Waking up from unusual sirens with a view of always illuminated Wall Street was my first wow of the Fulbright program. Three weeks of the pre-academic orientation in New York City flew by in a same tempo as the yellow taxis crisscrossing the avenues. From early morning until afternoon our group of around fifty people, from four corners of the world, had classes, training and community engagements. Evenings were left for the city’s exploration. What a life, the Fulbrighter life!
Arriving in Albany, upstate New York, for studies felt like a cold shower after the Big Apple experience. I liked the College of Saint Rose where I was to pursue my MA in Communications, but honestly I had some early doubts about being there for two years. Now I am in the fourth and final semester of my studies and I look back realizing that it has been one of the most fascinating two years of my life. Fulbright is not only about studies, it provides so many opportunities if you are ready to take the initiative.
I know a lot of Fulbrigters go to small student towns like I have, and if you end up being one of them – I hope you will find this blog useful. While you may be hoping for a placement in a renowned university in a big city, small city has a lot to offer too.
First, make yourself known on campus; meet your academic advisor as soon as you arrive. Follow this up with your faculty members, share your academic interests and remember that coming from a different part of the world allows you to offer a unique view. American Universities love Fulbrighters and if they accepted you, it means they are really interested to have you involved in the college life. Get involved in extra-curricula activities, check out clubs of interest on campus. Find your university international student association, it’s a great platform for representing your country and culture. When I arrived though, my college didn’t have one, but guess what I learned from Fulbright program? To take initiative in my own hands. Last month we had our first general meeting of the International Student Organization.
Secondly, ask your Fulbright US advisor for the contacts of the local Fulbright alumni association. While you are still settling down and beyond, people who have been in the same shoes are your best supporters. I am incredibly grateful to the Eastern New York Chapter of Fulbright Association for their help, support and care during my stay in Albany. We celebrated American and internationals holidays together, travelled, climbed mountains and always had a lot of fun! It’s amazing to meet people who did their Fulbright ten, thirty and even fifty years ago! The most important thing is feeling a strong connection with them. Fulbright is not simply a program, it’s a big family.
Thirdly, engage with your local community by volunteering. Americans have a wonderful ‘give back’ philosophy. A short Google search reveals a wealth of local organizations from community gardens to street charity fairs. Community involvement depends on your interest and is probably influenced by your major. Studying Communications at Saint Rose is a very hands-on experience. During my public relations and journalism classes, I’ve got to meet with a lot of community figures from a mayor to neighborhood leaders. There is a great deal I learned from them and I look forward to bringing this experience to Ukraine.
Fourthly, definitely look for an internship in your field. Fulbright provides you with an opening to prove and develop yourself in a thriving environment of professionals from your field. I am interested in humanitarian issues, so I did my with the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI). During my internship I improved my understanding of the US asylum system, refugees’ local integration and peculiarities of Communications specialists working for non-for-profits. My experience with USCRI professional staff members and interns provided me with knowledge I could not get from a book.
Last but not least, think big! Monitor and attend conferences and events of your interest in other universities across the US. The fact that you are Fulbrighter raises your chances to be accepted. If you are in New York area, get in touch with the One to World organization. Last spring I went to the conference with them in Washington D.C. and it was definitely one of the most memorable events. Don’t forget to apply to Fulbright enrichment seminar during your first year. I was fortunate to go to St Louis, where I’ve got connected with more wonderful grantees.
Despite the fact that my MA program is coming to an end, I know that there are a lot of wows ahead, because Fulbright is a life-long experience. As a Fulbright alumnus, I am going to take an active part in welcoming Fulbrighters in Ukraine, and will do my best to make their experience as great as mine!