Why Fulbright? Why a Blog?
According to the Fulbright Student website,
“The Fulbright U.S. Student Program provides grants for individually designed study/research projects or for English Teaching Assistant Programs. A candidate will submit a Statement of Grant Purpose defining activities to take place during one academic year in a participating country outside the U.S.
During their grants, Fulbrighters will meet, work, live with and learn from the people of the host country, sharing daily experiences. The program facilitates cultural exchange through direct interaction on an individual basis in the classroom, field, home, and in routine tasks, allowing the grantee to gain an appreciation of others’ viewpoints and beliefs, the way they do things, and the way they think. Through engagement in the community, the individual will interact with their hosts on a one-to-one basis in an atmosphere of openness, academic integrity, and intellectual freedom, thereby promoting mutual understanding.”
Brown is no stranger to producing Fulbrighters and a good friend of mine was awarded an ETA to Colombia right before COVID, so these two things inspired me to apply. Fulbright was a no-brainer for me: I love to travel, I really enjoy teaching, I’m very comfortable with cultural exchange, and after sixteen years of nonstop education, going straight into the workforce didn’t seem like fun. There were also pre-professional reasons: in undergrad, my regional focus was West Africa, so it was important to me to spend time there. I want to become an international human rights lawyer, and while I’d studied French at Brown, it was important to me to develop a non-Western French accent to help challenge what an international lawyer looks and sounds like.
The story of how I got to Côte d’Ivoire isn’t as simple. I originally wanted to apply for a research grant in Senegal to study displacement from green energy projects. After some feedback from advisors, I decided to apply for an ETA position instead and do research as my side project. The application process was long and grueling, but in January, when I was informed of my semi-finalist status, I was over the moon.
And so I waited. And waited. And waited and heard nothing. While my friends from other countries got their news, I got radio silence for five months. When I graduated
on May 2, 2021, I had no idea I was still in the running for Fulbright at all. I assumed I’d been ghosted by the US government and was destined to work for the next few years.
But then, I received an odd email asking if I would consider reassignment to Côte d’Ivoire. Of course, I said yes. Two days later I had an interview, and on May 11th, 2021, I received my acceptance letter.
And here I am now, writing this from Abidjan, eternally grateful and hopeful for the opportunity in front of me.
Why a blog?
When it comes to higher education, competitive jobs, fellowships, and even travel blogs, I have noticed a trend. Many of my peers are white and affluent. There’s this misconception that these opportunities aren’t made for people like me, and odds are, if you’re reading this, you might feel the same way about yourself. But this blog is here to remind you that isn’t true.
Black women with colorful hair and loud voices can be Fulbright scholars. People who obsess over skincare or like Marvel movies can still be academics. First-generation college students can aspire to more than just a degree. Africans can be (and many are) environmentalists.
While there is definitely a “crunchy granola” side to me, it isn’t who I am year-round. In many ways, I’ve used it to assimilate to the predominantly white spaces I’ve found myself in. So while I love a good hike, I also love getting my nails done and exploring new spaces for photoshoots. My favorite work attire is a pastel dress and l intend on getting a fresh hairstyle every month or so here. I love having fresh flowers in my house each week and baking cakes for the people I love. In some spaces, these traits are seen as a weakness, but I see my softness as my greatest tool. What I am basically trying to say is prestige shouldn’t come at the sacrifice of self.
Typing into the internet abyss can feel like the ultimate practice of narcissism; like I’ve assigned myself a bully pulpit and, by publishing these posts, whatever I say must be of the utmost importance. But the truth is, I don’t know how helpful this all is. Maybe future Fulbrighters will point to my blog as an unrealistic depiction of the grant. And it may well be. But it’s my experience, and I hope that someone, somewhere sees it as their sign to try and apply. Happy scrolling. 🙂