Congratulations to Kara Newman for winning a Fulbright ETA to Colombia! Here are some of her thoughts on the Fulbright program and its application process:

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What do you hope to get out of the opportunity that Fulbright affords you?

Lots of things! After Fulbright, I plan to work in international development, specifically in post-conflict settings. Teaching university students is an opportunity to improve the way I adapt to new cultural contexts, and to gain a much better understanding of what life is like after conflict–the peace accord may have passed Congress, but do people in Colombia feel that the war is over? In Williamsburg, I can sit and read about Colombian elections, but what does the political blowback look like in day-to-day life?

I speak Spanish and some Portuguese, and these have opened so many doors for me! I had an experience in high school (gov school) that really had an effect on me and set me on the path that I’m on in a lot of ways, just by making me love language learning. That puts me in a good position to help teach another language, since I am a walking example of the benefits of learning another language. And I loved being a PSA because I love helping people to achieve their goals, and I think being a TA for English students will be similarly empowering.

I think the community engagement will be an awesome opportunity–I’m looking forward to reaching out to local organizations once I know where I’m going to be placed!!

Finally, teaching is related to so many other skills, including communication and interpersonal skills. I don’t plan to teach in the future, but I see these abilities being directly related to the type of development work I hope to do in the future.

How and why did you choose your recommenders, and what is your relationship with them like?

Two of my recommenders are professors who helped to shape the way I approach international development, which is the subject of my personal statement, so that fit in nicely. The last recommender was my supervisor from an English camp in Chile where I volunteered a year and a half ago, so she could speak specifically to my English-teaching. My language evaluator could also speak to some of my strengths as an applicant, which was handy. I’m pretty close to all of the professors that evaluated me (my recommenders and language evaluator): I regularly drop by the offices of the professors still on campus and whenever I see something that makes me think of the other professor (something related to one of his classes) I email him about it. And I’m friends with my English camp supervisor, but she lives in Chile so it’s a little harder for me to stop by and say hi to her!

What motivated you to apply for a Fulbright?

It was on my radar from my freshman year because of being a PSA, but there were a few things that made me want to apply. First, the opportunity to get in-country experience in Colombia. Second, because teaching abroad is a bit fraught: if teaching abroad is something that interests you, it’s important to research the organization you would be teaching with to ensure that you would be contributing in a way that doesn’t make students feel that you’re imposing your culture/language on them. I will be working with university students, which mitigates some of those concerns, and the Fulbright program has a great reputation for being more culturally conscious than some other programs out there. Third, Fulbright is focused on cultural exchange, which really separates it from other teaching programs. I think one-on-one relationships are so crucial for spreading cultural understanding! And everything that I talked about in response to the first question applies here as well.

How did you choose your country?

I studied Latin American studies in undergrad and I’m fluent in Spanish, so I wanted to be in Latin America. I’m interested in development in post-conflict settings, so this also made Colombia attractive. I also visited Colombia while I was in Ecuador and fell in love with the country, so there’s that more sentimental aspect to it too! An added bonus is that it’s working with university students–this is good, because I don’t plan to be a teacher after returning to the United States, and working with people close to my age will be more directly transferable to future work.

What did you realize about yourself throughout this process?

This process did help me to put together some coherent thoughts about international development and my role in that field. Development can be really harmful if it’s not done right, and one thing I got from this process was a checklist for what makes a responsible development project. It helped me to narrow in on what my specific focus is within the field (development in post-conflict settings, which I talk about extensively in my application, and tech for development, which I do not mention at all because it’s not as relevant, but not all of your Fulbright-related revelations have to be related to your application!)

What is the most important piece of advice you would give to future Fulbright applicants?

Start early. Consult a PSA at every stage of the process (everyone knows they’re great for essays, but they’re also awesome for brainstorming where to go, what to write about, for practice interviews, etc.) The Fulbright website is the best scholarship website out there and I’ll fight anyone who disagrees. If you start early, then you will be able to take a week or two off your essays (which is crucial!! Plan for several breaks!). Don’t be afraid to scrap an idea that just isn’t working out like you thought it would. And really understand Fulbright and its goals while you’re working on the application: try to think about how to incorporate cultural understanding/ambassadorship/sensitivity/etc.