In a rapidly shrinking field of education funding in the United States, the U.S. Student Fulbright Program stands out in its longevity and support. Though I’ve yet to begin my Fulbright research, thanks to a different fellowship that has allowed me to conduct archival research in Lebanon before I start my Turkish Fulbright, I can comment on the application process and pitfalls that I’ve encountered along the way.
I first considered applying for a Fulbright as an undergraduate at Carleton College, where I had begun studying Arabic and became interested in Syrian history. At that time, a Fulbright was still offered in Syria. However, after months of research, it became clear that without making contact with a Syrian university and academics there, this would not be in the offing. However, working in the Middle East after college had only made me keener to continue my studies and conduct further research.
After beginning in the PhD program in history at UC San Diego, the events of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ led me to refocus my project, as slaughtering sacred cows of nationalism becomes a difficult effort indeed during times of political unrest. By focusing on the position of Syria and Lebanon in the Ottoman Empire, I was able to ask many of the same questions, while hopefully finding the answers in Istanbul rather than Damascus.
So at the end of my first year of graduate school, I went to Izmir, Turkey, to study Turkish in the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) program.
This program, also run out of the Department of State [like the Fulbright], is an extraordinary opportunity to intensively study languages in the Middle East, Central Asia, and East Asia, including languages like Turkish, Azeri, Punjabi, and Urdu that aren’t widely taught at American universities. While it was created during the Bush Administration to train students for the Foreign Service, military, or similar careers, it’s actually filled with graduate students and thoughtful undergraduates who are more curious about the world than intelligence positions. [Note from FPA: Please don’t take this as a criticism of careers in the Foreign Service! I think that’s a wonderful career path as well.]
In any case, this program provides an excellent springboard for the Fulbright, as it allows potential research applicants to make contacts with academics in their country of study, while Fulbright ETA applicants’ personal connections in the country can strengthen their applications as well. Finally, it’s run from the same bureau at the Department of State, so CLS alumni definitely stand out in that regard. In my own experience, at least 30% of my CLS Turkish classmates in 2011 and 2012 went on to receive either Fulbright research or ETA grants.
The path to a dissertation and research funding is rarely a direct one, as I can attest with my many stops, starts and detours.
Ultimately, though, it’s a rare opportunity to learn for a living, one that shouldn’t be passed up.
Edward at Ataturk’s tomb during his second CLS trip
The former home of the Ottoman Archives, where Edward conducted preliminary research in 2011