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


Introduction to Annie Dimitras, ETA in Kosovo

I began my ETA grant in Kosovo around three months ago. My Fulbright cohort arrived in mid-September. We were picked up from the airport by embassy representatives and attended a two and a half day orientation in the embassy, where we were briefed on security, health, cultural heritage projects, the education system, school conditions, and our placement sites.

The embassy informed me of my placement city a little less than two months before I arrived. I did not know what schools or what age group I would be working with until I attended the orientation at the embassy. Since Kosovo is a small country, there is no Fulbright Commission. The Public Affairs section of the embassy handles all Fulbright grantees. Most of my fellow Kosovo Fulbright grantees and I attended an earlier orientation in Washington, DC, along with other Eastern European and Eurasian grantees headed to countries without a Fulbright Commission. In DC, we met alumni that had just returned from Kosovo, and their information was invaluable.

After a few days in the capital city, I was transported to my placement city by the embassy. We had a whirlwind visit to apartments that I had about five minutes to look at before deciding where I would live for the next year. They also took me to one of my two schools and introduced me to the principal (who spoke no English) and my contact person (the main English teacher I would work with). This all happened a little fast for me, so fast I almost wasn’t sure how to get back to my new apartment.

I have been placed in a small city in the north of the country called Mitrovica. It is infamous in Kosovo for being the city with the most ongoing conflict and for being one of the most depressed cities in the country. Until the ’80s, Mitrovica was booming with culture, and everyone worked at the big mine nearby and had lots of money. Then miners started to get laid off, conflict began to increase, and now the city is split in half (ethnic Albanians in the south and Serbs in the north) and there is no new industry to put all those miners back to work.

I had no training or experience with either local language, Albanian or Serbian, prior to arrival in Kosovo. I live on the Albanian side of town and have started learning Albanian. However, there is no class available to me and few materials for English speakers to learn Albanian, so I only have a very basic grasp of the language. I use my Albanian to buy things and conduct simple interactions, but most of the people I interact with speak enough English to converse.

I work at two schools in the southern half of the city. I began working at an upper primary school with grades 6-9 right after I moved to Mitrovica. It took a month for someone from the embassy to come back up here, introduce me to the principal of my second school, and have the proper documents signed. So for the second month, I have been working half the time at the primary school and half the time at a gymnasium high school with 10-12th graders. It took weeks for me to work out a schedule so I could see as many different students every week as possible and work with nearly all the English teachers at both schools without losing my mind. I now I have a complicated schedule where I work four days with eight different teachers and over 500 students. I still don’t know everyone’s name, but I am doing my best.

There are four other ETAs in Kosovo with me, one student researcher, and one scholar. The student researcher, scholar, and one of the ETAs are based in the capital. One ETA is on his own in a mountain village. His placement is so isolated that he had to purchase a car to reach both of the schools he is assigned to. The two other ETAs are placed in the same city in the south of the country. They share an apartment by choice but work in different schools. All of the ETAs are at primary or high schools, and all but one work at two schools. Working at two schools gives you a greater perspective on the education system, but it means a lot more students and teachers to keep track of. Every teacher may have different expectations, and every class may have different needs and demands.

Overall, my first three months have had a lot of ups and downs. It is been exciting to explore a new country and begin relationships with so many interesting people. It has also been extremely challenging to work a new environment. I have encountered many communication barriers and misunderstandings. It is a process to figure out how to best communicate with my teachers, students, and administrators. It is also a process to establish my role in each class. Despite the challenges, the experience has been great so far—very rewarding and entirely unique. I think the beginning is the hardest part. I am happy to have overcome so many challenges thus far and am looking forward to the rest of my time in Kosovo.

Introduction to Christina Aguila

[Note from FPA: Christina just started an ETA grant in Indonesia.]

Adapting to Jam Karet – Indonesian time.

I finally received my flight itinerary 5 days ago for my flight to Jakarta, Indonesia. This is thrilling news! Suddenly, the reality is setting in that in 7 days I will be at my site in Manado, North Sulawesi, where I will teach English to Indonesian high school students. As of now, I have no visa for Indonesia, as all visas for my program have been delayed. I am told that I will apply for my visa in Singapore just before arriving in Jakarta. I would be writing from Jakarta and finishing my first week in Indonesia if visas were not delayed. Despite this situation, I haven’t lost any enthusiasm about starting my ETA program. I’m told there’s nothing to worry about the delays; it’s just another aspect of life in Indonesia, jam karet. In my Indonesian class earlier this summer, my Bahasa instructor made the class aware early on about jam karet (elastic or rubber time). After the first few classes, it became clear that class starts about 10 minutes later than the published start time, nothing compared to the 15 minutes or more delay in Indonesia.

It seems that most people would have freaked out by now, wondering why they hadn’t received their itinerary or an address where they would be staying. The Fulbright Commission in Indonesia has done a fantastic job of handling this situation. Several of last year’s Indonesia ETAs have connected with the 2013-2014 grantees to offer a wealth of information and advice. Several of these ETA alumni have welcomed my contact via Skype chats and Facebook to answer any questions that I have. This has given me a lot of comfort and has really helped me to prepare for my ETA experience in Indonesia. The fact that the ETA program is relatively large in Indonesia has been very helpful because it has offered a supportive network of people before I have even arrived in country.

Now that I have all this great advice on packing, travel, and logistics from former ETAs, I can focus on more substantial things like ideas for teaching, learning more about Indonesia and its diverse cultures, and learning to speak Bahasa Indonesia. A constant reminder from former ETAs is the importance of flexibility. Indonesia has very diverse cultures across its 17,000 something islands, and life on each of these islands can be very distinct. A popular answer to many ETA questions, regarding almost anything from what is appropriate to wear to what kind of toilet will I have in my home, is, “It depends on your site.” This is the answer to many questions due to the range of different lifestyles in Indonesia. My site in Manado is one of the few dominantly Christian regions in Muslim majority Indonesia. What is considered appropriate in Manado is more moderate than other regions, at least I am told. [Note from FPA: I don’t know what she means by “more moderate.”]  The diversity of this country is captured in the national motto “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” (unity in diversity). There is surely a proud sense of diversity in this country. I’m quickly learning that flexibility is key to adjusting to the diverse lifestyle and pace in Indonesia.

Introduction to Arik Burakovsky

My name is Arik Burakovsy, and I recently completed my undergraduate studies at UCSD, majoring in Political Science/International Relations and minoring in Film Studies. I aim to pursue a career in American diplomacy, national security, and international law. I am spending this summer with my family in New Mexico, relaxing outdoors and preparing to apply to graduate programs. This fall will mark the beginning of my Fulbright grant in Russia as an English Teaching Assistant.

Besides spending the first four years of my life in Israel, I have almost no experience living abroad. I knew that if I wanted to continue learning about foreign affairs, I had to find a way to spend my gap year outside the United States. My family’s roots in the Soviet Union, my fluency of the Russian language, and my interest in Russian traditions and politics made Russia an ideal choice. It has been nearly a year since I began preparing my application materials for the Fulbright program. The Fulbright application process was unbearably lengthy, including an online application, an in-person interview at UCSD, an interview via Skype with the Russian Fulbright office, and numerous months of waiting for a response.  [Note from FPA: While he says it was unbearable, he seems to have borne it well. 🙂 ] Nonetheless, I am now looking forward to my nine-month stay at the Omsk State Pedagogical University in Omsk, Russia.

By teaching conversational English to Russian college students, I hope to foster my interests in oral communication and education. As the world becomes more globalized, learning to speak English is becoming increasingly useful for young professionals engaging with foreign people and ideas. By keeping an open mind, I hope to learn from the university students I mentor about their aspirations, worldviews, and personal experiences in Russian society. I also hope to instill in them an appreciation for public speaking by engaging them in discussions of American civics and government.

In addition, my Fulbright award will include a research project about the impact of youth groups on Russian political development. I plan to produce a short documentary movie about my encounters with youth involved in Russian civil society. I will read about the activities of Russian youth groups, interview young political organizers, and witness community discussions. I plan to eventually screen this film – with subtitles and my own narration – to small audiences in the United States and Russia in order to encourage a cross-cultural exchange.

Introduction to Rachel “Sky” Brown

My name is Rachel (Sky) Brown, and I’m a fourth year undergraduate student at UCSD majoring in Third World Studies and minoring in Literature/Writing. I graduate in a month and will be starting my Fulbright scholarship as an English Teaching Assistant in Taiwan on August 1st. As my major suggests, I’m very interested in international travel with an emphasis on studying culture. Since I have a few months before my Fulbright begins, for now I’ll just mention how and why I ended up here.

I’ve always been interested in living abroad. For me, studying culture is studying people – it’s how we interact, what ties us together, makes us unique and ultimately defines our species. The more places I can go to observe and experience this, the happier I am.

Over the 2011-2012 school year, I spent time as an unofficial ETA at a girls’ high school in Rwanda and later did a semester abroad at the University of Ghana, Legon. [Note from FPA: Just to clarify, this was not an ETA position affiliated with Fulbright.]  It was difficult being away from friends, family, and my home country, but I adjusted and enjoyed myself quite a bit in both places. I knew that I wanted to live abroad again. While I adored my time in Africa, I’ve always been fascinated by Asia as well, and when I heard about the Fulbright ETA program and all the places they worked I decided to try applying.

Since I could only apply for a Fulbright in one country, I took a while deliberating. The reason I chose Taiwan in the end was that I reviewed their website and decided that it looked like the best program fit for me. My personal criteria were: 1) in Asia, 2) working with younger children (junior high/elementary), 3) with my main capacity as an assistant rather than a full teacher (I need some more practice) and 4) with a substantial orientation period. Taiwan seemed like the best option for me, and since all I have ever heard about Taiwan has been about its hospitality and unique culture, I decided it seemed like the perfect place to start.

Then I applied and waited and waited and got the good news last month. For now I’m trying to wrap up college, learn a little Mandarin, and prepare for another big move. I’ll keep you updated on how it goes. The most recent news I’ve gotten is that I have been placed in Kinmen, a small island with a population of about 85,000 that is owned by Taiwan and located off the coast of China. I’m excited to see what it’s like.

Introduction to Casey McCoy

I’m a fourth year graduate student in the philosophy department studying the philosophy of physics. Through the support of a Fulbright grant I will be spending the next academic year in Austria at the University of Vienna working on my project, “Philosophical Implications of Inflationary Cosmology.” The project is an extension of my PhD dissertation research, which is officially due to start after I advance to candidacy this quarter.

I’ll say a few words about my project, but first I’ll explain how it came about. The key decision I made was spending last summer in Vienna. The main impetus to go was a two week summer school focused on science studies. Once I had committed to spending two weeks in Vienna, it was an easy decision to spend the rest of the summer there. Members of my faculty put me in touch with colleagues at the University of Vienna and other institutions, and naturally I met many people during the summer school.

After a while it occurred to me that Vienna would be an ideal place to pursue my research, and I started thinking seriously about applying for a Fulbright grant. The contacts I had made were enthusiastic about the idea, and the philosophy faculty in San Diego was supportive, so I applied. I think developing personal familiarity with the destination in advance was absolutely crucial to the success of my application.

The aim of my project is to make a philosophical investigation into the foundations and conceptual issues of one aspect of modern cosmology, namely the speculative idea that the early universe underwent a phase of rapid expansion. This expansion precedes the well-established “Hubble” expansion, a feature of the Hot Big Bang model of the universe, responsible for, among other things, the observed redshifts (recession) of distant galaxies. The speculative “rapid expansion” scenario is called cosmological inflation and has become a pillar of the current standard model of cosmology, a model that attempts to extend and improve the Hot Big Bang model.

What is interesting about inflation, from a philosophical point of view, is that physicists postulated it as a solution to certain perceived explanatory problems with the basic Big Bang universe story. For example, the geometrical flatness of the universe and its large-scale uniformity are explained by the Big Bang model through what cosmologists feel are implausible special initial conditions. These particular problems are known as the Flatness Problem and the Horizon Problem. These problems do not arise from the familiar sources of problems one finds in the history of science, namely disagreements between theory and observation or inconsistencies between well-confirmed theories. Are explanatory problems of a piece with these familiar problems? Or are they pseudo-problems that the practice of science would do well to ignore? These are the questions to which I hope to provide interesting answers during my time in Vienna!

Introduction to Harrison Gill

My name is Harrison Gill and I will be a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in the city of Rychnov nad Kněžnou, Czech Republic. My relationship with the Czech Republic stems from my junior year, when I studied abroad in Prague. Unfortunately, I struggled to leave my American bubble during much of my time in Prague. When I was able to do so, the experiences were some of the most meaningful to me in my entire life. During my time in the Czech Republic, I became extremely interested in education after taking a class on the Czech education system and decided to volunteer at a Czech high school briefly. This experience led to my involvement with the Preuss School, PAL, and La Clase Magica programs here at UC San Diego, in addition to also taking courses in the TEFL program at UC San Diego Extension.

Wanting to get more exposure to the Czech culture, I decided to apply for the Fulbright ETA program last summer. I hope to use the classroom as a space where I can connect my American culture to the students’ Czech culture through interesting discussion and debate topics highlighting significant similarities and differences. Furthermore, I hope to utilize my expertise to provide a common good for the community. In my free time, I plan to work on various side activities, including a project where I seek to meet with locals in Rychnov nad Kněžnou who play significant roles in public service, stemming from my interests in community service and volunteerism.

It is my goal to also learn as much as I can from my hosts and the entire community of Rychnov nad Kněžnou. The Fulbright program is providing me an opportunity to truly become a cultural ambassador. I will share my culture, and my community will share their culture with me. I look forward to sharing with everyone back home what I learn throughout my experience.

Introduction to Kristina Pistone

My name is Kristina Pistone, and I am finishing my fifth year in the PhD program at SIO. I am studying climate science; my dissertation is composed of two different projects that fall under the theme of the albedo of the Earth, basically how much incoming solar energy is reflected back to space (white surfaces have higher albedo).  Albedo acts as a significant control on global climate, and the biggest components of the Earth’s albedo are sea ice/snow and clouds.  For my first project, I used satellites to look at how the albedo of the Arctic has changed due to recent sea ice retreat (basically, how much darker has it become over the 30-year time period of the satellite record?).  My second project deals with the effects of atmospheric aerosol (particulate pollution) on clouds.  For this project, I spent 6 weeks in the Indian Ocean last year during a field campaign called CARDEX (for Cloud, Aerosol, Radiative forcing Dynamics EXperiment), collecting data both from ground instruments and from small unmanned airplanes.  As I’ll soon be in my sixth year, I’m hoping to be able to defend before I leave for my Fulbright in March.  I’m sure this will present a whole other set of complications, although hopefully nothing too insurmountable!


I started undergrad as a physics major, and after spending a semester in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I decided to pick up a second major in Spanish literature.  This may make it sound like my interests are all over the place, and that’s fairly accurate!  I love to travel and feel very fortunate at the amount of travel I’ve been able to do in grad school, such as meetings (I was at the COP15 climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009) and sometimes just for fun (almost everywhere is “on the way home” from the Maldives!).  I was immediately interested in the Fulbright program because I love science, and I loved living in South America, so I’ve been hoping that I’d eventually be able to do both at once!


As I study clouds, Fulbright offered a great opportunity for me to expand my dissertation work by comparing my work on the Indian Ocean clouds and pollution we saw in CARDEX with the different regime (i.e. different cloud types, meteorology, and pollution types) that are found in the southeast Pacific, off the coast of Chile.  I plan to use my experience with the CARDEX data analysis to look at the SEP stratocumulus.  It typically takes massive resources and collaborations to conduct a scientific field campaign, so I will be working with data collected in the region a few years ago, during a campaign called VOCALS-REx.  Because the interactions between aerosols and clouds are so highly variable, both on a global and local scale, my project will help to place both studies in a more global context.  Since the implications of climate science are so global in nature, I’ve also developed an interest in science communication and outreach (both to the public and to K-12 students) while in grad school.  In Santiago, I hope to also get some experience with this in local schools, which should be an interesting experience in Spanish!


Overall I’m very excited for my Fulbright, but also I have much to do before I leave in March!

Introduction to David Morales

[Note from FPA: David recently got word that he has received a Fulbright grant to be an ETA in Ecuador!]

My names is David Morales. I was born and raised in Southeast San Diego- in a small community, right next to Downtown, called Sherman Heights. I am the first one to attend a university from my family. In June I will be graduating from UCSD, a university that is unknown or, if known, deemed inaccessible in my community.

Throughout my 4 years at UCSD, I struggled with my confidence as a scholar. I felt that the low-income and highly segregated high school that I attended never really prepared me to do the type of academic writing or critical thinking that I was required to do at the university. And although I felt proud and empowered by my culture and my experience growing up in a marginalized community, I could not help but feel less prepared and less articulate than my fellow classmates that, perhaps, were brought up under different circumstances.

I think I have been very fortunate throughout my time at UCSD. As soon as my first year began, I was selected to intern at the Office of Academic Support and Instructional Services (OASIS) and in their Language Writing Program. This internship led to my future job as a writing tutor and writing workshop facilitator. The growth and confidence that I acquired while at OASIS led me to apply to the UCSD McNair program. During the length of this program, I conducted research on the militarization of high schools- an issue that I experienced first-hand in my own school. This program gave me the opportunity to present my research in different research conferences, including some at UCSD and UC Berkeley. My experience conducting research and presenting at conferences really boosted my confidence as a scholar. By the end of the McNair program, I was ready to do anything–apply to the most prestigious PhD programs across the nation.

I think that it was towards the end of the McNair program that I started thinking seriously about the possibility of applying the Fulbright program. I remember first hearing about Fulbright during my first year at UCSD. A friend sent me a link to the website through Facebook. I remember reading about the program and thinking that it was one of those things that only geniuses could get, kind of like the Gates Millenium Scholarship in high school. I wrote it off at the time, thinking that there was no way in the world I could one day receive the award or even dare to go abroad for a whole year. But the summer before the start of my fourth year at UCSD was different; I was more confident in myself and in what I could accomplish. As I looked at graduate programs and fellowships, I came across Fulbright again. I was just in time for the application process. I decided to apply.

After completing the application process in early fall, I remember checking my email every day hoping to receive some message from Fulbright. Once I got notified that I had made it to the final round, I do not think that there was a day when I did not check my email. I would check it multiple times a day. One day, I received a small envelope from the Fulbright Commission in New York. It was the notification that I had been accepted to the program!

In September I will be departing for Ecuador on an English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) grant. I chose to apply to the ETA grant because I felt I was more qualified for this position [than for a research grant] due to my experience conducting research in the education sector, my work with OASIS, and my activism in education. I also think that the classroom is a very interesting and unique place. I will be working with university students in a city in Ecuador. I am excited for the learning that I am going to do about Ecuadorian society and its education system. I am also excited to represent the U.S. through my own perspective as a low-income student of color. I plan to conduct research in Ecuador about the educational practices that it employs. I am currently working on my honors thesis for my Latin American studies major and I am looking at neoliberal education and alternative education models in Latin America. I wish to continue this project and explore the educational practices in Ecuador. Overall, I wish to have fun and learn–learn about everything, while I am abroad in Ecuador.