For Poonam Saxena, walking towards her classroom to teach students
|Scholars who bag the coveted Fullbright
scholarship regard it as a turning point in their lives
Hindi, is a daily activity. But as she walks in wearing a sari, her students greeted her with quizzical glances.
"Is it a holiday today?" a student asks.
"I'm representing my country at a meeting later today," explains Saxena. A Fulbright alumna in the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) programme, the Jaipur girl found herself making sartorial statements when she began teaching Hindi classes at Governor State University, Illinois. Scholars like Saxena, who are awarded the coveted Fulbright scholarships, describe it as a turning point in their lives.
Sohini Das, currently in the United States on a Teacher Exchange fellowship, teaches English to students at Monte Del Sol Charter School in New Mexico. The experience has made her "fully human, fully alive," she says.
It was Senator J William Fulbright who first suggested that the American government fund student exchange programmes. His programme went on to influence more lives than he could possibly have imagined. His bill, accepted by President Harold Truman, was approved by the US Congress in 1946 with the objective of encouraging mutual understanding between the US and the rest of the world.
Since then, the US has funded more than 2,50,000 'Fulbrighters', each passionate about pursuing what they truly believe in.Whether you are a researcher, professional, a teacher or a student, there are innumerable programmes offered by Fulbright Program. The programme is administered by the United States- India Educational Foundation (USIEF) in India. Applications take over a year to be processed.
So, if you want to be a Fulbright scholar in 2010, you must start the process right away. Deadlines vary for each of the programs.
Count the ways
There is little that the Fulbright scholarship doesn't offer. It covers any form of academia from teaching to study and research. The fields covered too are numerous. There are grants for leadership development in three main sectors: research, lecturing to promote mutual understanding in areas of contemporary relevance to the US and India, and professional training in newly emerging areas of importance to India, such as environmental sciences and agriculture. The USIEF organises Fulbright mentoring workshops for potential applicants. You can get more information from any of their four offices in India, at Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai.
An expert committee runs through eligible applications and invites applicants for an interview with the USIEF National Selection Committee in New Delhi. It's not just a great academic profile that the committee looks for. In the words of Senator Fulbright, "It aims to bring a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs." The beneficiaries of this significant decision are today all successful people. But more importantly, it makes 'complete' individuals and delivers dreams such as 'mastering the art of slicing perfect onion rings'.
That's what Kazuyoshi Yamada did, in his research on Meals in Mumbai: An American Cook in India's Kitchen. Yamada examines ideas of modernity in social context - of what and how people eat, and how changes in the food and the way people consume it reflect changes in society at large. Yamada is living his dream.
Just how bright is a Fulbright candidate?
The USIEF does not have a fixed idea of who makes an ideal candidate. All they ask for is Indian citizenship and a graduate degree. There is no one single profile of a typical 'Fulbrighter'. Academic merit and leadership potential are the only tangible requirements. In return, their offer is an opportunity to study, teach, or conduct research in either country.Candidates must, however, meet the language requirements necessary for their proposed study, research or teaching assignment.
This is why they may have to qualify in the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or International English Language Testing System (IELTS), or submit a report completed by a language expert or instructor to verify their language skills. The GRE and GMAT score required depends on the course you apply for.
Having it in you is just the beginning. Convincing the panel of interviewers that you are deserving of the scholarship is the hardest part. That's the last hurdle that stands between a deserving candidate and a fully-funded scholarship to the course and college of one's choice. But that should be a welcome challenge to the passionate, willing to scale great heights to become 'complete individuals'.