by Krista Heiner, BTC Graduate Assistant
“International educational exchange is the most significant current project designed to continue the process of humanizing mankind to the point, we would hope, that men can learn to live in peace–eventually even to cooperate in constructive activities rather than compete in a mindless contest of mutual destruction….We must try to expand the boundaries of human wisdom, empathy and perception, and there is no way of doing that except through education.” — Senator J. William Fulbright [From remarks on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of the Fulbright Program, 1976]
In 1945, Senator J. William Fulbright introduced a bill into Congress that allowed surplus war money to be used for “the promotion of international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture, and science,” which created the Fulbright Program. Since then more than 318,000 “Fulbrighters” from over 155 countries have participated in the program, which is designed to promote cross-cultural understanding and partnership. There are a wide variety of Fulbright programs that allow undergraduate students, graduate students, professors, and professionals to teach, work, and study abroad in almost every field.
I had the amazing opportunity to participate in the Fulbright program last year as a student research grantee, which allowed me to travel to Mali and Senegal for 10 months to study natural resource management policy. While there I was able to collaborate with Malian and Senegalese researchers and conduct my own field research, which involved interviewing local government officials, forest service officers, NGO workers, and villagers about their experiences with a new policy designed to give rural citizens more power over designing environmental policy for their communities. In addition to the research, I was also able to immerse myself in Malian and Senegalese culture by trying new foods, listening to great local musicians, and learning both Bambara (the language spoken in Mali) and Wolof (the language spoken in Senegal). It was an eye-opening experience to say the least!
The Fulbright Fellowship is very competitive, but the University of Maryland has been very successful in helping students prepare for and submit their applications. Last year 16 Maryland Students and Alumni won Fulbright Grants to study or teach abroad. If you are interested in applying for a study grant, evidence of past experience (course-related or through internships, employment, study abroad, etc.) concerning the country or region where you want to study is very important.
For teaching grants, evidence of prior experience in tutoring, team-leading, coaching, teaching, camp counseling or other similar activities is also very helpful. Beyond the Classroom students would make great candidates for Fulbright grants because of their unique coursework and internship experiences. Several Beyond the Classroom students have even done their internships abroad, which would be an excellent way to lead into a Fulbright grant.
The application process is long and typically begins in the summer before a student’s senior year, so if you are interested, now is a great time to start thinking about possible projects and experiences to make yourself more competitive. Another great possibility for study and research abroad is the Boren Scholarship, provides undergraduate students the opportunity to learn less commonly taught languages and study abroad in regions that are typically underrepresented. The application for the Boren Scholarship is coming up in February, so this would be a good opportunity if you want to study abroad next year. If you have questions about either the Fulbright or the Boren programs or the application process, make sure to contact Dr. Francis DuVinage in the National Scholarships Office.
Fulbright was a wonderful experience for me, and I hope that many Beyond the Classroom students will also have the opportunity to study abroad. It really does change your life!