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What's a "Fulbright"?

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An introduction to the US Fulbright Program. 

“Wow! Good for you!”

“A full-what?”

“Hmm...sounds really...interesting,”

“What exactly is this Fulbrighty business?”

I am not sure how many different reactions I have received when I have begun to explain what exactly I am doing here in rural Thailand. (The last quote was actually my mother’s exact words.) While some people congratulate me on receiving a Fulbright grant, others look at me with perplexed expressions. 

The Fulbright Program, which is funded by the US government, was created by Senator J. William Fulbright in 1946 with the purpose of fostering mutual understanding between people of different backgrounds, cultures and nationalities through education. Today, it awards 1,900 grants annually to individuals who are taking part in international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, or primary and secondary teaching in more than 140 countries worldwide. Creating partnership and community internationally are cornerstones of the organization and essential to achieving mutually shared goals of grantees and host organizations. 

Fulbright awards 1,900 grants annually to individuals studying, researching or teaching in more than 140 countries.

Along with my college transcript and credential, I was required to write two essays for my application (one personal statement and one statement of grant purpose). From my understanding, the application process is geared to selecting individuals that have strong academic backgrounds, are leaders in their community, and have a love for collaboration and working with others.

Once I hit “submit,” the waiting process began as I waited for my application to pass through the US Fulbright Commission and then to be reviewed by the Thailand U.S Educational Foundational Foundation in Thailand. All-in-all, the process took almost a year—I applied in the Fall of 2015, and accepted the grant in the Spring 2016.

Along with 22 other grantees, I received a teaching assistantship grant to Thailand. Some of my cohort studied education, while others (myself included) did not. However, all have had teaching experience in some shape or form.

My role is twofold; not only do I teach English classes up to 18 hours a week, I also share and exchange traditions and cultural differences. I am the very first Fulbright ETA at my school in the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat. It is very exciting and truly an honour to be one of the first Americans that many of my students have met. The year is just beginning, however as the days go on, I know that I have so much to learn about myself, Thailand, and my new community.

If you're American, want to travel with a purpose, create community internationally, and be a part of a program that’s goal is mutual cultural exchange and growth I would recommend checking out the US Fulbright Program. It is an honour and privilege to represent the US abroad, and I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from my Thai teachers, community and students.

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Emma McDowell

Emma McDowell fell in love with the study of culture and language when she worked as an au pair in Madrid, Spain. She then double majored in Spanish and Hispanic Studies, and Environmental Studies and minored in Anthropology in university. She has lived and worked in Spain, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and is currently completing a US Fulbright Grant in Nahkorn Si Tammarat, Thailand.

Website: instagram.com/emma_mcd4

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