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.