Rachel “Sky” Brown’s First Post from Taiwan!

Hello again, UCSD! I’ve been in Taiwan for almost a month now, and I’m settling in pretty well. Kinmen, my little island home, is about as isolated as you can get while still technically being in Taiwan. It’s sort of like getting a scholarship to go to the US and finding out you’re in Hawaii. You see, Kinmen is about one mile of the coast of China and one hundred miles from main Taiwan. It’s definitely the same country, but it’s remote and it does have a slightly different culture. This is why I got both a Chinese and a Taiwanese visa before I came here. Visiting China during my teaching break in February will be pretty easy. It’s only a half-hour ferry ride away.

Getting to this point has already been quite a journey, but fortunately Fulbright Taiwan has been very helpful. Fulbright arranged our flights, a representative picked us up from the airport, and when we got here our housing was already set up. Fulbright Taiwan also has an unusually long orientation period, so while I have been here as an ETA since August 1st, I haven’t started teaching yet. I just got assigned to a school last week (Sian An Elementary!) and class starts Friday. I must admit, I’m going to miss orientation a bit because it was so much fun being a student again and practicing elementary teaching techniques. Now it’s no-more-training-wheels time, and I am about to start the more official beginning of my teaching career.

I haven’t had any particularly note worthy problems here, just regular cultural adjustment balances. Taiwan is a very nice country – even on this separate island Taiwan’s economic prosperity and focus on infrastructure are noticeable. The roads are smooth and well lit, the public buildings are nice, and the Kinmen government cares so much about elementary English education that they requested sixteen Fulbright ETAs this year. [Note from FPA: There are far more ETAs in Taiwan as a whole.]  Besides the occasional language confusion and fight to avoid sunburns in the tropical heat, life here is pretty good.

Casey McCoy will be in Austria Soon!

[Note from FPA: Although Casey isn’t technically on his Fulbright yet, he’s already arrived in Europe so that he can attend a conference before the start of his grant.]

Only a few weeks remain before my arrival in Vienna. Officially, my grant begins on October 1st, which is also the first day of the winter semester at the University of Vienna, but the Austrian-American Educational Commission (AAEC) will be holding a week-long orientation for U.S. grantees in mid-September. The orientation is meant to provide important background information on the program and living in Austria, and to help us get to know one another. There will even be a field trip to the Danube in the beautiful Wachau region on the last day!

There have been many tasks to complete before departure. Besides the usual bureaucratic paperwork to be filled out and signed, items that needed immediate attention included applying for a visa, applying for university enrollment, and arranging travel. The AAEC provided fairly detailed instructions on how to complete these tasks, and it was easy to contact someone if I had questions. The AAEC also runs a helpful message board for people involved with the program. Still, some of these tasks required a fair amount of time, money, and effort.

For university enrollment, Austrian universities require copies of transcripts, photographs, and even a copy of one’s high school diploma. The first couple of things were to be expected and no trouble to get my hands on, but I don’t think I had seen my high school diploma since I received it! My grant also provides some money to defray travel expenses, but unfortunately not enough to cover round-trip airfare from the United States. Arranging overseas accommodations can be potentially difficult, but fortunately an agency of the Austrian government offers visiting researchers housing in dormitories or apartments for reasonable rent. I opted for one of their apartments and was happily able to complete the application and other arrangements entirely via their website and email.

Acquiring a visa was by far the most time-consuming and expensive task. I started the process almost immediately, which was a good idea because of the time it takes to do everything. Among other things, the Austrian government requires a copy of one’s birth certificate; a lengthy form; copies of all pages of one’s passport; proof of housing, financial means, and insurance; and a police clearance letter. Oh, and they want 110 euros, too. The police clearance letter is just a letter from the local law enforcement (San Diego County Sheriff in my case) indicating that one has no police record. It and the birth certificate must also have apostilles, certifications like notarizations that are recognized internationally. Finally, all of these things must be presented in person at the nearest consulate, which fortunately in my case was only in Los Angeles.

In my case it was especially pressing to finish the various action items far in advance. I moved out of my apartment shortly after the end of the spring quarter and first headed up the coast in order to attend a three week long summer school on the philosophy of cosmology, the research topic of my grant. I was on a plane to Europe a few days after that in order to attend and present some of my work at a conference in Munich on the foundations of physics at the end of July. It took some planning ahead to arrange my schedule to take advantage of these and other opportunities over the summer, but it has been well worth it. I’m sure that interacting with scholars, particularly those here in Europe, on topics related to my Fulbright research will be a great lead-in to start of the program!

Harrison Gill is About to Leave for his Trip!

At this point, I leave for the Czech Republic in less than two weeks. I am very excited, but if you are applying for the Fulbright for next year and think summer is just a time when you can slack off and not have to deal with anything important, you are quite mistaken. There are quite a few forms to be filled out and things to be discussed so that you are fully ready to go on that impending departure date.

For me, the process included learning more about my placement, such as the fact that I am going to be working in two schools; learning about potential housing options (I chose a dormitory partially subsidized by the school); linking my bank accounts to the Fulbright Commission so that I can receive my grant money; and, most complicated of all, applying for a visa.

Sadly, visa processes can cause a bit of a headache, but in the end they are worth it if you follow all the directions carefully. One of the biggest disappointments is that I was unable to go on a family vacation to Bhutan because the consulate was holding my passport. In the end, though, although I would have loved to visit Bhutan, I feel the almost yearlong experience in the Czech Republic is going to have a much larger impact on my life than a one-week trip as a tourist. Looking back, I know I will have made the right choice. Additionally, the paperwork for a visa is complicated, and the procedures can be even more complicated. As the paperwork required a lot of fill-in-the-blank answers in Czech, I had to sit there with a dictionary to complete the form, and even after I was finished, I wasn’t sure that everything was answered correctly. Applying for visas is one of those processes that make you doubt yourself because things never seem to make sense, possibly getting lost in translation. Additionally, I still need to report to a certain police station to validate my visa and receive my residence permit, and that process is actually more of a challenge than it seems. Luckily, the commission has been extremely helpful.

As for other preparations, the Fulbright commission has been quick to answer questions and has already allowed me to reach out to my mentor teachers. While there are still a lot of unanswered questions, which I am sure will be handled at our orientation at the end of this month, I have been able to ask questions about things ranging from the visa to finances to dress code in the classroom.  Eventually, an answer always comes through, often only slightly delayed because of the time difference. I can say that I am very satisfied with the assistance that has been provided by everyone I have been in contact with either in the Czech Republic or at the IIE offices here in the States.

Now, two weeks before departure, everything is basically in place. My flight has already been reimbursed. I’ve been reviewing common Czech words that I am sure to encounter on a website called Memrise. Right now, the most complicated thing about making the big move is that I’m a little stuck on figuring out what to pack as I haven’t spent any time in real winter weather. My mentor teacher, though, has told me that she can take me to a hypermarket (imagine a Walmart-type store) to buy winter clothing. Other than that, I am packing pretty normally as I would for a trip. I’m going to also be bringing my camera and a laptop, plus a few surprises for the community that I don’t want to spoil by discussing on this blog quite yet. I am very excited, yet a little nervous at the same time, about what happens next. I leave in just thirteen more days.