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 to Edward Falk, About to Start Research Grant in Turkey

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.

Ted in Ankara

Edward at Ataturk’s tomb during his second CLS trip

Ted former archives

The former home of the Ottoman Archives, where Edward conducted preliminary research in 2011