Photo Courtesy of Wesley Peterson
When soon-to-be, second-time Idaho State University graduate Wesley Peterson applied to the Fulbright U.S. Student Program in Fall 2019, he was not anticipating a global pandemic. But by the time Peterson was notified that he was awarded a Fulbright grant in Mayto teach English in the Canary Islandstraveling the globe seemed impossible.
When I was first accepted, I was kind of worried because of everything going on with COVID, said Peterson.
I was accepted, but I didnt know how things would go with travel bans and everything like that. But hopefully, I can still go.
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program grants research, study and teaching opportunities in over 150 countries to recently graduated seniors and graduate students. Fulbright grants are also available to professors and administrators to do research or training abroad.
When applicants apply to the Fulbright Program, usually in September or October, if accepted, they would expect to leave the following August. But in the days following his acceptance into the program, Peterson was notified that his time in the Canary Islands would be delayed to Jan. 2021.
According to a press release by the Fulbright Program, [S]everal components of the 2020-2021 Fulbright U.S. Student Program have been delayed until after January 1, 2021, to give selected candidates, host institutions and program partners worldwide an opportunity to plan for the coming academic year. [F]or many participants, the duration of [their] Fulbright grant may be shorter than anticipated.
Peterson, who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and Spanish for Health Professions in 2019, had the opportunity to study abroad in Spain. It was his time abroad that inspired his decision to apply to the Fulbright Program in Fall 2018. Although Peterson made it through to the second round in the application process, he was not picked as a Fulbright grant recipient. Instead, he returned to Idaho State in Fall 2019 to pursue his Bachelors of Science in Psychology. He applied again to the Fulbright Program that same semester.
Last year I did not get accepted into my graduate program or Fulbright. Thats when I decided to do my degree in psychology, said Peterson.
And then this year I applied to Fulbright and the graduate program and got into both. I had to make the choice to defer the [graduate] program to next year and do Fulbright this year.
Peterson will resume his studies at ISU and pursue his Masters Degree through the Department of Counseling in Fall 2021.
When Peterson does eventually travel to the Canary Islands, his trip will be fully-funded through the Fulbright Program, including airfare and housing.
According to the United States Fulbright Program website The program was introduced in 1945 when Sen. James W. Fulbright introduced a bill in the United States Congress that called for the use of surplus war property to fund the promotion of international goodwill through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture, and science.
In recent years ISU sponsored several Irish Fulbright Program recipients to teach Gaelic through the Department of Global Studies and Language. The university suspended this sponsorship in response to the recent budget crisis.
Graduating seniors and graduate students currently enrolled in higher education institutions are requiredby the Fulbright Programto work with their institutions Fulbright Program advisor prior to submitting their applications. ISU graduating seniors and graduate students interested in applying to the Fulbright Program should contact Idaho State Fulbright Program advisor Alan Johnson, who holds his doctorate in English, to start their application process. Johnsons expertise is in postcolonial literature and theory, with an emphasis on India. He has personally been awarded two Fulbright grants to lecture and study literature across India.
Eligible students must be U.S. citizens, hold at least a bachelors degree or equivalent by the start of the grant, meet required language proficiency when required to and demonstrate academic excellence or community engagement.
Applications start online with personal questions, transcripts, letters of recommendation and a two-page proposal on intended research. Because the Fulbright Program is also an opportunity for individuals to serve as cultural ambassadors, applicants must also submit a personal statement regarding their interests in traveling abroadincluding why they are applying to a particular country and how they plan to engage with the prospective culture. In certain grants, applicants would need approval and affiliation from the institution they are proposing to visit.
Once the application is compiled, students would conduct an interview with Johnson and a small campus committee.
It is really key that you get everything to me; I would need to review the proposal and statements, said Johnson. Then for students, a key and required component is the campus interview. The purpose of the interview is not to weed out candidates or stop the application, but to strengthen them and provide feedback.
While the official deadline to apply to the Fulbright U.S. Student Program this award cycle is Oct. 13, Johnson said that students need to have their statement and proposal drafts to the campus committee by Sept. 20. Students then submit that application by Oct. 13, but I always say to do it earlier, a couple of days earlier, said Johnson.
Once applications are submitted, there are two rounds to the selection process, and students who make it past the first round would hear by spring whether they were awarded the Fulbright grant. Recipients are then guided through the required paperwork to visit their host countries.
Completing the necessary paperwork to travel to the Canary Islandsan autonomous community within Spainhas been challenging for Peterson. Spain is undergoing a COVID-19 resurgence and is banning entry to most U.S. citizens, with some exceptions such as those with student visas. Peterson struggled to get his visa when he studied abroad in Spain pre-COVID-19 and he worries about obtaining his visa now that traveling outside the U.S. is even more precarious.
It is difficult as it is to get a visa to go to Spain, said Peterson. In 2018 when I studied abroad, we had to show up at the consulate without an appointment because they never got back to us. It was already difficult to get an appointment and get seen. We just showed up to the consulate and waited three days before we got our visa appointment.
From Pocatello, the nearest General Consulate of Spain is in San Francisco. But despite its challenges and uncertainties, Peterson is optimistic and still encourages more graduating seniors to apply to the Fulbright Program.
I think it is good to apply to multiple things. Apply to graduate school and apply to Fulbright. You never know what will happen, said Peterson.
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