Fulbright scholarship a prestigious award worth pursuing

Group of Fulbright scholarsFor students dreaming of winning the cross-cultural holy grail that is the Fulbright scholarship – thus earning the fully-funded opportunity to research or teach overseas – there's good news and there's some tough news.

"The good news about the Fulbright is you can do whatever you want," says James Calcagno, a professor of anthropology at Loyola University in Chicago, who has coached students through the demanding Fulbright application process for about four years. "The tough news about that is the same: You can do whatever you want."The Fulbright scholarships, founded on the heels of World War II in 1946 by Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright, aims to "increase mutual understanding" between the U.S. and other countries by exchanging would-be researchers and teachers, according to an overview of the Fulbright scholarship program.

Since many Fulbright scholarships require applicants to craft their own research proposal, having such a broad starting point can be difficult for undergraduates, but certainly not impossible, according to Calcagno.

Calling the Fulbright scholarship "one of the most challenging applications you're going to find," Calcagno suggests interested applicants start by defining their idea, then running multiple drafts by several people. Because some research-based grants require an affiliation with an overseas host country, well-done applications for a Fulbright scholarship can take up to four months to complete, he says. Bottom line: If you want to be one of the 1,500 U.S. students or 3,000 overseas students who manage to score one of these prestigious awards every year, be prepared to work for it.

Thankfully, according to the Fulbright scholarship program's website, several new scholarships or updates to current programs have been announced in 2010, giving students and graduates new opportunities across the globe.

Twenty new English teaching-assistant grants in Brazil have been added to the Fulbright scholarship program for March 2011, and 30 awards will be available in 2012. All aim to increase English teaching in the country in anticipation of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games.

Greece has announced one additional award for research in one of several areas relating to art, literature, theology and more. Less than a month ago, Fulbright highlighted six science and technology initiative awards available in Indonesia. The 10-month grants for a Fulbright scholarship can be focused on anything, including oceanography, agriculture, planetary studies and computer sciences, according to its web site.

"Here would be a time where you could go off for a year, do your own research, and live in another country," Calcagno said, adding that Fulbright scholarship winners are more than just grant recipients – they're known for life as Fulbright Scholars. "The nice thing about a Fulbright in many ways is that it's a capstone experience." That's putting higher education to a higher purpose.
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