Receiving a Fulbright U.S. Student Award is no ordinary accomplishment. The highly competitive federal program can shape careers and lives for decades after the year-long research, teaching, or study appointments are complete. Being accepted into the program can be overwhelming – just ask PhD student Samantha Horton, 2023 recipient, who couldn’t contain her emotions when she received the long-awaited final confirmation email. “I knew when the decision was coming, but when I got the email – I cried with happiness.”
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is a cultural exchange program intended to enhance intercultural relations, foster cultural diplomacy, and nurture intercultural competence between the United States and other nations. Funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), partnerships with over 140 countries worldwide connect U.S. citizens with their global counterparts. The program allows accomplished students from the United States to secure highly sought-after scholarships and grants to continue their studies abroad – whether through independent research, graduate studies, or teaching opportunities, a Fulbright U.S. student award marks the start of a transformative journey that combines academic and professional growth with cross-cultural immersion.
But securing a Fulbright grant is no easy feat. Applicants work with the Office of National Scholarships & Awards to craft a compelling Statement of Grant Purpose and Personal Statement detailing their suitability for a given program; they must also demonstrate language proficiency relevant to their host country. Each application undergoes a three-round review process, including a technical review, evaluation by the National Screening Committee, and approval from the host country and the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.
Recognizing the significance of this endeavor, IU strives to support and facilitate student success in pursuing Fulbright opportunities through workshops, specialized training sessions, and structured guides transforming the daunting application process into a step-by-step pursuit. For those who benefit from a digital roadmap, IU offers a dedicated Canvas page for Fulbright applicants, breaking down the entire application process into manageable steps; the site offers valuable background information on each component of the application and guides students through the creation of a competitive final submission. If real-time guidance is more their style, applicants can attend one of the many workshops where Paul Fogleman – director of IU’s Office of National Scholarships and Awards – explains the process, offers advice, and provides feedback on students’ writing and application materials.
It’s in moments like this that students feel the support of the IU community propelling them forward. Capper Howard, a 2023 Fulbright awardee, highlights the impact of staff like Fogleman throughout the application process, stating, “When you’re working towards something as rigorous as a Fulbright, it’s so important to have someone on your side who will be straightforward, kind, and constructive with you the whole way. It meant a lot.”
Graduate students can enroll in a specialized Fulbright boot camp – a launchpad for compiling their research into a solid foundation for the rest of their application. Horton, the PhD student overjoyed at the news of her grant, commends the camp, stating, “It was pivotal in helping me break down my research, synthesize it, and work it into my application.”
Director Fogleman himself emphasizes the camaraderie among applicants and former recipients. “There’s an exceptional collegiality among everyone involved. Whether they’re faculty suggesting the program, a student working on their application, an awardee currently abroad, or an IU alum reflecting on the experience, there is a genuine kindness and support that is present in every aspect of the interaction,” he notes. “Students are truly encouraged to reach out and fulfill their curiosity about a subject, a country, a culture.”
Only one in five applicants are accepted into the program, making IU’s long history of successful Fulbright awardees spanning nearly 75 years all the more impressive. In fact, IU was recently recognized as a top producer of both Fulbright U.S. Student and the faculty counterpart Scholar Awards for the 2022-23 year, underscoring its profound commitment to academic excellence and global engagement.
The Fulbright U.S. student program offers a unique opportunity for unparalleled cultural immersion, allowing students to live and breathe the customs, traditions, and daily experiences of the host country. Cathy Raymond, Doctor of Literacy, Culture, and Language Education and 2021 Fulbrighter, recalls her time abroad in Uzbekistan fondly. Her mission? To explore the dynamics of “translanguaging” and champion the power of language in learning environments. In a diverse linguistic setting like Uzbekistan where it’s common for people to speak two or more languages, translanguaging means to honor and employ multiple languages to communicate instead of enforcing one ‘universal’ language; Raymond worked alongside other educators in Uzbekistan to utilize Russian, Uzbek, Tajik, and English in the classroom, allowing students to thrive by embracing their linguistic strengths and cultural backgrounds.
Her Fulbright journey not only transformed her professionally but also left an indelible mark on her personal growth. She describes it as “everything”: “I mean, every experience I’ve had living abroad or undertaking a project like this has impacted me. My time abroad has been incredibly influential on my development as a student, as a scholar, as a researcher in my daily life.”
Fulbright also presents unique benefits by way of academic and professional growth – with access to prestigious institutions, mentors, and resources, students can pursue advanced research, study, or teaching in the field of their interest. The program acts as a catalyst for intellectual development, allowing students to make significant contributions to their chosen field and gain expertise that sets them apart. Take Howard, a recent graduate from the Jacobs School of Music: his upcoming Fulbright in Switzerland will provide an opportunity to refine his musical skills under the guidance of renowned euphonium soloist, arranger, and professor of music, Thomas Rüedi.
“I met Professor Rüedi in 2017, and I knew then that I wanted to study with him,” Howard says. With Rüedi’s mentorship, Howard will be arranging Brahms pieces for euphonium at Bern University of the Arts (HKB). “The Fulbright has made it possible for me to pursue what I’m passionate about with an expert in the field.”
PhD student Horton emphasizes the profound impact of her Fulbright award on her research studying African-derived religions in the Atlantic with a focus on Afro-Catholicism in Brazil. Horton’s goal is to collect oral histories of Black women leading cultural and religious centers in the region. Anticipating her upcoming Fulbright experience, she expresses, “I’ve heard so many academics talk about their months, years abroad, and how it fundamentally impacted and directed their research. This is going to be something I’m writing about for years to come.” Horton’s passion lies in hearing the voices of Black women and bringing their narratives to a published work in the future. With the Fulbright grant’s support, she can immerse herself in the region, interact with cultural and religious leaders, and collect oral histories that will contribute to her ongoing research and field.
Beyond cultural immersion, Fulbrighters often engage in language acquisition and interact closely with local communities. Danae Redick, a Masters of Music Education student from the Jacobs School of Music and 2022 Fulbright Student Awardee, provides a captivating example of the profound impact of local culture on the Fulbright experience: currently studying at the Kodály Institute in Kecskemét, Hungary, Redick has found herself immersed in a country where music is deeply ingrained in the fabric of education.
“It’s been such an honor to be immersed in such a musically oriented and rich culture, and to learn to fuse their approach with American influences,” she shares. “I’ve become so much more confident in my skills as a student, musician, and instructor.”
Beyond her academic pursuits, Redick embraces the opportunity to engage with the local culture during her time abroad. She’s explored the vibrant outdoor markets, dove headfirst into learning Hungarian, and delved into the traditional dance scene by attending folk dance nights at a local pub. One remarkable experience that stands out is her chance to collaborate with the Liszt Academy Choir to perform Kodály’s opera Skékelyfonó in celebration of the 140th anniversary of Kodály’s birth, an achievement that fills her “with pride and joy.” Through these immersive encounters, Redick has formed deep connections with the local community, amplifying her understanding of Hungarian traditions and nurturing a genuine appreciation for the people and culture she’s working alongside.
Investing in a Fulbright experience yields invaluable returns that extend far beyond the program’s duration. Fulbrighters return with broadened perspectives, enhanced global competence, and lasting connections, equipping them with the experience to create a lasting impact in their fields, IU, and Indiana. The program forges lifelong friendships, networks, and collaborations that can shape future careers and academic endeavors. Following her Fulbright in Uzbekistan, Raymond commends the experience and its impact on her career as an academic: namely, her new position as Associate Professor of Practice in English at the American University of Afghanistan.
“It’s all very connected,” says Raymond. “I’m absolutely convinced that my Fulbright experiences in Central Asia have led me directly to this new door. All these synergistic puzzle pieces have come together to bring me here.”
Supported by IU’s commitment to empowering its applicants and grantees, students are equipped to embark on their Fulbright journeys with confidence, maximizing the program’s benefits. Now is the time to embrace the opportunity and seize the Fulbright experience that awaits, unlocking a world of possibilities and making a lasting impact on both personal and professional fronts.
IU Bloomington students interested in pursuing a Fulbright U.S. Student Program in Fall 2024 can learn more and apply by August 28 at nsa.indiana.edu