, and continue to connect me with people that they know in The Netherlands. 

 

With a clear vision of what I am going to study, and a plan to accomplish my project, I could not be more excited to head to Amsterdam for the next five months! 

 

 

*retrieved from: https://www.cies.org/about-us

**retrieved from: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/spring-fever

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