Whenever I tell people that I’ll be spending the next year in Norway they always ask me why. This is a very valid question, especially when you consider that I am from California and that my four years of living in Boston has taught me (and my friends) that I am not the biggest fan of any weather under 60° F (My answer to the conundrum of winter is that I will have the opportunity to see the Northern Lights as well as have the chance to do some great skiing. All in all I figured the perks outweighed the cold.) I’ve included both the short answer to this question and the long answer.
The Short Answer
I was drawn to Norway because its high level of English fluency meant that I would be able to thoroughly interact with students and teach them more about literature and American culture. I also found the egalitarian culture of Norway and its education system really interesting and wanted to have the chance to immerse myself in it for a year.
The Long Answer
After I decided to apply for a Fulbright, I knew without a doubt that I wanted to be in Europe. I had spent the past three summers in Asia and knew that I wanted to try something new. My Spanish proficiency wouldn’t have been good enough to qualify in South America, and Africa doesn’t have many ETA programs, which left me with Europe. Furthermore, I had done nearly all of my undergraduate research on Europe and loved learning about it.
Once I had decided on Europe I decided to jumpstart my research on ETA programs by asking my British dad to send me a list of European countries that he thought might be a good fit. Norway was right up towards the top. My dad’s reasoning was that I would like it because it’s beautiful, there’s a high standard of living, and most people are near fluent in English. For me, a high proficiency in English was a huge draw because it would mean teaching kids at a higher level of English and Literature. This was confirmed when I read about how Norwegian ETAs worked with university and secondary school students. Working with students who are near fluent in English means that I will have the opportunity to interact with kids on a deeper more analytical level and that I can do things such as read The Great Gatsby, instead of reviewing the basic concepts of English grammar. Once I realized all of this I did some more research into Norway and its educational system and was completely sold. Overall I think that the question should not be “Why Norway?” but “Why not Norway?”
One question that keeps popping up is: Why did you apply and accept the Fulbright? Or its twin: Why should I apply for a Fulbright? I’ll answer the second question before addressing the first. The unhelpful yet truthful answer is that it’s really up to you and what you’re looking to do. When deciding to apply I think one of the most helpful things to do is to actually sit down and read the mission statement because that is the criteria by which you will be judged and it also tells you what to expect of the fellowship. Fulbright’s mission statement is as follows:
- Increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.
- Strengthen the ties that unite the United States with other nations.
- Promote international cooperation for education and cultural advancement.
- Assist in the development of friendly, sympathetic, and peaceful relations between the United States and other countries of the world (Mission Statement)
In short your job as a Fulbrighter is to be a good cultural ambassador.
As for me, I applied to the Fulbright Program because I enjoy teaching and spending time in other countries. I love teaching. One of my favorite things to do is to help a student understand a concept and watch their face light up when they finally get the right answer. I also thought it would be great to live abroad for an extended period of time, especially since I don’t have any major responsibilities or commitments (i.e. husband, kids, or an established career). Lastly, I thought that the Fulbright would make a great transition/gap year. Under my Fulbright contract I’m obligated to work approximately 20 hours a week while my connection to the local university means that I am also able to live in university housing and take classes. I’m part student and part worker. In short, I get to have a small taste of university life while still getting to partake in the “real world.”
As to why I decided to accept the Fulbright, I accepted for all of the reasons listed above and because jobs will always be there. Ultimately, I have the rest of my life to work and if I didn’t take the Fulbright I would always wonder what it would have been like if I did.
August is the season of fellowship applications and I’ve gotten quite a few emails asking about how the Fulbright application process works and requests for any tips that I might have regarding the application. I’ve included most of my advice here, although I’ll address some reoccurring questions in separate posts. It’s also important to know that I specifically applied for the English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) program and thus everything included below pertains specifically to the ETA track of the Fulbright.
The Fulbright is a fairly flexible fellowship. Each country has different requirements and different types of Fulbright grants that they offer (thus making it relatively easy to find something that you are truly passionate about). The Fulbright can generally be broken down into three types: 1) English Teaching Assistantships (ETA) 2) Research 3) Some sort of graduate study. The ETA program funds you to teach in the host country that you applied to; however, what kind of teaching you’ll do and the age level you’ll be teaching at is country dependent. There are also other types of Fulbright grants so if you’re interested in a particular country it’s well worth taking a look to see what kind of fellowships they offer. For example, several countries offer grants that support things like the creation of art, music, and in the case of Italy, cooking.
The Application Process
It’s important to know that you apply to a specific country in your application as well as a specific type of grant (i.e. I didn’t generally apply to Norway or the ETA program I specifically applied to Norway’s ETA program). You can apply to multiple grants within Fulbright, but know that you have to complete a separate application for each grant. Once submitted your application is sent to a national committee, and if the national committee approves your application, your application is then sent to your host country for its appraisal. If your application makes it past the national round I’ve heard that your odds are pretty good. If you make it to country round the country you applied to may contact you regarding additional steps in the application process. For example, Norway asked me to have a three person Skype interview. If you’re curious about the acceptance rates for Fulbright grants the Fulbright program posts them for each country on their website.
The Application Itself
Generally speaking you shouldn’t treat your Fulbright essays like college application essays. You want to craft a story around the reasons why you are a qualified applicant and why you want the Fulbright. One thing to have at the back of your mind is the reasons why you stand out as a candidate. What makes you unique from other candidates? Why should they pick you? Once you have answers to those questions try to incorporate your answers into your application. You should have an actual vision of what you want to achieve and articulate that in your essays.
Furthermore, the Fulbright requires three letters of recommendation and may have a language requirement depending on the country that you apply to. With the ETA program it’s also important to note that you should not voice a preference for either location or institution. Host countries will place you at their discretion and are looking for people who are flexible in their preferences so be openminded both mentally and in your application.
The Fulbright Program also has great resources on their website. They offer a checklist for your application components and even offer tips on how to make your application stand out.
I am officially in Norway! After months of planning and paperwork I have finally arrived. Since graduating I have mostly been concerned with getting a little rest and relaxation, otherwise known as watching The West Wing and working my way through the Game of Thrones books. Unfortunately this has meant that I neglected to update this blog. However, have no fear! Now that I am in Norway I promise to blog regularly.
Before I write about the present, I want to backtrack a little bit and talk about some of the things I’ve been up to and the paperwork that I’ve had to complete in June and July (the rest of this particular post is helpful for Fulbrighters and boring for friends).
Exchange Student Application
One of the first things I needed to address was how I was going to legally live in Norway. In other words: visas and residence permits. Before I really started to look into the paperwork I thought that I would be applying for some type of work visa in Norway (my two summer internships in Asia had required that I apply for work visas so that I could open bank accounts and be paid as a company employee). Funnily enough I was told to apply for what is called a studies resident permit. A studies permit is essentially a residence permit for students. This meant that the first bit of paperwork I needed to fill out in June was an exchange student application to the local university, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).
I initially hit a few road bumps with my application because although the application itself was quite simple, I had not put down enough classes in my proposed coursework. I needed four classes per semester to qualify as an exchange student instead of the two classes that I had put down. Once I fixed this part of my application I received an acceptance letter from NTNU.
Normally if you apply for a residence permit you have to go to the Norwegian consulate in person; however, one great perk of getting the Fulbright is being able to mail in your application. Having the Fulbright also means that I had to work off of two checklists when applying for my residence permit. All in all I was told to send in:
1. My passport and copies of all used pages in the passport
2. My complete immigration application
3. Receipt that I had paid the application fee
4. Application cover letter
5. Fulbright-Hayes authorization letter
6. Acceptance letter from NTNU
7. A copy of my birth certificate
8. Two passport sized photos
The request for documentation of sufficient funds was covered with the Fulbright-Hayes authorization letter and confirmation of housing was also covered with my acceptance letter to NTNU.
The immigration office was incredibly speedy. Within a week or two I had confirmation that my application had been approved and they sent back my passport within days of submitting my application. Now all that remains is to finish getting my permit processed in Trondheim and then I can get the physical permit card.