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.


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.

US Student Fulbright Program Info Session May 12

Edit: Please click here to RSVP.

The US Student Fulbright Program allows graduate students and recent bachelor’s graduates to go abroad to one of more than 155 foreign countries to conduct research or teach English.  Interested students are encouraged to attend the information session below.  Interested students who cannot attend the information session should contact me individually at

US Student Fulbright Program Information Session

Tuesday, May 12
4:30-6:30 PM
Student Services Center (SSC)

Multi-Purpose Room


Zoe Ziliak Michel

UCSD Fulbright Program Adviser
Foster Chamberlain
Fulbright Fellow to Spain

Sarika Talve-Goodman
Fulbright Fellow to Israel

Come learn about the US Student Fulbright Program, which sends Americans to more than 155 countries to conduct research, complete an arts project, or teach English!

Undergraduates, grad students, and faculty are all encouraged to attend.

Questions?  Contact Zoe Ziliak Michel at

UCSD Fulbright ETA Alumna Christina Aguila Chosen for Alumni Ambassador Program!

Today I got the great news that one of our UCSD Fulbright alumnae, Christina Aguila, has been chosen as a Fulbright US Student Program Alumni Ambassador!Christina did an English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) in Indonesia last year.

Alumni Ambassadors travel the country talking about their Fulbright experiences and giving new applicants proposal advice. Soon, the website I linked to above will be updated with special Fulbright email addresses for all the ambassadors, and you’ll be able to write to Christina directly to talk about your application.

Update from Katie Kinsella, ETA in Colombia

Hello potential Fulbrighters,

My name is Katie Kinsella, and I’m a Fulbright ETA living in Cali, Colombia. I wrote a blog a few months back outlining what I’d be doing for the next year in Colombia. Five months in, I wanted to update you all on the successes, challenges, hilarious situations, scary experiences and daily adventures that have defined my time so far here in Colombia. Although I miss hot showers and pumpkin spice lattes, what I’ve discovered here in Colombia about myself, about this beautiful country, and about the inspiring lives of the Colombians I’ve encountered makes everything worth it.

I’ve been called ‘tia de tenis,’ ‘maestra,’ ‘Miss Kinsella,’ ‘teacher Quedi,’ but this is the first time in my life that I’ve been called ‘profe.’ And I have to admit, I really like it. The first time a student called me Professor, I looked around behind me, not realizing the person they were calling was me. This title has been something I have had to live up to. It has motivated me to design every lesson and every class on socially relevant topics that will inspire and challenge my students and call out small and large scale global issues that people so often ignore or choose to overlook. I realized the first day teaching at Universidad del Valle that I would not have to worry about things like indifference or lack of motivation. I also learned fairly quickly that I am teaching a group of revolutionaries! These are students who have seen a lot of the violence in Colombia and are sick of it. They want to see change. No one is silent. They want to be heard. They have overcome a lot in their lives to have a seat in a classroom at UniValle, one of the top 3 best universities in Colombia. They are studying education so they can be that change that they so badly want to see in their country. They are noble, they are daring, they are sometimes extremists. They will be the ones to a light a fire in this country, to scream out to the people in charge who are blatantly failing the Colombian community, to demand justice in places where injustice has permeated all parts of society. They truly are little revolutionaries and I’m both inspired by and slightly scared of what they will accomplish here in Colombia in the next 20 years!

Every Sunday night, I get excited to start the week, to see my university students, and to feel the energy of Universidad del Valle. Throughout the week, I teach 6 different classes for 2-hour class sessions all day on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. All of my students are studying to become English teachers, which I just love because I can share with them my classroom experience as well as theoretical knowledge that I gained from my masters program and thesis on bilingual education in San Diego. One of my favorite things about being a professor is office hours! Students sign up for hour sessions- some just want to practice English through conversations and sharing life stories, some bring in articles to analyze, and some of them I’m advising and helping apply to scholarships to study in the US. Office hours have broken down barriers and transformed my students into great friends. Every day I feel honored to be in the same classroom as them. I feel humbled by how they have opened up their lives to me. Some nights I come home exhausted with a raspy voice, some nights I come home feeling more like a psychologist than a professor, and some days I come home feeling like I didn’t even go to ‘work’ because of how much fun I had.

In addition to my time working at the university on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I also am conducting a social project on Tuesdays and Thursdays in Aguablanca, the largest Afro-Colombian community in the country, which is marked by a high level of poverty caused by displacement. I work with a foundation called Fundación Paz y Bien. This non-profit organization consists of a microcredit loan program that gives small loans to local residents to start their own businesses. There is another program that works with displaced people and victims of the drug war with home visits, counseling, and community-wide meetings every Thursday to educate this population on their rights as victims under the “Ley de Victimas”. There is also a branch that works with vulnerable at-risk youth in danger of being recruited for gangs. The organization encompasses everything I believe in about development, with an emphasis on education, leadership, empowerment, and sustainability by creating a path to autonomy, freedom, and independence. On Tuesdays, I hop on a bus that takes me into the heart of Aguablanca, where I work with kids ages 4-18 years old teaching them English in a series of classes I’ve called “Language Empowerment.” I help the teenagers look for jobs, save money, learn about their rights, and help create community leaders by telling them their voice matters. On Thursdays, I work with a population who has widely been overlooked by society: internally displaced people (IDPs), displaced by the violence that has plagued Colombia over the past few decades. I have learned that Colombians are celebrators of life. Despite the hardship they have lived through, this rowdy group of 80-something-year-olds turns every meeting into some kind of dancing and singing performance. I am currently helping them write their life stories so that they can share with the world their reality, a reality that many people around the world have no idea exists.

I’ve realized that I’ve never been more satisfied in terms of work than I have been here in Colombia. I am doing exactly what I have studied to do, what I am most passionate about, what I have been trained in, what I was made to do. I can’t believe how every experience in my life has led me here to this crazy little town that sometimes infuriates me but sometimes inspires me. What a trip.

Katie 1 Katie 2 Katie 3 Katie 4 Katie 5

Introduction to Katie Kinsella – ETA to Colombia

Hello, UCSD! My name is Katie Kinsella, and I will be moving to Cali, Colombia, in 3 weeks with Fulbright’s English Teaching Assistantship Program 2014-2015.

Why did I decide to apply to be an ETA in Colombia?

With learning a language comes confidence and empowerment. The ability to speak English in Colombia will allow for social mobility within Colombian society in addition to opening a world of opportunities for Colombian adults in our increasingly globalized world. As an ETA, I will aim to encourage students to expand their own horizons and worldviews by learning about the American culture and English language, in the same way that my eyes and heart have been opened to the Latin American region of our world. Research I have conducted as a masters student at UCSD shows that using pop culture in the foreign language classroom can increase student motivation to learn as it further develops students’ media literacy skills, critical thinking skills and trans-cultural skills. As an ETA in Colombia, I will incorporate pop culture and provide a socio-cultural context to language instruction that allows students to discuss and explore social issues and comparisons across cultures.

While I am in Colombia, 20 hours of my week will be spent teaching English and holding conversation clubs at the university. The other 20 hours of my week will be spent on a social project of my choice; the details of this project will come to fruition once I’m in the placement city, but right now my idea is to partner with a local non-profit organization to promote community empowerment among the Afro-Colombian marginalized populations in the neighboring sector, Agua Blanca.

The Fulbright application itself is a daunting process, but don’t let it discourage you. My best advice is to put your heart into it and take advantage of mentors; professors; UCSD’s Fulbright Program Advisor, Zoe; and friends and family who are willing to read through your statement of grant purpose to give you feedback. Since I found out I was accepted back in April, the Fulbright commission has done an amazing job of sending us detailed information about our placement city; assigning us to a specific Fulbrighter from last year with whom we can Skype for an insider’s perspective; and initiating online weekly webinars on what to expect in Colombia, what to bring, the Colombian university environment, and sharing the challenges as well as the successes of those who have come before us. We have been responsible for sending in our medical release form from our doctor, sending copies of our official transcripts to the International Institute of Education, and filling out quite a bit of paperwork and forms to sign, upload and email. Although the details vary from country to country, Fulbright Colombia has purchased our roundtrip plane ticket through their own specific travel advisor and done a great deal of the visa process so all we have to do is show up at the Colombian Consulate in LA to get our visa stamp in our passport. I have truly enjoyed reaching out to past Fulbrighters in Colombia and learning more about my specific role in the university and what social projects they have conducted as well. Before even stepping foot in the country, I feel very connected and welcomed into the Fulbright Colombia community. Let the countdown begin!




Christina Aguila’s Last Month in Indonesia

Looking back: Where did the last 8 months go?

With only 2.5 more weeks of my grant left, I’m starting to get anxious and excited about returning home. Looking back at an old blog about acclimating and achieving my goals, I’m surprised to learn that I’ve come a long way from the culture shock slump I found myself in 7 months ago.

Personal Blog from October 8,, 2013:

“It’s been 3 months already and I’m still learning to adjust. I’m not feeling very accomplished. I seem to have missed the ‘honey moon phase’ of the culture shock experience. I’m having less than the awesome time that it seems my fellow ETAs are experiencing here. As a secret bule, or secret foreigner, [Note: Christina is Filipino-American] I’m not going on the wonderful excursions that I see others participating in, no dressing in cool traditional outfits, no encounters with exotic animals, no invitations to the mayor’s house. No one is writing news articles about me or asking me to interview on radio stations. I am not treated like a local celebrity as some of my ETA friends. These things have not been a part of my experience in Indonesia, and it is sometimes difficult for me to relate to my fellow ETAs’ experiences here.

“My experience teaching English to international students feels quite useless here, and I’m no natural in an Indonesian classroom. Indonesian schools feel      quite inefficient and disorganized by U.S. standards. I don’t feel  confident communicating in Indonesian, I’m in a constant state of   cultural confusion, and I haven’t started the long process of applying to graduate school. I feel busy, but unaccomplished. Whether I am accomplishing my personal or professional goals, or improving my cultural awareness, it would be nice to feel that I am moving forward. But right now I am feeling quite stuck.”

At my orientation we discussed the culture shock curve and how each ETA would have different experiences of ups and downs throughout the grant. After 1 month at my site, I concluded that teaching in Indonesia was a lot more challenging than I expected it to be. I started my program feeling very ambitious, and I was quickly deflated when I realized that things were not so simple. Even though I have tutoring experience and I prepared myself with many classroom ideas, what worked for me in a U.S. classroom did not necessarily work in an Indonesian classroom. Although people at my school are eager to help, cultural misunderstandings and an inefficient system make it difficult to work at my school. Digital resources are unreliable, the school often has blackouts, and student discipline is handled differently than in the U.S. Before coming to Indonesia, I knew that the environment would be challenging, but I still could not prepare myself enough for it. I’ve learned to accept this situation. After all, I am the first ETA at my school and the first American many people at my school have met. They are still learning how to work with me as I am still learning how to work with them.

Though at times I felt I was far from achieving much, I did reach my main goal of getting accepted to graduate school during my grant. I applied to a Fulbright ETA grant because I felt that a Fulbright program would give me valuable insights for graduate studies in my field of international development. It was challenging to apply to grad school while still figuring out how to live at my site. It can be extremely frustrating dealing with unreliable internet, and people at your site may not understand the stress and pressure of applying to grad school. At the time I applied, I was constantly balancing my current duties as an ETA with finishing my applications. People at my site didn’t understand why I was always tired or so busy. With that said, it is possible to apply to graduate school during your grant as I and several other ETAs in my program did. In order to successfully apply to graduate school while making the most of your grant, I strongly suggest that incoming ETAs gather as many details as possible about their applications and programs in advance of their departure. Consider bringing brochures from the schools you want to apply to in case your internet is not reliable. Completing the GRE, requesting references, and knowing the programs you want to apply to prior to your departure will make the process much smoother.

Besides achieving my goal of getting accepted to grad school, this 9-month grant has been full of other accomplishments and opportunities that have been personal, professional, big and small. I went from zero Bahasa Indonesia to a good conversational level of Indonesian. I tried yoga classes for the first time. I’ve become a more confident person in unfamiliar situations. I volunteered at an English camp at a church in my community. I closely mentored 10 students to compete in a Fulbright English and creativity competition. I encouraged students to participate in their first English competition. I exposed teachers to ideas for being more creative and resourceful in the classroom. I facilitated an American – Indonesian pen pal exchange for my students. I’ve had some special opportunities to meet the U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia, attend consulate events, and have Thanksgiving dinner at the Chargé d’Affaire’s home. Lastly, I’ve become a part of a large and close network of bright and driven Fulbright Indonesia ETAs.

Christina is a Fulbright ETA in Manado, Indonesia. She graduated from UCSD with her B.A. in International Studies-Political Science. She will pursue her Master’s in Public Administration at NYU Wagner School of Public Service.


Annie Dimitras on Being an ETA in a Developing Country

Being an ETA in a Developing Country

Everyone that is or has been a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) will tell you that experiences vary completely by placement. Every placement comes with its own requirements, responsibilities, and challenges. I can’t emphasize enough how carefully you should consider the information provided in each country summary on the Fulbright website before deciding where to apply.

I have been an ETA in two schools in Kosovo for seven months now. I didn’t know what to expect from the schools and education system before I arrived. I wondered what resources would be available, what class sizes would be like, what the curriculum would consist of, and what methods teachers would use. I thought I would write this post about my experiences to give any future ETAs an idea of what their school situation might be like if they are applying to a developing country (especially one in eastern Europe).


At both of the schools I work in, there is no technology in the classrooms. The classrooms are very bare-bones with chipping paint walls, rusting blackboards, and tables and chairs for the students. Some classrooms I work in don’t even have functioning lights, so when it’s cloudy, it is difficult for the students to read anything on the blackboard because the room is so dark. Even if they do have lights, the power goes out frequently and can’t be relied on.

One of my 8th grade classrooms

                                                            One of my 8th grade classrooms


All the doors are broken
                                                All the doors are broken, and some don’t close


Though the classrooms don’t allow for technology-centered lessons, both schools have computer labs (which they call “cabinets” for some reason) equipped with class sets of computers, digital projectors, and speakers.  There is only one of these rooms per school, so all the teachers have to share and coordinate with each other. I am only allowed to use the tech room at one school. It has been great to use videos, audio, and powerpoint in my activities. It helps the students to understand English in different ways and it’s important to mix up activities so the students don’t get too bored. However, because everyone at the school has to share one tech room, it is not feasible to conduct frequent class activities requiring technology.

The tecnology cabinet at one school

                                                In the technology cabinet at one school


Since resources are limited in my schools, I have tried to work around using technology in the class. I brought a blue tooth speaker with me from the US. It has been invaluable. I use it in conjunction with my iphone to play bits of audio and music in class. I just record what I need to on my phone prior to class, and the speaker is portable and loud enough to make in an effective classroom tool.

In addition to limited access to technology at school, I also do not have access to a printer or photocopier. If I want to use worksheets for a class, I have to go to a print shop to print and make all my copies. This can get very expensive when you are working with hundreds of students every day. I do prepare worksheets sometimes, but I have opted for more speaking and blackboard based activities. It was difficult and frustrating at first to plan lessons that worked around these limitations, but there are plenty of engaging and effective activities that require no resources at all.

Annie Pic Blackboard

                                                            Blackboard at my primary school


Functioning of Schools:

Saying that schools in Kosovo are very different from schools in the US is an understatement. It has been fascinating to witness how another country’s system of education functions, but it has also been extremely frustrating at times. First, there is a shortage of schools in my host country. To remedy this, all schools work in two or even three shifts. This means the school day is very condensed and students may only attend for four hours a day. Some students don’t finish school until after dark, while others have to be at school by 7am but might have to travel an hour by bus from their home. These shifts make the classes too short to accomplish much, and it also makes it very difficult to coordinate any extracurricular activities.

Another difference here is that teachers do not have their own rooms. Instead, students remain in one room for the duration of the school day and the teachers travel from class to class. This makes extensive prep or clean up from a lesson difficult. Teachers also are not actually trained as teachers; they just have a BA in their subject. This means they have never studied pedagogy or teaching methods. Teachers are also not paid well, and many of the teachers I work with have one or two additional jobs to help support their families. So, they might be a little less invested in their position at the school than you might expect. This became very apparent to me through the lack of lesson planning and general organization of lessons. It is common practice throughout my host country for teachers to arrive in each class, take a book from a student, and ask the student where they left off last class and if they had assigned any homework. Can you imagine a teacher doing that in the US?

Students are very similar to students in the US. The main difference is what is expected from them. From an early age, some learn to just copy everything from their more motivated friends. Teachers do not object or pay any attention to this practice. Cheating and plagiarism are huge problems at all levels of school in my host country. Even professors at the university have plagiarized their research (this was recently proven). It is difficult to witness these practices and not really have power to do anything about it. I think it affects students’ motivation. Why study, why do homework, why be engaged, when you can pass the class in the end without doing the work? This attitude has proved very challenging for me to alter with my activities and role in the classroom.

There is also a vast lack of a disciplinary system at my schools. If a student is too loud or doesn’t do his homework, a teacher will most likely yell at them. Maybe the student will be sent out of the classroom for the duration of the class. I have also seen many teachers hit many students (this is banned by law but not in practice). The most serious disciplinary measure is calling the student’s parents. Unfortunately, these are the only measures that are practiced at my schools and they are incredibly ineffective. Also, some behaviors are not seen as problems, like fighting, for example.

The "playground" at school

                                                The playground at my primary school

These are just some examples of what I have experienced as an ETA in a developing country. Again, every host country and every placement location within differs from the next. I didn’t know what to expect when trying to mental prepare myself for my Fulbright grant last summer. If you are thinking about being an ETA, applying to be an ETA, or awaiting the start of your grant as an ETA, I would recommend preparing yourself to be flexible and ready for anything. My time as an ETA has definitely helped me to become more adaptable, resourceful, and to always have a backup plan.

How to Choose Which Country to Apply to for an ETA


Students applying for research or study grants usually come to me knowing what country (or at least region) they want to apply to, but those applying for ETAs often need help choosing a country.  The first step to deciding on a country is to read the country summaries for all the countries you’re considering.  To do this, start here.

Here are some things to pay attention to while reading the country summaries:

What school level would you be teaching?
Some countries place you in a university classroom, while others place you in a high school or even elementary school.  When selecting your country, think about what age children you want to be teaching, and find a country whose assignments match your interests.

How much English teaching experience does the country require or allow?
Some countries prefer applicants who have a TEFL certificate or at least some EFL/ESL teaching experience.  Other countries prefer candidates who will be teaching English for the first time.  Last year, I sat in on a review panel for ETAs to Germany, and the reviewers nixed many applicants for being overqualified!  Make sure to find a country that’s looking for applicants with your level of teaching experience.

Where in the country would you be placed? Unlike research/study grant applicants, ETA applicants don’t get to choose where in their host country they will be placed.  (Spain is an exception; they let ETA applicants apply to a specific region.)  Some countries send everyone to the capital, while others send everyone to rural schools.  The country summary will probably give you an indication of where in the country you’ll be placed. 

How proficient must you be in the host country’s language? Some countries are fine with ETAs who speak only English, but others expect the ETAs to have up to a moderate proficiency in the/a host country language.

Does the country require, allow, or forbid a side project?  Since ETAs only teach for about 20-30 hours per week, some countries require a small (~10 hr/week) side project such as coaching a kids’ team or conducting a small research project.  Other countries allow but do not require this, while still other specifically forbid ETAs from having side projects.  If you want to do a side project, make sure to apply to a country that allows it.