Thinking of Applying for a Fulbright? Five Things You Need to Know
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"My experience as a Fulbright Scholar was extremely productive," said Jeffrey Stanley, a visiting assistant professor of screenwriting and playwriting at Drexel University. "I came back with a ton of research and truly have something to say about my subject that has never been documented and written about by scholars in or outside of India."
Stanley had been an adjunct professor at Drexel's Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design for seven years by the time he became a 2018–19 Fulbright-Nehru Scholar through the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program. Now, he is writing a book (and has already written some articles) using his research on the impact of late 19th and early 20th century Bengali film and theater on the start of India's independence movement, which he gathered during several months in India in 2018 and 2019.
The 2023 Fulbright application season has just started, with applications to teach, work and research in a foreign country due in September. Stanley encourages people — especially independent artists, scholars and people without a faculty affiliation — to look into Fulbright's wide variety of opportunities (he recommends webinars such as one for Fulbright opportunities in the fine arts and more specialized ones for countries and regions to apply for).
At Drexel, the Office of Global Engagement will host a workshop related to Fulbright opportunities for University administrators, faculty members and professionals on March 6 from 9:30–10:30 a.m., which will feature an outreach and recruitment officer from the Institute of International Education. Office of Global Engagement professional staff are also available to discuss ideas for connecting with Drexel's international partners during the Fulbright application process.
Stanley, who is also a 2022-24 Fulbright Alumni Ambassador, recently hosted a talk and Q&A about Fulbright and, while abroad, wrote about some of his research for the Office of Global Engagement's website. Here are some tips and advice he shared for interested faculty and professional staff thinking about applying for a Fulbright:
1. Think Through Your Application
"I pitched that I would write a book, and I'd never written a book before, but I did have a lot of nonfiction personal essays. In my application, I said that book was going to be like those articles: first-person narrative, informative and well-researched. I tried to demonstrate that same narrative storytelling in the essays and the questions on that application," said Stanley, who said he was methodical when applying for his Fulbright.
The application is due in September, but it takes time to write and perfect, and also to partner with people and institutions, Stanley said.
2. Show Why You Are the Right Fit
"I highlighted my lifelong passion for this country I was applying to, and my passion for working and teaching film and theater, which is multinational in scope," said Stanley. "You have your own unique life experiences, and those probably have worked their way into your work."
He had a close relationship to and knowledge of India already: His former wife is Bengali American, and he is raising his bilingual and biracial son in dual languages and dual cultures. By the time of his application, he had been staying in India for about a month every other year for almost a decade to visit family and his new friends and colleagues in Kolkata, the capital of the Indian state of West Bengal and the former capital of British India (when it was known as "Calcutta"). One of the ways he began learning about the area's history and culture was through its film, theater and political histories, especially during the British colonial period. Later, as a Fulbright Scholar, he was hosted by Rabindra Bharati University in Kolkata.
3. Be as Specific as You Can
"I was not vague," Stanley said, adding that he tried to plan his Fulbright research as much as he could and listed the people, institutions, places and archives he was going to visit — "probably more than I realistically could have, but I wanted to show I was serious and that I knew where I’d need to go and what I’d be looking for."
If things aren't finalized, that's okay. You can still show what you're planning to do and who you have reached out to, he said.
4. You Can Go Beyond Your Application
"My personal motto while living and working in India was, 'Have mouth, will travel.' I felt that was the least I could do to show my gratitude to India," said Stanley. “It’s a great thing to do if you get the award and get to go live in a host country.”
Outside of his research, Stanley partook in many professional and academic opportunities in India and tried to give back through free guest lectures and workshops, including ones at an amateur theater company, a local university and the U.S. Consulate in Kolkata. He also costarred in a poetry performance and acted in "Manbhanjan," a major Bengali limited series on the popular Hoichoi streaming platform.
"This was a total wild card: I got to step back in time to play the role of a 19th century British policeman working in the Bengali theater district," said Stanley. "I played the jerky British cop who's offended by a play and calls it seditious."
Stanley said he was impressed with the director, Abhijit Chowdhury, and learned a lot by watching him work. They ended up becoming lasting colleagues and friends, and Stanley recently helped Chowdhury with his Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence application to come to his department at Drexel.
5. Your Fulbright Experience Can Benefit Your Career and Your Life
Stanley said his teaching methods and in-class film and theater examples have benefited from his time living in a different country and trying to speak a new language. He's more aware of language and cultural struggles faced by international students in his classes, and he also has joined Screenwriting faculty in expanding the scope of international and diverse film and theater traditions covered in classes.
Outside of the classroom and career, Stanley said that the experience strengthened his family ties and understanding of India.
"My son is so proud that I visited his ancestral homeland, and I can now speak a little more of the language in which he’s already fluent," he said.