During my last year of college my professor advised me to apply for Fulbright scholarship. Soon after graduation, I applied, even though I knew I didn’t have many years of work experience. I wanted to give the application a try and learn about the process. After my application got rejected, I started to improve my application by working on my writing, taking courses, and getting familiar with more practical work within my field. I also got involved in volunteering activities which helped me improve my skills and build a strong network of people in the engineering field.
I gave myself time to work as a lecturer and gain as much experience as I could to be more qualified when I applied for Fulbright again. It took me four years to believe that I was ready to apply again; it was this time that I achieved my dream and became Fulbrighter.
I applied for Fulbright to get a good education from a top-ranked university, experience something new, and meet different people and learn about other countries. I just finished my first semester and I can already see the benefits of being a Fulbright student; I have a bigger communication circle and I am recognized by companies because they know that by being Fulbrighter, I already passed a tough test.
Even though the acceptance process can be hard and complicated, it is worth every minute of trying! Familiarize yourself with the whole process, from doing the application and writing the essays, to interviewing and taking the GRE and TOEFL tests. The way I see it, the harder your goal is, the more fulfilled you will be when you achieve that goal.
For the application, pay attention to every question and give detailed yet succinct answers. For me, the most challenging part of the application was the essay section. For the personal statement, write briefly about yourself and what makes you different. Fulbright wants to get to know you. Feel free to talk about things that have inspired or influenced you as well as events that have had a major impact on your life and your goals. I suggest you write about why you would like to study in the United States specifically and your academic interests. Your application should illustrate why Fulbright should choose you over a thousand other applicants. Talk about what you’re passionate about, and how that passion drives you.
Take your time answering the questions and remember to edit them several times. I consulted with someone to check my essays for grammar issues. You should also find someone you trust outside of your academic or professional specialization to make sure that your essays still make sense to someone without your in-depth knowledge of the field. You should be able to write about your bright ideas and goals so that anyone who reads it will be able to understand what you are writing about.
As for the recommendations, you should include an academic recommendation, a professional reference, and one more. Make sure that the professor you are asking to list as a recommender is responsive and has known you long enough to write a good recommendation for you.
The next critical stage in the process is the interview, which plays a significant role in finalizing the nominees. I advise people who are preparing for the interview to go through their whole application because it is possible you’ve forgotten one or two details since submitting it. The interview panel will probably ask about something you wrote in the application, essays, or even in your curriculum vitae. Remember to practice. Do a mock interview with a family member or on your own; it will help you to feel more confident and prepared. Finally, keep your hopes up and keep smiling. Be professional while talking to the panel and answer the questions carefully and briefly.
The Fulbright process can be very long and stressful. If you get it, that is great. If you do not, try again! Many people apply two or three times. Eventually, you will get what you are aiming for, as long as you are focused and determined.
After being nominated, I started preparing for the university preference. Make sure to research the program well and think about how it aligns with your career plans. Also, think about the location of the campus, as well as transportation and living costs. It is more important than you might think. Take your time searching and make sure that you will be satisfied with any of your four choices.
When I was accepted and finished with the visa process, it was time to start the pre-academic program. I was welcomed at the airport in Syracuse and then went to the dorms where I met the other Fulbrighters. I was amazed that in one room, I could hear many languages at the same time. To me, that is the way one of the best things in the United States: being surrounded by different people exploring different cultures every day. The pre-academic program was very informative. We learned a lot about U.S. society and about what it means to be in the graduate program and what to expect. We got to visit many places in New York state, and I enjoyed every second of it.
After the pre-Academic program, I traveled to Florida where I was starting at Florida Polytechnic University. The program went the way I expected; I accomplished many projects, and while there were stressful weeks, with dedication and hard work, I got good grades and maintained a high GPA. During my first semester, I got involved with many clubs. One of them was a supper club through which I got the chance to engage more with the American families and celebrate American holidays like Thanksgiving, Halloween, and Christmas. I also tried to introduce Americans and other international students to my cultural traditions and food.
To be a member of Fulbright cohort open new doors and opportunities. Being a Fulbrighter has surrounded by brilliant people who influenced me and made me think differently. It is the greatest cultural exchange experience to explore not only the American culture, but the cultures from people all over the world. When you’re writing your application, keep in mind that Fulbright is not just a scholarship, it’s also an educational and cultural exchange program.
Zubaidah is an Iraqi Fulbrighter who is studying engineering and robotics at Florida Polytechnic University.
You can find more information about the Fulbright Program, Fulbright Foreign Student Program and the Fulbright Program for the Middle East and North Africa on our websites. For more application tips and to learn more about other Fulbrighters, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and visit our blog.