By Deborah Vieyra
Right. You’re ready to start your Fulbright application. Eligibility criteria: check. Dream host institution found: check. Daydreams of popping your headphones in as the plane takes off to your destination: check, check, check.
Before submitting your application, it is important that you find out as much about your host country as possible. Gaining a deeper understanding of the country you have chosen will not only ensure you stand out to the selection committee but will also fuel your sense of purpose as to why you are applying at all.
The Fulbright program is, at its core, about cultural exchange. While the benefits of being selected to participate are almost too numerous to count, including in some instances, full funding for a postgraduate degree, immersing yourself in another culture is at the core of why the Fulbright program was created in the first place. It is not difficult then to see why it is so vital that you have a willingness to explore other places and cultures, at first through reading materials, and if all goes well, through real-life experience.
If it is challenging to whittle down all the available literature into what may be appropriate to your application, think of these three F’s of book types you should read before applying for a Fulbright: something factual, something fictional, and something fun.
#1: A history book
There must be specific reasons why your country of choice has piqued your interest. You more than likely have at least a cursory knowledge of its history and geography. The further you travel down the road of curiosity in terms of the specific country you have set your sights on, the better. If you are able to illustrate to the selection committee that your interest is not randomly generated and that your focus is well-informed, you will immediately communicate your enthusiasm about other peoples and places and the reasons why you are drawn to a specific location. You will demonstrate that you are an ideal candidate to fulfill Fulbright’s mission of meaningful cultural exchange.
If you are selected, this early research you have done will also be invaluable when you arrive in your new temporary home. You will step onto foreign shores not from a place of ignorance, but rather with respect, curiosity and knowledge. There are some excellent series out there that provide detailed guides to the countries of the world. As a starting point, take a gander through Oxford’s Guide to Countries of the World, which will give you a comprehensive factual overview of every country in the world. From there, it may be useful to dive into a history book written in and about your country of choice.
#2: Fiction by a native writer
Literature can be an incomparable way to get into the psyche of a culture, allowing you deep insights that go beyond cold facts. What better way to be catapulted into another person’s life than through the portal of a novel? What Zakes Mda and Andre Brink can tell you about South Africa goes way beyond what any travel guide can; likewise, with Arundhati Roy of India, Chimamanda Adichie of Nigeria. Do some research into who the authors are who have shaped your chosen country’s literary landscape. There is a host of online articles that provide lists of essential reading from countries all over the world. Looking into the cinema, visual art and theatre of the country you have chosen will also provide you with profound insights.
#3: A tourist guide (or two)
If you are selected for a Fulbright, you will be spending at least a year abroad. Now is as good a time as any to research what sort of treasures your Fulbright locale may have in store for you. Are there mountains to climb, festivals to participate in, ruins to marvel at? There is a huge range of tourist guides for you to salivate over. ABDO has a beautiful series of tourist books about Countries of the World that will provide you with that added motivational kick to get your application in on time.
The more research you put in at this stage, the more impressive and focussed your Fulbright application will look, and the more excited you will be to submit it.
Get going! Start devouring all the material you can on what may just be your future home for a while.
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.