Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship, Brazil
Read Christina's narrative below of her experience in applying for the Fulbright and her experience as an English Teaching Assistant in Brazil.
Applying For and Winning A Fellowship:
Christina Lorimer on the Fulbright ETA Fellowship
FELLOWSHIP I WON AND WHEN:
In short, I won a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) fellowship in April of 2011. But what led up to and what came after this win is a much longer story. My interest in Fulbright began about two years earlier, in February 2009, while living with a Fulbright research grant recipient who had just returned from Hong Kong. By June of that year, I had begun to develop a research proposal, but for logistical reasons decided not to apply that cycle. In April of the following year—2010, I visited Brazil for the first time and realized I needed to apply for a Fulbright, with the goal of returning to Brazil.
I participated in the Fulbright campus interview in September and turned in the final application in October 2010. I found out I had been recommended to the Brazil Fulbright selection committee in January 2011, received official notification in of the award in April 2011, and took off for Brazil in February 2012. My fellowship was nine months long (February – November 2012), but I remained in Brazil and returned to the U.S. in June 2013. So, I’d say my “Fulbright experience” lasted for about four years.
MY MAJOR/MINOR AND AREA (S) OF ACADEMIC/PROFESSIONAL INTEREST:
My Master’s Degree is in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) with a Certificate in Immigrant Literacies. Over the past five years, I’ve thought a lot about how English, as an international language, is de-nationalized and re-nationalized in other cultures, especially in countries with a history of colonization, and the effect that phenomenon has on particular students’ English language acquisition. I’ve also thought about how TESOL professionals can develop learning materials that include developing autonomy and leadership skills to help overcome internal and systemic barriers that may prohibit students from taking full advantage of learning opportunities.
THE SUBSTANCE OF MY FELLOWSHIP PROPOSAL:
My proposal consisted of a personal statement, statement of purpose, and faculty recommendations, including professors who attested to my Spanish and Portuguese language skills. I remember being confused about the all-too-similar parameters of the personal statement and statement of purpose. I found the difference between the two to be mostly a matter of tone.
In my case, I tried to make the personal statement a little warmer, more intimate and the statement of purpose more professional and less of a narrative ‘story.’ My personal statement reflected my experiences as a child brought up within a family focused on and working within the public education system, and how I draw upon these experiences to foster a safe space in classrooms in which I am the teacher.
My statement of purpose outlined exactly how I planned to be an effective and enthusiastic presence in Brazilian English language classrooms, and briefly addressed ideas for a side project. I found it hard to conceptualize a side project when I had no idea where I would be placed, but the Fulbright commission is basically looking for community engagement that speaks to their mission. In the end, side projects almost always change. All drafts should be revised several times and read by many trusted editors. I saved all my drafts simply to remember the power of revision.
The faculty recommendations weren’t difficult to get because I had developed strong relationships during my master’s program. I would advise applicants to identify early on the professors you’d like to ask for recommendations and give them plenty of time to write them. It’s always helpful to send them bullet point “reminders” of what you’ve done over the years and how that work prepared you for the fellowship. It’s also good to send them the Fulbright mission and your project goals. Make the process as easy for them as possible, and of course dropping by their office to say thank you or giving a small bar of chocolate helps.
LOW POINT IN THE APPLICATION PROCESS:
For almost a year before submitting the Fulbright ETA application I tried to develop a research project. I had it in my head that a research (or “full”) grant was more prestigious than an ETA grant—but although I had a number of broad, eclectic research interests, there was no one project that spoke to me. I visited Dr. Viveros’ office a few times with stories of Burmese refugees and the pressing need for me to interview them in Thai refugee camps, but in the back of my mind I knew (and so did Dr. Viveros) that this broad interest wasn’t going to make the cut. One day, Dr. Viveros referenced the ETA grant and asked, “Why don’t you just apply for what you’re good at, and what you love?”
A few weeks later I took another look at the Fulbright catalogue and saw the ETA grant description in Brazil included a teacher training component, work that I was both good at and that moved forward my career. I remembered Dr. Viveros’ question and had a moment of truth. It was as if this ETA placement was designed especially for me, supporting new teachers in a country I had long wanted to move to. I returned to her office and got to work.
Another low point in the application process was the amount of time between when being accepted and when I actually left for Brazil – in my case, eleven months! This time was filled with a lot of anticipation and waiting. During this period, other Fulbrighters I met traveled, while others went back to their parents’ house. I had the brilliant idea of working 40 hours a week to save for the year abroad, so when the time came for me to leave, I was in a very different state of mind than I had been when I was accepted.
HIGH POINT IN THE APPLICATION PROCESS:
My background in TESOL sparked a couple of funny moments in my SF State interview. In general, the Fulbright ETA grantee usually has less teaching experience than I have, and it actually states in the Fulbright catalogue that a person with a master’s in TESOL may be overqualified.
At one point, a professor on the interviewing committee dubiously stated, “But, it seems like you really have it together.”
“Yes.” I was wondering where this was going.
“Well, I’m worried you might be bored in Brazil,” she went on.
Before I could stop the words from barreling out of my mouth, I answered impulsively, “Are you asking if I’m going to be bored... in Brazil?”
Heads cocked sideways as I sat up a little, actually apologized, and then explained what I meant.
“I just don’t believe that I’m overqualified for this grant. I think there is always more to learn, and I am absolutely certain this experience is vital to my professional growth.”
My heart was beating out of my chest, but I tried to sound calm and confident. I ultimately felt that honesty in the committee interview was important because it allowed them to understand how important I considered this experience to be.
The high point in the application process came when Dr. Viveros sent the following email to the professors who recommended me:
As you may already know, Christina Lorimer, for whom you wrote Fulbright recommendations, has won a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Brazil. Christina is the first SF State student to win a Fulbright grant to Brazil.
And one of them wrote back:
Sending you a beaming smile and high-five.
MISADVENTURE(S) DURING THE FELLOWSHIP:
Living abroad always provides funny and frustrating misadventures, and Brazil was no different. Adjusting to the cultural differences within academic settings was particularly challenging for me. What I had considered professional behavior—in meetings, in classrooms, in higher education an institution in general—was different than what my Brazilian colleagues considered professional behavior. But by the end of my grant, I had learned important lessons from my fellow faculty that I am certain have shaped me into a more pleasurable and productive colleague.
BEST MOMENT DURING THE FELLOWSHIP:
Having the opportunity to play a role in another country’s education system is interesting and rewarding. My Fulbright in Brazil allowed me to learn firsthand about the history and future of private and public higher education in Brazil and try to understand how my first language, my culture, and I fit into that story.
The best moments came when the Fulbright ETAs met up in Brasília, Rio and other cities in Brazil to share our experiences. We came from such different backgrounds in the U.S. and had been placed in such different sites throughout Brazil—on the coast, in the interior, big cities in the South and small villages in the Amazon—that our collective reflection was incredibly insightful and taught me more about Brazil than I could’ve ever learned on my own.
ADVICE TO APPLICANTS:
It pays off to dedicate time to proposal development. This is the hard part of getting the Fulbright; after that, you are allowed time and resources to carry out your work fairly independently. So, when Dr. Viveros says give it at least six months, she means it. Also, trust the process. As graduate students we are trained to be skeptical, to be critical and, sometimes, think we know how to best develop and execute a proposal, but this is a particular situation that calls for a particular kind of writing. Try to sound qualified without sounding overqualified. Try to sound confident without sounding arrogant. Whenever anyone asks me about how to get a Fulbright, I always suggest they try to respond to these questions: Why does it have to be this project? This country? This year? You? Once you’ve got those answers, you’re on your way.
WHY I’D DO IT AGAIN:
It is important to feel part of something bigger than yourself. I believe in the mission of Fulbright and was pleased to be working alongside other people who believed in that mission too. Without the fellowship, I would have still been working toward similar goals, but the work and its outcomes wouldn’t have been nearly as compelling.
WHAT I’M DOING NOW:
I spent the six months following the Fulbright working at the same Brazilian university where I had been placed. The university offered me another grant to continue work projects I had implemented while on the Fulbright and focus on others related to internationalization. Now, I’m back in my home state of California, continuing to teach English in the university setting and studying to recover the Spanish language skills that lay dormant while in Brazil.