A Comprehensive Tip List: Applying for a Fulbright ETA

Applying for a Fulbright is a big decision and a long process, but it is well worth it in the end due to the growth you will experience during the application process and for the chance to represent your country and teach abroad.

Since being awarded a Fulbright ETA (English Teaching Award) for the Czech Republic earlier this year, I’ve received a few messages from friends who plan to apply and have questions. Thus, I’ve decided to put together a comprehensive post with my best tips! If you would like more specific advice, I would be happy to answer more questions via email or in the comment section. I would also like to emphasize that by no means am I an expert! I can only share from my personal experience. Please utilize the resources at your university and consult anyone and everyone to give yourself the best shot at an award possible.

An overview: WHAT IS FULBRIGHT?

For those who may be unfamiliar, Fulbright describes itself as follows: 

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program provides grants for individually designed study/research projects or for English Teaching Assistant Programs.  A candidate will submit a Statement of Grant Purpose defining activities to take place during one academic year in a participating country outside the U.S. During their grants, Fulbrighters will meet, work, live with and learn from the people of the host country, sharing daily experiences.  The program facilitates cultural exchange through direct interaction on an individual basis in the classroom, field, home, and in routine tasks, allowing the grantee to gain an appreciation of others’ viewpoints and beliefs, the way they do things, and the way they think. Through engagement in the community, the individual will interact with their hosts on a one-to-one basis in an atmosphere of openness, academic integrity, and intellectual freedom, thereby promoting mutual understanding.

The Fulbright ETA (English Teaching Assistant) program is one of several Fulbright programs. The ETA grant places individuals in countries around the world (typically in smaller towns) to teach English language at the elementary, secondary, and university level. Other programs include opportunities to complete a Masters degree abroad or to conduct research.

Starting Research

Perhaps the most difficult part of starting one’s application is that individuals may only apply to ONE country. For the purpose of this post, I will be focusing on my ETA application. 

Before you choose a country, do research! Asking yourself the hard questions early will ensure that when actually writing your essays, your passion for the country comes through. Although I knew very little about the Czech Republic when I started doing research, I was able to better sell why I was a good fit for the country after keeping up with current news and researching their education system.


A snapshot of my visit to Prague in the spring of 2017

Questions to consider as you research:

  • What are you looking for in your experience? What countries appeal to you and why?
    • Start crossing some countries off the list. I crossed off countries that had a language requirement and that did not have high school placements to begin narrowing it down.
  • Why do you want to go to these countries?
  • What can you offer these countries? 
  • How do your skills and experiences make you a good fit specifically?
  • What is the education system like the country you are considering? 

If you can’t answer all of these questions at first, that’s okay! Continue to do research and find a country that is a great fit for you. 

Once you have an idea of what countries may suit you, use the resources and staff at your university in the scholarships office to narrow it down. 

The essays

  • Start by focusing on paragraphs/elements instead of the essay as a whole
    • At first, the two essays (Statement of Grant Purpose and Personal Statement) seem similar and the 1-page limit is tough! To avoid getting overwhelmed, start by focusing on experiences that will make you shine and piece write paragraphs about each experience. Your university and other advisors can help you pick your best moments later. 
    • Piece writing paragraphs will also help you from overemphasizing on length when you’re starting out. You’ll be able to edit it down on the end
  • Ask for advice from everyone 
    • In the end, you’ll have spent so much time with these essays that you’ll be sick of them. Ask various friends to read for different things. Have a non-education friend look for jargon and have another look for sentence clarity. Set up times each week for feedback so that your application continues to progress even when you want to rip it apart.
    • I also suggest saving each version as you edit so that you can go back and re-insert something if you’ve deleted it
  • Tie your points of emphasis back to the country for which you are applying 
    • For every experience that you write about, find a way to tie it back to your country. Did you help manage a group of volunteers at your university? Did you conduct undergrad research? Do you plan to go to grad school one day? Have you visited the country that you are applying for? Good!! How will this experience inform what you are going to do once you have received the Fulbright award? 
    • Be specific! What specific teaching experiences do you have that you can use when you receive Fulbright?
    • Each sentence in your application should be something that only you could say.

Short answer 

The short answers may have been the most challenging portion of the whole application for me. They are SO short and I couldn’t figure out how to make an entire point that concisely. I would recommend writing your essays first and then identifying gaps or areas that you would like to emphasize in the short answer portion. It’s okay to reiterate points in your essay that you’d like your readers to remember.

Recommenders 

  • Ask them early!
  • Pick recommenders who have seen you operate in a specific setting and then let them know why you are requesting a letter from them. I asked my 3 recommenders to each focus on a different aspect. I asked my research mentor focus on my ability to work independently and complete research, my academic mentor to talk about my cross cultural competence in a teaching setting, and a supervisor from an international job I held to talk about my flexibility and teaching experience in Ecuador.

The Interview 

All Fulbright applications require an interview at your university. The Fulbright Commission requires this because of the large number of Fulbright applications that they receive. Your university will decide whether or not to “recommend” you, and then you will move on to the first stage of the process. Some countries require additional interviews, but the Czech Republic only required an interview with Elon’s faculty and staff. Later, after I had been awarded semi-finalist status, I also completed a 5 question short answer questionnaire that I received via email from the Czech Republic and returned to the country commission. Key takeaway: every country is a bit different so research online to find out your country’s specific process. 

My INTERVIEW tips:

  • Don’t stress too much about the interview. Let your research knowledge and passion for your country shine through. Your university wants to know that you are prepared and will represent your school and your country well as a Fulbrighter.
  • Practice your answers with friends and be prepared for questions based on what you wrote in your essays.
  • If you have a questionnaire or interview with your country, really think about what you want out of the experience. For example, in my questionnaire, I had to specify what type of school placement I wanted and what type of town I wanted to be placed in using my past experiences to emphasize why I thought I would be a good fit for the country. It is important to say what you want in the application and not just focus on what you think the commission wants to hear.
After several months and many hours of work, here’s my tired moment of accomplishment!

Waiting

Second only to choosing a country to apply to, waiting months to hear back from the commission really tested my patience. I kept myself busy by applying to fun summer programs, joining Fulbright chatrooms on Reddit and an app called Slack, and generally reminding myself that I had plenty of other opportunities. While applying for Fulbright is a long process, a lot of good comes from it even if you aren’t accepted. You’ll work with awesome mentors and friends crafting the application, think deeply about your future goals and plans, and create documents that you can borrow from when writing cover letters and other job applications.

If you’ve applied to Fulbright, what other tips and recommendations do you have? Leave your tips or your questions as a comment! To keep up with my Fulbright journey (I leave in just 3 weeks on August 22nd!), follow me at: 

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Fulbright

Czech Republic Fulbright Finalist

Hi, everyone!

I have some exciting news to share with you all! I have been awarded a one-year Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) grant to the Czech Republic! I have accepted the grant and will be living in the Czech Republic as an English teacher between August 24th, 2019 and June 30th, 2020. Applying for a Fulbright grant is nearly a year-long process that taught me a lot about myself, my future goals and aspirations, and what I want in a future job. I am so thankful to my family, my Fulbright mentors at Elon, and the numerous professors and staff who have encouraged me and coached me throughout this process.

Today, after lots of waiting, I finally found out the name of my school and the town where I will be living in the Czech Republic. Therefore, I thought this would be a great day for my first blog post. In this post, I plan to answer some common questions that I have received about the Fulbright program and my placement. I plan to continue posting on this blog as I prepare for Fulbright and of course, during my grant year.

If you have any questions or ideas for posts, please let me know!

What is Fulbright?

The Fulbright Program began in 1946 under President Harry S. Truman with the goal of fostering relationships between citizens and governments of other countries. Today, there are Fulbright programs in over 140 countries that offer research, study, and teaching opportunities to recent graduates and graduate students. Applying to Fulbright is a long process! I spent two months researching countries and deciding best fit, several months writing my essays and working with professors and staff on Elon’s campus to complete my application, and then many months waiting for the results. The Fulbright grant covers my travel costs to and from the Czech Republic and provides me with a stipend for living costs.

How/Why did you pick the Czech Republic?

When applying for a Fulbright, you can only choose one country to apply for. The process is highly competitive and you will be living there for a full year, so it is extremely important to pick a country that suits you well. Here are some factors that I considered:

  • For many countries, you must be fluent in the language, so I knew those were automatically off the table.
  • Some countries place ETAs at universities or elementary schools, and I knew I wanted to teach at a high school.
  • I was not very interested in western Europe since I have already traveled there.
  • I have Czech and Polish heritage.

The Czech Republic appealed to me for many reasons. I traveled to Prague and Kutná Hora when I studied abroad and loved learning about the history of the country. The country is very centrally located in Europe with access to many great places. Towns are full of cultural events like music, plays, performances, and great beer and food are abundant. I enjoy learning about the country’s past as Hitler’s base during WWII and as part of the Soviet Regime. All of the placements in the country are at secondary schools and the school system is an incredibly interesting vocational-based system. Thus, I decided to apply!

Here’s a photo of me in Prague when I studied abroad in the Spring of 2017.

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What will you teach?

I will teach English! My school is a vocational school in the Moravian-Silesian region of the Czech Republic. Schools must apply and may wait several years to have a Fulbright grantee placed with them. My school has 750 students (65% female). Since it is a vocational school, students have “specializations” including hospitality, polygraphy, agriculture, business, accounting, baristas, and sommeliers. I have also been told that the school competes nation-wide in cooking competitions and projects and that they hope that I will be involved in these extracurricular activities.

Fulbright grantees teach about 20 hours a week. In my spare time, I will complete a supplementary research project and will participate in the extracurricular activities at my school. I also hope to find a language exchange partner to practice Czech with!

How long is the program?

The program is 10 months (August 24th 2019 -June 30th 2020).

Where will you live?

The town where I am placed seems like my perfect fit. It is small/medium sized, seems like it has plenty of cute cafes, and is sort of in two countries?! It is called Česky Těšín and is located on the far east side of the country bordering Poland.

Below, the region outlined in red is Česky Těšín. Poland is located to the right and Slovakia borders the country on the south side.

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In the photo above, you can see that the town is split by a river called the Olza. The town itself is actually in two countries. Part of the town (the Česky Těšín side) is located in the Czech Republic, while the other side (Cieszyn) is located in Poland. Altogether, the population is around 60,000 people.

 

How in the world did this happen?! You may be wondering, as I did just a few hours ago. This town has existed in some form since the 7th century and was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and remained together until it was divided in 1920, splitting it into Poland on one side and Czechoslovakia on the other. Then, during the war, the region was annexed and almost the entire Jewish community was killed. After WWII, the original city borders were restored and now, you can cross between both parts of the city freely over a bridge.

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In terms of housing, I’m not sure yet where I will live! I have been given a mentor at my school who will help me find an apartment to rent.

What language do they speak?

In the Czech Republic, they speak Czech. Czech is a Slavic language that is similar to Slovak, Polish, and Russian. Since I am on a border town, I am expecting a regional dialect that mixes Czech and Polish.

How will you prepare?

This summer, I will be working part-time as a TA with Duke’s Summer Academy. In my free time, I plan to study Czech and read up on some Czech history and literature. Our Fulbright country director also puts us in touch with past grantees who have lived in our area.

I will have about 3 weeks at home at the end of the summer to pack and shop! Our handbook advises us to pack clothes that will suit us between 0-90 degrees Fahrenheit – yikes!

Thank you so much for reading and for your support. I hope that you will follow along as I embark on this journey. Na zdravi! Cheers!

This post is not an official Department of State publication. The views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, the Department of State, the Fulbright Commission, or the host country.

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Czech Republic Fulbright