Category Archives: Fellowships

Considerations Before Deciding to Join a Fellowship Abroad

Amal Acaemy
Laura Ruiz recently graduated from Heriot Watt University, Politecnico di Milano and Umeå Universitet. She is now pursuing a 9 month fellowship at Amal Academy, in Lahore, Pakistan. Before joining the fellowship, Laura spent 7 years working in project management, consulting, logistics and the service industry. This includes work for Avianca, a top airline in Latin-America, where she led a team that analyzed trends, made demand forecasts and redefined the revenue strategy in South America.

In the past weeks I have jumped into several articles (like this very controversial one by Courtney Martin or this one by Jocelyn Wyatt) that in one way or another criticize fellowship programs abroad. The points they make are absolutely relevant and I can’t help but agree with most of what they are saying.

The contradiction comes when I add that I am currently part of one of those fellowship programs.

I am a global fellow at Amal Academy. It’s a non-profit education venture supported by Stanford University, Acumen & Echoing Green that runs a job readiness program in Pakistan leveraging technology to help young low-income students find quality employment through a fellowship program that trains them in business-related skills such as communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, teamwork, and leadership. I am 9,200 miles away from home and I have still a lot to learn about the culture and the education sector of Pakistan.

How can I reconcile the criticism of this type of fellowship and the fact that I am currently part of one?

The way I see it, it is not just the fellowship program that has to be held responsible for the outcomes. It is the fellow itself that has to understand what an opportunity of this kind is and what is not. A fellowship abroad in the social impact sector is a privilege and not a travelling option; it is not an opportunity to talk and showcase; it is a chance to be humble and listen.

What would I recommend someone before deciding to join any fellowship abroad?

There are many things I have to constantly remind myself and that have come from the patient and wise advice of people that support my journey and that have gone through similar things.

1) Check your intentions: do it because you like complexity, do it because you like the challenge, and do it because you are ready to learn and listen.

2) Be patient: embrace the small wins and build from them.

3) Know yourself and embrace the fact that developing self-awareness is a never-ending job.

4) Aim to understand people instead of aiming to be understood.

5) Remember courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is having fear and still being able to move forward.

Amal Academy is currently receiving applications for program manager (facilitator, mentor/coach, content development) and the global fellowship positions. For more information visit www.amalacademy.org.

My Fulbright to Bulgaria: Teaching English and Cultural Exchange

Ariel Bloomer is a first year master’s student of Higher Education and Student Affairs at NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. She graduated with a B.A. in creative writing from Scripps College in California, and spent the following year teaching English in Bulgaria. More insights on her Fulbright year can be found on her blog, the Unintentional Explorer (http://unintentionalexplorer.wordpress.com/).

I may be a Steinhardt master’s student now, but I still clearly remember the existential stress of my senior year of undergrad where I had to decide what to do after graduation. Over the course of my undergraduate studies, I had discovered and indulged interests in student affairs, writing, travel, and religious studies. Knowing what I was interested in was a first step, but knowing what do with those interests… it was like unfamiliar choreography.

I applied for programs to teach abroad because my curiosity about the world was the most insistent. I was fortunate to be awarded a Fulbright fellowship to teach English in Bulgaria. The Fulbright U.S. Student Program offers research/study and English teaching grants to U.S. citizens that have earned Bachelor’s degrees. Although it is a teaching program, Fulbright seeks applicants who have various levels of teaching experience and do not require applicants to have completed a degree in education. For instance, I had little experience with teaching. However, some countries do look for applicants with previous teaching experience.

I decided Fulbright was the right program for me because its mission so closely matched my own. The Fulbright program, under the U.S. Department of State, has a goal to increase mutual understanding between citizens of the U.S. and those of countries around the world. As a writer, this goal of cross-cultural communication spoke to me. I knew that Bulgaria, often-neglected in the realm of travel writing, would offer fertile ground for me to practice creative non-fiction in my spare time.

 In addition, I saw the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship Program as an opportunity to try on a new role in the field of education and immerse myself in a new culture and language. It was also an opportunity to use the skills I had learned in Balkan Dance, a class I thought would not be useful beyond satisfying my fine art requirement. This course influenced my desire to apply to teach English in Bulgaria. Somewhere in Bulgaria was a choreography I at least sort of knew.

 In the year I spent abroad in Smolyan, in the Rhodope Mountains where Bulgaria meets Greece, I did not learn to teach. My hit-and-miss lessons were more misses than hits. I did build lasting relationships with teachers and students, facilitated a creative writing club at a high school, spent the fall attending weekly folkdance classes with a Geography teacher from my school, and I learned to cook some of Bulgaria’s unique dishes, a blend of Slavic, Turkish, and Mediterranean fare. I read extensively, took an online travel writing course, and kept a detailed journal. I traveled the Balkan Peninsula by bus and train. I learned that my passion for education is geared towards student development outside of the classroom. This led me to pursue a master’s degree in higher education and student affairs. More so, Fulbright helped to fine tune my research interests in student outcomes in, and access to, international education.

Now that I contemplate a doctoral program in my not-so-distant future, I wonder if Fulbright will again be a part of my journey forward. I taught English through my grant, but the program also offers research opportunities for those with a Bachelor’s degree to conduct independent projects abroad. It is a unique opportunity to follow a passion, carry out grant-funded research, serve as a U.S. cultural ambassador, and learn a dance you never knew before.

 To learn more about the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, attend an upcoming Fulbright Information Session for Graduate Students at The Wasserman Center (133 East 13th Street, 2nd Floor, Presentation Room B) on Thursday March 12th from 1pm to 2pm. RSVP Today!