Category Archives: Europe

The Fulbright: Why and When

Choosing to apply for a Fulbright grant was the easiest part of the application. The steps that come after that initial choice certainly lend themselves to considerably more effort and significant reward.

I decided that I wanted to apply for a Fulbright grant in my sophomore year of college. I set the application as one of my goals (I still managed to procrastinate on starting it) and kept the Fulbright in mind throughout my college experience. I chose to apply for the English Teaching Assistantship in Spain and I made this choice early on. I am fluent in Spanish and had studied abroad in Spain and visited once before. If you have been to Spain, you can probably understand how it was an easy choice. It’s hard not to fall in love with the culture, the art, and the people. However, my love for all of those things is only superseded by my love for Spanish language. The opportunity to live in a place that is the origin of the language that I love was irresistible.

The only other passion that I have that parallels my love for the Spanish language is my passion for teaching and helping others. The ETA Fulbright position offered me the opportunity to incorporate all of the things I truly care about, and the decision to apply for this type of grant was hardly even a choice. The application process comes a lot more easily if you choose what you love.

I began my application about a month before it was due, which I would not recommend. There is no such thing as having too much time to work on something. Although I regret waiting to start the application, I’m a notorious procrastinator and there is a 100% chance that I would do it the same all over again. With the help of Dr. Beverly Hawk, I completed my two essays, my application, and secured my three recommenders within the month of application period that I had allowed myself.

After months of waiting to hear back about my Fulbright grantee status, while I was in California over spring break, I decided to check my email. I normally have a policy that while I’m on vacation, I don’t check email, but I had a feeling, and following that feeling led to my discovery that I had received a Fulbright grant to be an English Teaching Assistant in Spain. My last semester of my undergraduate career flew by from that moment, with me completely euphoric (aside from the visa process, which you will definitely hear about later on).

I cannot wait to be living my dream of teaching and living in Madrid, Spain and that journey starts in 8 days. An anomaly for me, I am packed and ready to go. I am still in utter disbelief that I will be living this experience in a little over a week, but thankful for the opportunity and those who encouraged and supported me on the way. I’m looking forward to updating in my next blog post, straight out of Madrid. ¡Hasta luego!

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A Note on the Application


In typical Brianna fashion, by chance I emailed Dr. Hawk at the Center for Community-Based Partnerships the day on-campus Fulbright applications were due. The night before former Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Emma Fick and I caught up over coffee, and she strongly encouraged me to apply. The program had been rather off of my radar, but I decided to take the leap of faith and send an email to Dr. Hawk.

Needless to say, I was incredibly behind in the application process and threw myself into the process of selecting a country to apply for. I remember staying up into the wee hours of the mourning pouring over the requirements, expectations, and acceptance rates for countless countries. I believe deciding on a country was in all honesty the hardest part of the application process!

By 3:00 AM in the morning, after a long night made slightly better by numerous cups of tea and First Aid Kit’s Stay Gold album (highly recommend!), I finally selected a country.

Here are some tips:

  1. Narrow down the number of countries by selecting a particular region or two from the Fulbright website (i.e. East Asia-Pacific, Europe & Eurasia, etc.)
  2. Make an Excel document to keep track of the following information for each country:
    • Type of placement – university, high school, middle school, elementary school, etc.
    • Language requirements– Many countries require that you have a certain level of proficiency in the native language. This requirements helped me narrow down my options as I only speak one language at a conversational level.
    • Expectations – Some countries require that you also submit an additional project proposal. Others expect you to be teach ACT/SAT prep classes, coach a sports team, etc.
    • Your Role as a Teacher – Does the country specify whether you will be responsible for teaching an entire class on your own for the year? This means you’ll likely be responsible for developing curriculum, etc. Or will you be assisting your mentor teacher with speaking exercises and serving as a conversation partner? This is very important to consider, especially if you might be worried about your level of teaching experience. Also see if they specify the number of hours you’ll be working each week.
    • Preferred Candidates – You’ll see that some countries will note that preference is given to Bachelor’s and Master’s students enrolled in particular disciplines, such as STEM disciplines and the humanities (such as Poland). Each country is looking for a slightly different applicant.
    • Acceptance Rates – It isn’t a bad idea to take a look at your odds and see how much competition you’re likely to have for the position.
  3. Consider the country’s culture, climate, and way of life. Steps 1 and 2 should help you narrow down your choices quite a bit. Now it’s time to really delve into what makes each country unique. Aspects such as the climate are relatively easy to Google, however you would be surprised how hard it is to get a handle on a country’s culture from online searches alone. Try to read some blog posts from former ETAs or from Americans living abroad in that country to get an idea of what life is like there.
  4. How far out of your comfort zone are you willing to go? Will I be able to adjust to a certain culture?

And there we have it! A rough guide to thinking through the country selection process. All that’s left is to fill out the application. No big deal, right?

Who knew one cup of a coffee with a friend and former Fulbright ETA could alter my life plans so drastically. I am so glad I decided to venture outside of my comfort zone and plunge headlong into this new adventure! In a little over a week from now I’ll be leaving Dallas and flying to the Czech Republic to begin my year as an ETA.

“Czech” out my next blog post to learn more about where I’ll be living and how I’m preparing for the upcoming year! (I would like to say that I’ll stop making the painfully cheesy “Czech” jokes, but we all know I won’t.)

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My Fulbright Application Year

Hi everyone!  These past few months, I’ve been toying with the idea of maintaining a blog for my experiences this coming year as a Fulbright grantee in Spain.  I’ve decided to go through with it, to document what is sure to be one of the most exciting, challenging, and transformative years of my life for myself and others.  First off, I just want to say how blessed I feel to have been given this opportunity.  I wouldn’t be where I am right now without the support of countless professors, mentors, family members, and friends.  It’s been a crazy ride getting to this point and I can’t wait to embark upon this next stage of my life.

Applying for a Fulbright grant has been on my radar for quite a few years, although I can’t say I recall the exact instance in which I first heard about it.  I’ve spoken with numerous past grantees that raved about their experiences and the two main types of grants, for Graduate Researchers and English Teaching Assistants, were both very applicable for me as a future healthcare professional.  Though I did travel to several Spanish-speaking and non Spanish-speaking countries during my undergraduate years, these trips were never for an extended period of time.  I yearned to truly feel as though I have lived in, not simply visited, another country, which is exactly what the Fulbright Program would give me an opportunity to do.  It was not a matter of whether or not I wanted to apply for the program, but of deciding upon a country and grant category as well as finding the time to put together a competitive application.  Flashing back to the summer of 2014, I was simultaneously working, studying for the MCAT in July, submitting primary and secondary medical school applications, and applying for the Navy Health Professions Scholarship Program.  Needless to say, my preparations for applying for a Fulbright were put on the back burner for most of that summer.  I didn’t really start to solidify my country and grant type until the end of July, which I DON’T suggest.  Considering that the University of Alabama campus deadline for submitting the application was in early September, I had my work cut out for me.

As I mentioned, the two types of grants that I was considering were for English Teaching Assistants and Graduate Researchers.  After consulting with Dr. Beverly Hawk, the campus Fulbright advisor, I decided that I was best suited for a position as a graduate researcher.  In order to apply for this type of grant, I would need to identify a host institution and mentor in my country of interest, develop a project proposal, and secure a letter of invitation from the institution.  I had previously participated in an HIV/AIDS summer research fellowship with a Principal Investigator from France, so I reached out to him about any Spanish HIV/AIDS researchers that he knew.  Fortunately, he was able to connect me with several of his good colleagues across Spain whose research interests aligned with my own.  I received offers to work at two institutes, one in Madrid and one in Barcelona, so my last decision before proceeding with the application process was choosing between the two institutes.  I ultimately decided to indicate the Hospital Ramon y Cajal in Madrid as my host institution for several reasons:

  • I am fluent in Spanish but not Catalan, which is widely spoken in Barcelona.
  • The research being conducted at the Hospital Ramon y Cajal (which I will discuss more in a future post) struck me as particularly fascinating and innovative.
  • Most of the other Fulbright grantees in Spain would be living in Madrid.

Come September/October, I had completed and revised my application countless times, been interviewed by the campus Fulbright committee, and submitted my final application to the National Screening Committee.  From this point on, there was nothing more for me to do – no more essays or interviews, just waiting on a decision to come in the spring.  As the fall semester progressed, I began to attend medical school interviews and continued working on my Navy application, not thinking about the Fulbright application that I no longer had control over.  At this point, there were a lot of uncertainties as to what my next step in life was going to be.  Would the Navy allow me to accept a Fulbright grant?  If I was accepted to medical school and the Fulbright Program, would I be able to defer medical school?  January brought me closer to resolving some of these uncertainties.  Within a few weeks, I found out that I would not be able to join the Navy that year, received my first medical school acceptance, and was informed that I had made it to the final selection process for a Fulbright grant in Spain.

On spring break, I opened up my email to some of the most exciting news of my life – I had been selected as a Fulbright grantee!  The rest of the semester was relatively smooth sailing from there.  I had decided that I would be attending Florida International University (FIU) for medical school and the administration was extremely receptive to my request to defer my start date for a year.  As FIU is located in Miami, it’s virtually a necessity for medical personnel to be able to communicate with the plethora of Spanish-speaking patients.  Living in Madrid and working at a Spanish hospital is certainly going to prepare me well for medical school when I come back to Miami.

Anyways, that’s a summary of the craziness of my application year for Fulbright!  I won’t be leaving for Madrid until August 31, so stay tuned for some more pre-departure posts about my research project and what I’m doing for prepare for this upcoming year.  ¡Hasta pronto!

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