Application Tips from Daniel Sichmeller

Hey, this is Daniel Sichmeller. I won a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Grant to the Czech Republic, and I’m here to give you some tips about the Fulbright application process. My experience is of course limited to ETA applications.

Let me first make it clear how invaluable Zoe is in the application process. If you have problems with deadlines (like me) or paperwork (also me), you can’t afford not to be working closely with Zoe. She is a great editor, so I highly advise you to send her as many drafts of your personal statement and statement of grant purpose as possible. At one point, my personal statement existed in three completely separate versions, and she was willing to look at each one to determine which would be most appealing. If you don’t feel guilty about how much you are bothering her, then you are probably not talking to her enough.

Note: Be smart and start send Zoe those drafts super early.

The first major decision in the application process might be choosing which country to apply for. Go ahead and follow your heart or something because you want to make sure you end up in a country you actually like, but there are a few other things to consider. Check out for award statistics for the different countries you are considering and compare the awards/applicants ratios. On top of that, consider your competition and how you measure up. For me the choice was between the Czech Republic and Spain. I knew my Spanish could not compete with over 400 applicants’ and even though I spoke no Czech, it is an uncommon enough language that I would not be competing with many fluent speakers. Consider all the information available and apply to the country for which you can write the most appealing application.

Do not forget about your references. I tutored for four different professors in my time at UCSD, so recommendations were easy. You should be building relationships with your professors already, but if you have been slacking, now is the time to start your office hour visits. Though I haven’t actually seen the recommendations my professors wrote for me, I can’t help but think that their recommendations did a better job of selling me than the rest of my application.

If you still feel like your application is weak then do something about it. I was worried about my lack of language skills and had only months to improve them. Instead though, I took a calculated risk and focused on strengthening my teaching experience. In the few months before the deadline, I got a job as a substitute teacher (which is very easy once you have your BA), then volunteered tutoring elementary school kids and teaching ESL to adults. By the time of the deadline, I had only added two months of experience to speak of, but I wrote it in anyway. When I go to the Czech Republic in August I will have a full year of experience teaching a wide variety of students and subjects, and that is what I sold them in my application.

Good luck and have fun.


Application Tips from Kalliopi Kefalas

My name is Kalliopi Kefalas, and I am a third year student in the history department studying crime and policing in Late Ottoman Crete with the guidance of Professor Thomas Gallant. I applied for the Fulbright research grant last year at the end of June right before leaving for Crete to gather more preliminary data for my research. The Fulbright had been on my mind for quite some time before then, as a few of my colleagues had received it and it made me begin considering my funding for my long research trip the following year. I had just completed my second research paper of graduate school and had decided that the topic I had written on was something worth pursuing for my dissertation. However, it was clear that digitized Cretan newspapers were not going to be enough. I needed access to materials that were not available online, and that were possibly not even listed in the digital catalogue yet.

As I mentioned, I contacted the graduate Fulbright advisor, Zoe Ziliak Michel, and began applying at the end of June. For me, this was enough time to write a few drafts of my proposal and personal statement, get in touch with my affiliate at the University of Crete, schedule and take my language proficiency exam, and ask for letters of recommendation. Some of my other colleagues applying for the grant started even earlier and attended a few informational sessions, many of which I did not go to. Thus, my two most important pieces of advice would be to start the process of applying early – at the very latest in June – and to attend the information sessions. Because I didn’t go to many of these, I ended up asking Zoe many questions that could have been answered during these meetings. The one I did go to I attended via google hangouts while I was in Athens. That is my third piece of advice – try to budget your time for research and anything related to the Fulbright application evenly. Because I was in Greece conducting research last summer and traveling quite a bit, it was difficult to manage the time I spent on the application. While it’s important to devote time to the application, give yourself some time to step away from it. That way, it will be much easier to edit your proposal and see where the problems lie or what parts of it are unclear. One way to do this, again, is to start early to actually have the luxury of having time to step away, read it with fresh eyes, and also allow Zoe enough time to give you several rounds of feedback.

In addition to editing and seeking feedback from Zoe and others, a successful application depends on standing out. This can be done in a variety of ways, but I found that starting and ending strongly was probably what made my application strong. I started my first paragraph with a statement that gave a sense of my project in its broadest terms and its wider importance. I then spent some time (and space) carefully laying out what has already been researched on the topic and some of the current relevant issues in it. Immediately after this, I asked my research questions and then tried to answer them with what I already knew from secondary scholarly literature or from reading primary sources. The point of the proposal isn’t to have a good hypothesis or a thorough analysis of your data already, although these can definitely help; it is to ask important and well-constructed research questions. Finally, while the grant advisor and other people will give you good advice, ultimately, YOU will know whether something sounds right or not. The night before the due date, I took a look at my proposal, which Zoe had approved, and reorganized it. Even though everybody had said it looked good, I knew it could be even better.

After hearing back from the foundation and, fortunately, being awarded, I set out almost immediately to gather information on obtaining a visa. Criteria vary from country to country, but make sure you learn what they are early. I, for instance, have to get a criminal background check from the FBI, which in itself requires getting fingerprints and other things, to get my visa for Greece. If this is the case for you as well, note that the FBI does not accept livescan fingerprinting, but an actual fingerprint card only, and not many police stations give these out. Also make sure to look online for their hours, since some are not open on all weekdays from 9-5 pm. Because I have not gotten very far in this process, this is the only advice I can provide on this issue. Otherwise, if you do get a Fulbright, read the acceptance letter carefully for paperwork instructions and deadlines and mark these down somewhere where you will look daily. I very nearly missed them due to not doing this. Good luck!

Introduction to Ben Smuin, Soon to Head to Turkey

Greetings from Nantes, France. I’m Ben Smuin, a 4th year PhD candidate in the Department of History and a recent recipient of a Fulbright for Turkey. My research focuses on the writing, circulation, and reception of petitions as a form of citizenship practice in Syria during the last decades of the Ottoman Empire and the first decades of the French Mandate.

Since sources in Syria are inaccessible at the moment, the Ottoman Archives in Istanbul (as well as other archives here in France and Geneva) have become the location of my dissertation research. In fact, I decided to apply for the Turkey Fulbright rather late in the game and only started studying Turkish in the summer of 2014 (I owe it to Zoe to encourage you NOT to make the mistake of waiting until the last minute to apply). If I have one suggestion about the entire application process, it’s to make sure you give yourself enough time to not only complete the application, but to completely ignore it for at least a week. I think Suzanne’s earlier post brings up some good points about writing the parts of the application, but I’ll add that the process of trimming down what might be a 10-15 page prospectus to a two page document can be infuriating, discouraging, and downright awful. Nevertheless, it’s good practice.

Robert’s post below also covers something I think is incredibly important, namely making sure you tailor your application to your audience. Remember that even though the first round of review is completed in the US, the second, and ultimately final decision, is made by representatives of your potential host country. These individuals have likely read thousands of applications over the years, all of which propose interesting and significant projects. Your statements should sell you as an individual first, your project second. Why should this commission select you? Sure you have interesting research plans, but so does everyone else. Most Fulbright applicants have already lived and studied in their potential host countries, so try to show how your presence in the program will benefit not only your research, but also your fellow Fulbrighters and, more importantly, the host community. Finally, don’t be afraid to make your personal statement personal. Cheesy personal stories aren’t always a bad thing.

So far, all I’ve done is make a few medical appointments and sign some paperwork. When I return from France I’ll begin the visa process, and the Turkish Fulbright Commission has been incredibly helpful in making this process as easy as possible. I’ll gladly post any other recommendations I have as the process continues.

Introduction and Application Tips from Robert Terrell, Grantee to Germany

Hello UCSD Fulbright applicants! My name is Robert Terrell, and I am a fourth year graduate student in history and a Fulbright recipient for Germany.

My dissertation is about Bavarian beer in the decades following the Second World War. I am following the history of production and consumption from the wreckage of the war and extreme caloric scarcity through the economic boom, the subsequent social and cultural transformations of West German society, and on to the export of beer and the globalization of a particularly (or stereotypically) “German” mode of consumption around the world. I’m trying to speak to a number of debates and historical issues including the political and ideological legacies of National Socialism (Nazism), the nutrition policies of the Allied Occupation; the so-called Economic Miracle; debates about Americanization, Westernization, and European integration in the context of the Cold War; and the many questions around consumerism in late 20th century globalization.

I delayed my grant by a few months for a variety of reasons and have been in Munich since January 2015. My grant will carry me into November. Research has been overwhelming but good. Now a few months in, I feel much more in command of the archives, but it will probably always be a bit overwhelming.

Living in Munich has been fun, but on a practical level it’s also tough. I would advise all applicants and grantees to spend some time getting to know the local housing market. Germany, and Munich especially, is very tough and very expensive. If you get a grant, be sure to contact your respective handlers (I’m not sure what they’re normally called, but here it’s just called the German Fulbright Commission) and see about additional funding for housing. In Germany, they will subsidize your rent a little if it goes over a certain percentage of your income. That’s especially nice somewhere as expensive as Munich.

In general the Fulbright has been very good to me. They let me delay the grant, and they were quick in answering questions of all sorts from health insurance to residence issues to university matriculation. Once I handled all the bureaucratic business of living and working here (which is always a hassle but not the end of the world) receipt of payment was easy and straightforward.

As for applying, write statement drafts way in advance and then ignore them for a while to get a fresh perspective. Above all, I would say to be mindful of your audience. Your application has to go through a number of stages, and at each one the audience is different. Writing for multiple audiences is hard, especially in such a short application. But do the best you can to make your project description as specific yet accessible as possible, and be earnest in your personal statement. I think my personal statement actually really helped me distill my personal motivations in some interesting ways. And I think that probably translated. Avoid the clichés and write honestly. The committees probably won’t remember your name. Give them something else to remember you by.

My best advice for whenever and however you get wherever you’re going is to be mobile! I’ve tried to make a point of taking adventures as often as possible, some small, some large. I bought a bike, which has made my world infinitely better. I went to visit a fellow UCSD grad student in Croatia, I went hiking in the Alps, I visited the historic city of Regensburg, and I’m going to London in a few days for a conference and visit. I’m planning to do a lot more travel and I recommend it. The benefit of being almost anywhere outside of the US is that it’s not hard to go yet somewhere else!

I’ve sent along some pictures as well. The first is looking out on the chalk cliffs of Rügen Island on the Baltic Sea, made famous by the Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich. The second is Munich’s famous Rathausglockenspiel in the center of the old city. The third is the interior of a Catholic church in Zagreb, Croatia; pretty standard as European Catholic cathedrals go, but beautiful. Rugen


UC San Diego Internal Deadline for US Student Fulbright Program

UC San Diego’s internal deadline to apply for the 2016-17 US Student Fulbright Program is Monday, September 7, 2015.

By that date, your entire application must be complete. This includes all three letters of recommendation, your foreign language evaluation(s), and your letter of affiliation, if applicable.

If you are interested in applying for the Fulbright this fall, please email gradadvisor AT ucsd DOT edu as soon as possible.