By Deborah Vieyra
In perhaps one of the happiest dilemmas you may ever find yourself in, the Foreign Fulbright programme requires you to select three potential host institutions and then, provided you get in to all of them, decide which one will serve you best.
The first thing to note is that you will receive expert guidance and counselling all along the way from a team of specialized advisors. You should not take this lightly. My team was instrumental in helping me make the right choice, for the right reasons.
In addition to this, ensure that you spend enough time doing your own research, consulting the people closest to you that know you best, and refining exactly what it is you want out of the experience.
I remember the day, sitting outside a rehearsal at the theatre I was working at when I had to make this fateful choice. I called my father—a travel hobbyist who should work for Lonely Planet in his next life—hoping he would be able to give me the path so that I would not have to choose it myself.
Instead he gave me the best fatherly advice possible and asked me what, after all my research, my gut was telling me to do. As he well knew, this would not be “gut-deciding” on a whim. This was gut-deciding after months of careful consideration about what I wanted to achieve through the Fulbright experience and which programme was going to help me get there. Looking back, thanks to the support I was given from various spheres, I undoubtedly made the right choice.
This is what I learnt while doing so:
#1 Consider the size of programme
The specific decision I had to make was which Masters programme was most suited to me. I faced the choice of going into two different cohorts—one a third of the size of the other two. I landed up in the smaller of the three, and am eternally grateful that I did. Not only did it mean that we got personalized attention from the out-of-this-world faculty, but also that we set up what will be a lifelong bond between all of us—staff and students alike. Going on this journey with my little gang was one of the most important aspects of my Fulbright experience.
#2 Location is important, but not everything
I’m in the arts, so of course it made sense to go somewhere where artistic practice is more supported and thriving. My choice took me to Los Angeles. Through connections forged with my classmates, teachers and mentors, I was able to discover much of what the city had to offer its artists—and this was invaluable.
Having said that, I know other Fulbright students who have landed up in tiny towns that they were initially a little sceptical of, or in cities that were not their first choice. Very soon, they came to love their surrounds and the communities that they found in their respective places.
While location is important, don’t make it the be-all and end-all. There are other important factors to consider:
#3 Find your faculty
Do your research. Find people that you want to work with and that you would like to be part of your network as you move forward in life. It’s six years on from my Fulbright experience and I am still very much in contact with the faculty that nurtured and inspired me throughout my time there. They have become professional connections, published work of mine—and one of them is even presiding over my upcoming wedding ceremony! Don’t underestimate the worth of seeking out your tribe. The connections that you make on this path are by no means superficial.
#4 Choose relevance over prestige
Don’t simply go for a university that you think will look good on paper. You may land up selling your experience short. Prioritize the programme and the faculty, and how they will combine to make your Fulbright experience the best it can be. I went into a programme that aligned (almost exactly) with my research proposal, and was not offered to that degree of specificity at other universities in the US. It was the perfect choice—and involved some extraordinary perks such as a trip to India for research purposes! Choose a programme that fits you, not one that you think will impress other people. Seriously. This is your journey.
All the best!
To say that the Fulbright programme changed my life sounds trite—but there is simply no other way to say it. I hope that it will bring about the same sort of experience for you. Good luck on your path.
Deborah Vieyra is a Fulbright alumna from South Africa who completed her MA in Applied Theatre Arts at the University of Southern California. She now works as a writer, proofreader and performer in Vancouver, Canada.
© Victoria Johnson 2018, all rights reserved.