I Gave The Fulbright Program My Everything, And The Return Was Manifold!

Of life I’ve known this – if you give it your all-out effort, there is no way it’ll not give you back twice-fold. Your plans at the moment may not corroborate with those of the Universe but when it executes what is yours to have, you’ll shine in your brightest light. A year ago from today, I was introduced to a scholarship that not only altered the course of my life but jolted my very core into wakefulness as if I were dormant all this while.

Let’s begin with outright honesty! Like many of you, I never believed I would make it. The applicants were much senior to me in age, capability and qualification. When my Guru, Dr Meenakshi Pahwa (who deserves a mention every time I so much as breathe the word Fulbright), pushed me to apply, I questioned her overestimation of my competence to have my name edged among the top thirteen Indians.

I suffered with what most of our generation is plagued with, a lack of confidence. With loved ones rooting for me, pushing me to give it my best shot, I cleared one level after the other and voilà! I had hit a home run!

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”
-Robert Browning

Photo provided by author.

Why Fulbright?

Fulbright is as academically driven as any other distinguished grant. What gives it an edge above the others is the cultural aspect that it brings to the table. The very premise of Fulbright is to promote multiculturalism while you’re at your academic venture. Besides, when one is interacting with people from a slew of countries on a daily basis, the kind of exposure that you get only broadens and augments your intellectual horizon. Working in the capacity of a Cultural Ambassador of India aided in overcoming cultural disconnect of sorts. It made language learning easier and pleasurable.

The idea of putative ownership of languages, particularly European,has always disquieted me. In the course of my education, I had been questioned numerous times about my choice of studying the language of the ‘colonizers.’ I strongly believe that it is the need of the hour to make the national borders porous so that languages and cultures can invade new spaces. What drew me to Foreign Language Teaching Assistantship, beside the obvious reason of fostering cultural diversity, was the opportunity to instill the idea in American students that Hindi-Urdu is as much theirs as English is mine even though they are both culturally connotative.​

What Accounts For A Strong Application?

As I have been harping on, Fulbright is on a hunt for Cultural Ambassadors. They wish to know what facet of your country are you going to put forth on the table and how will it add on to the cultural aspect of this exchange program. That is not to say, that your academic excellence can be compromised with. The additional factors stream in much after your proficiency in the language of your host country and parent country has been put to test.

For all the essays you are to write for the first round of selection, I suggest one give teasers so that there is scope for dialogue in the next round. Find your selling point and make a statement – why are you the person you are today? How did your professional self shape the personal self and vice-versa? How did you contribute to the society you inhabit?

Needless to say, do not lie or plagiarise in the application for the jury is formed of eminent professionals who can sniff it out in the twinkling of an eye. Besides, that does not go well with the spirit of a true Fulbrighter.

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The Norms Of An American Classroom

Where I come from, there is a hierarchy in classrooms. The teacher is the boss the students look upto. More often than not, this hierarchy is so intense that the students do all in their power to gratify the ‘boss’ in order to climb up the score ladder.

Teaching in an American classroom was the biggest gap that I encountered and happily bridged. A typical American classroom is a discursive dwelling where students challenge everything one asserts. The concept of lecturing is a thing of the past and has been replaced by dialogue.

During my training at University of Oregon, I picked up the ‘American nod’ and soon found myself motivating students through such gestures. However, the freedom exercised in classrooms is not always favourable. I was often distracted by the sounds of munching of chips and sipping of coffee. Since Americans are highly sensitive to discouragement, I had to constantly weigh my words while communicating to the student that they need to work harder.

In a nutshell, Fulbright gave me the best of both worlds. Having inculcated the tools from both the teaching methodologies and shunning away the norms that are gnawing the education system in both the countries, I stand taller as an instructor today.

Social Norms

Never before had I encountered the practice of smiling at random people and enquiring about their well-being. The systematic queues before boarding a bus, the doors held open for the next person to enter, no honking, exercising compassion as if it were a collective norm, the tipping system were all daily conducts that initially got me by surprise but soon enough, I inculcated them for good.

I often remonstrated against the American metric system in jest. “Why can’t they follow the measurements and date writing like the rest of the world?”

My American friends guffawed and the Internationals sympathized flippantly.

I come from a circular culture that practices humility when one talks about oneself. America being a linear one practices straightforwardness. People talk of their achievements uninhibitedly. The Americans say, “If you don’t toot your own horn, who will?”

During the first week in the US, when my colleague offered a ride back home as my house was on her way, I denied the first time in modesty, expecting her to insist or ask a second time. To my surprise, I took a train despite leaving the office at the same time as her. That was my first well-learnt lesson on linear communication among the many that followed.

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The Fulbright Family

The experiences recounted would be tasteless if I were to skip The Fulbright Family that awaits with open arms as soon as one lands in the US. Accomplished scholars from over 160 countries build a home together, cementing bonds by finding commonalities in differences for at the heart of it all, we stand to be humans before ambassadors of our respective countries. We contribute in shrinking the world and making it a better place every step of the way.

A sense of reassurance envelops me knowing that I have well wishers scattered all over the globe – France, Israel, Spain, Korea, Taiwan and a myriad of other countries! An Argentinean FLTA, elucidating how histories must be buried and a new start made, said to me, “I’ll miss our European friends the most. The ones who conquered our lands once but today they conquered our hearts.”

These words edged in my mind as soon as they were spoken.

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If you’re considering to apply but are consumed by doubts, remember, if you make it:

1) You will go to the US on a fully funded scholarship.

2) You will be granted a stipend that is more than you need, which is to say, you get to travel and explore.

3) You will make friends from all over the world.

4) You can pursue two courses of your choice free of cost in the university of your allotment.

5) Not only will you exhibit your pedagogical tools but also learn theirs.

6) You will get a chance to represent your country on an international scale.

By any yardstick, you only stand to gain. Besides, a whole new world awaits you. Leap, my friend!

Note: A version of this article was first published here.

Featured image provided by author.
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