The Fulbright Interview

First of all, let me say “Happy New Year” to all my blog readers! I hope 2016 brings you everything you wish for. 2015 was a great year for me so I’m really looking forward to seeing what 2016 brings.

old-books-436498_1920Congratulations to those of you who have reached the interview stage in the Fulbright application process! That is a major achievement so well done. Although the Fulbright interview is more or less the same as any other kind of interview, here are my top tips for interview success.

  1. BE YOURSELF

I know this sounds so clichéd but it’s really important to be yourself. Fulbright are looking for people who will be good cultural ambassadors. And a good cultural ambassador is someone who is social and friendly as well as hard-working and intelligent. Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through. If you come across as too standoffish or unwilling to engage in conversation then you may not be perceived as a good fit for the program.

  1. BE PREPARED

This goes without saying but you should really be aware of what the Fulbright program aims to achieve, why J. William Fulbright established the program in the first place and why you would make a good Fulbrighter. You should also read over your application and anticipate any questions that may arise.

  1. DON’T BE AFRAID TO DIRECT THE INTERVIEW

If there is something that you want to say, then say it. Don’t wait for a specific question. The interview is about 20 minutes long and that time can go by really quickly so use any opportunity that you are given to share the information that is important to you.

  1. STAY CALM

I was really nervous before my interview. I could feel my heart thumping in my chest before I was called into the interview room, my mouth was dry and I had butterflies in my stomach. This is normal but I knew that I could mess up the interview if I let my nerves get the better of me. Have you every walked out of an interview and couldn’t remember what questions you were asked or how you responded? Well that has happened to me and I didn’t want it to happen again! So to help me stay calm, I made it a point to talk slowly, breathe deeply and think about each question carefully before I answered.

Those are my top tips. Best of luck in the interview! Don’t worry if you didn’t get an interview this time round because you can apply again this year. I’m really looking forward to meeting Ireland’s new Fulbrighters for 2016. I can honestly say that I have never met a Fulbrighter that I didn’t like!

I’m off to Atlanta, Georgia, tomorrow for the American Historical Association’s annual meeting. I’m presenting on representations of race and racism in nineteenth century textbooks so I’m really excited about that. I’ll fill you all in when I’m back.

 

My Trip to Washington, D.C.

Washington

Washington Monument

Hello again,

Time is going by so fast. I can’t believe that I will be going home next week! I’m devastated. Obviously I’m really excited about seeing my friends and family. And Christmas is a great time of year to be at home – everyone is back from their travels and there’s always a good buzz about the place. Even though it rains quite a bit here in NC, it’s not as dull or as gloomy as it is in Ireland during the winter so I’m definitely going to need some time to readjust to the Irish weather!

A couple of weeks ago I visited Washington, D.C. I loved it! Vimaljit, girl I met at the Gateway Orientation program, is studying at Georgetown University so I stayed with her for the weekend. One of the best things about getting a Fulbright is getting the chance to meet new people. I’ve also recently met up with two Irish Fulbrighters, one here in North Carolina and one in San Francisco (more about SF next week). Fulbright really does give you the opportunity to meet new people, from your home country as well as abroad.

My first day in DC was spent exploring Georgetown. It’s such a cute place. Looking at the different style of houses is one of my favourite things to do in a new place. I don’t know if that’s weird or not and I actually only found out how much I like doing it after visiting Chicago earlier this year. Chicago has some really cool architecture, especially around Lincoln Park. Vimaljit also showed me the house where The Exorcist was filmed! After grabbing a bite to eat we headed out for some drinks with her college friends. Going for drinks in DC is totally different from going for drinks in Chapel Hill, probably because Chapel Hill is your quintessential college town replete with UNC merchandise stores and frat houses (but I love it). There’s definitely a more businessy vibe in DC.

Washington DC

Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool

The next day I went sightseeing. I did the usual: Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Reflecting Pool, the Capitol, the White House…They are all within walking distance from each other. I then headed to the museums. The first one I went to was the Smithsonian Holocaust Museum. That was really interesting. I spent at least three hours in there. I read everything on the walls so I moved pretty slowly. I also went to the Library of Congress and the Museum of American History. By that stage I was pretty tired so I headed back to the apartment. We went for dinner and wine at a Japanese restaurant later that evening and it was great to unwind.

My bus was leaving early the next morning so I didn’t have time to do any more sightseeing. Which I was a little disappointed about because there is so much to do and see in DC. But I definitely intend on heading back in the future. It’s a great city. After San Francisco it’s my favourite US city (so far). I would definitely recommended a visit! Washington me

As you’ve noticed, I also visited SF recently. I’ve family there so I went to spend thanksgiving with them. That was also so much fun and you’ll hear all about that next week!

Bye for now…

Silent Sam, NC State Fair and Halloween

Hello there!

So, the past couple of weeks have been pretty busy. As usual, I’m getting stuck into the archives and I’m getting lots of writing done. I really wanted to write a post about how to write 1000 words a day but I’m so drained after all the writing I do during the day that I really haven’t been able to bring myself to write about writing! 🙂 Soooooo, here is an amazing blog post that inspired me to become  a more committed writer. Have a read if you want to get some serious writing done.

Confederate FlagsRecently I attended a counter-demonstration against Silent Sam, a statue of a Confederate soldier on campus here at UNC. I wasn’t prepared for what I experienced. When I walked towards the site of the counter-protest the first thing I saw was a convoy of cars and trucks all flying at least one Confederate flag. Some were flying multiple. I thought it was pretty crazy because I believe that the Confederate flag cannot be separated from racism. Especially one that has a belt hanging from it in what closely resembles a noose. Shocking stuff. At the end of the day, four million black people were held in slavery when the Civil War broke out in 1861, for no other reason than the colour of their skin. For centuries they were forced to labour from dawn to dusk, beaten and raped. Their children were taken from them and they were separated from their spouses. Sure, there were degrees of slavery and some masters were more lenient than others but the myth of the happy slave is exactly that. A myth. The way I see it, the Confederacy cannot be separated from that history of racism, prejudice and oppression. Anyway, you can read more about the counter-protest here.

I also went to the State Fair in Raleigh with some of the Boxing Club crowd. For Irish people reading this, it was basically like a much bigger Funderland. But the food… The food was amazing. Basically, you could get deep fried anything: cheeseburgers, oreos, cheescake, mac and cheese…The list was endless. You could also get these massive turkey legs that smelled delicious and really buttery corn on the cob. Mmmm. I’m drooling just thinking about it!

Deep Fired Oreos

Deep Fired Oreos

Then, of course, I celebrated Halloween! A friend had a house party that we all dressed up for. It was really fun. I had to get creative with my costume. There are no costume shops in Chapel Hill and I wasn’t in the mood to go shopping for one so I dressed up as a …. zombie! The only thing I bought for my costume was fake blood. I did crazy make-up, messed up my hair, ripped my tights and made some cool cuts out of eyelash glue. I think it turned out pretty well!

Today, UNC were playing their rivals Duke in football. And they won 66-31! I didn’t go to the game but I went to a pre-game tailgating party.

Next week I’m going to Washington DC to visit a friend I met at the Fulbright Orientation program so I’m really excited about that. I’ll fill
you all in when I get home.

Slán go fóill!

Some Challenges You May Face When Moving to a New Country

2015-09-11 13.56.14These challenges won’t apply to everyone. Ireland has become very Americanised over the past twenty years or so and having been to the U.S. previously, either on holidays or on research trips, I didn’t really experience culture shock. Nevertheless, these are the challenges that I faced when I first arrived in North Carolina.


HOMESICKNESS

Homesickness is, unfortunately, inevitable. No matter how excited you are about your new venture, you will miss your friends, family and home comforts. However, as sure as I am that you will experience homesickness at some stage during your time abroad, I am equally sure that you will come out of it. At the Gateway Orientation Program, we were warned that all cultural exchange students go through periods of highs and lows – sort of like a roller-coaster. But for every low point, there’s a high point! When I first got to North Carolina I experienced homesickness almost immediately. I didn’t know anybody and because I’m not taking any classes (I’m conducting independent research) I was worried that I wouldn’t make any friends. Fortunately, it’s actually very easy to make friends here, provided you’re willing to put in the effort. Within the first week I signed up with the UNC Boxing Club and got in touch with the Graduate History Society so I got to meet loads of new people. If you sit at home and don’t reach out then you probably won’t make too many new friends, so it really is important to put yourself out there. Meeting new people helped to solve my homesickness problem but if it’s plaguing you, this website offers some really good strategies to deal with homesickness.

THE CLIMATE

In Ireland the weather can be pretty miserable. Our winters are dark, drab and grey and although we get some bright, sunny days in the spring and summer, the temperatures rarely peak above the mid-twenties – Celsius that is. So when I first came to North Carolina I loved the bright sunny mornings. That is until noon hit. I learnt the hard way not to walk to the store between 12 noon and 2pm. The humidity is a killer! Once, I even got sunburned walking ten minutes to the shop! Now that it’s October, I’m getting a good insight into what hurricane season is like in NC. Hurricane Joaquin is on the horizon and it’s been raining for the past week, pretty much non-stop. When the rain first began I noticed that so many people wore wellies! I found this hilarious until I couldn’t walk to the library without stepping into very deep puddles. I now plan on investing in a pair of wellies!

NOT HAVING A CAR

I love my car. I miss my car. Here in NC, I’m very, very lucky to have found an amazing apartment so close to everything on campus. Pretty much everywhere is within walking distance. Except for the grocery store. It’s actually only about a thirty minute walk away but I have to make sure that I time it correctly because there is nothing worse than walking that distance (in jeans) in the humidity. I speak from experience! My rule of thumb is not to use a basket while shopping and to only buy whatever my two hands can carry. This ensures that I’m not logging heaving bags all the way home – again, I speak from experience! There are buses, but they are so infrequent that it’s sometimes easier to walk…

THE CURRENCY

This might seem like a silly one but American currency can be very confusing! First of all, a wad of dollars makes you feel like you’re loaded when you’re actually not. Boo. 😦 And don’t get me started on the coins. What’s a dime and why is a five cent coin bigger that a ten cent coin!? Aragh. This can be very frustrating when you’re trying to pay for your coffee and a very large queue is forming behind you. Thankfully, most places accept card, even if you’re only buying a bottle of water. I’ll admit, having to swipe instead of entering a pin did take a bit of getting used to too! You can’t swipe too fast and definitely not too slow. But I’m a pro swiper now! 🙂


I know that I’m very lucky that these are the only challenges I’ve faced in the U.S. Some of my friends from around the world have definitely experienced culture shock, particularly because of the language barrier. My fellow Fulbrighters and I have all remained in contact because it’s important to have a strong network of support. If you’re finding living abroad challenging, never be afraid to reach out to someone. Even if they’re not going through the same thing, they’re sure to offer kind words of support and sometimes that’s all you need.

Road Trip to Asheville, North Carolina

Blue Ridge Parkway

A view from the Blue Ridge Parkway

Last week my boyfriend came to visit and we went on a road trip to Asheville, North Carolina. Asheville is a beautiful city in western North Carolina, about three and a half hours away from Chapel Hill. So, for that all-American experience, we rented a pick-up truck, booked an Airbnb and off we went!

Asheville was as beautiful as everyone said it would be. It’s a very laid-back city with a strong hippy vibe. The food was amazing and the craft beer is supposed to be even better. I don’t actually like beer but the wine was pretty good!

Asheville

A view from the Blue Ridge Parkway

The first day we got there we spent the day exploring downtown Asheville – our apartment was within walking distance and our air bnb hosts recommended some great bars and restaurants. The weather was perfect – not too hot and definitely not too cold which made all that walking very easy.

Biltmore House

Biltmore House

The second day we visited the Biltmore Estate. Biltmore House, the main house on the estate, was built by George Vanderbilt in the late nineteenth century. It’s the largest privately owned house in the US. We couldn’t take any photos inside the house but the place was restored to near perfection. It really gave you a feel of what it would have been like to be one of Vanderbilt’s guests. The view from the house was nothing short of magnificent. Miles and miles of trees, rolling green hills and perfect blue sky. I really fell in love with the place because of that view!

The Biltmore Estate was designed to be self-sustaining and the Biltmore Winery is located just a short drive from the house. A free tour of the winery is included in the cost of admission along with free wine tastings. Needless to say I came home with a great bottle of Riesling.

The view from The Biltmore

The view from The Biltmore

The third day we drove along the Blue Ridge Parkway. This parkway runs through Virginia and North Carolina, mostly along the Blue Ridge Mountains which are part of the Appalachian Mountains. Again, the views were spectacular. The weather was cooler that day but it was the perfect time to make the trip because the leaves had just started to change colour, making the views even more amazing.

That evening it started lashing rain! And when it rains in North Carolina, it pours. The weather has been pretty miserable since but hopefully we’ll get some sunshine before the week is out. All in all, the trip to Asheville was amazing and we’re both so glad we got to see a beautiful part of North Carolina.

Fulbright Gateway Orientation

Photo Credit: Tamer Samak

Photo Credit: Tamer Samak

So this week I attended an orientation program at Kennesaw State University, Georgia, USA. It was an amazing few days! Approximately sixty Fulbrighters from forty-six different countries were in attendance (I need to double check those figures). The program was basically designed to familiarise non-US students and researchers with the American culture and system of education. Over the course of three, fairly intensive days, we engaged in workshops and seminars that examined American customs, values, politics and history. However, the value of the program extended far beyond the practical knowledge it imparted upon us students.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love learning about different cultures. And they will know that because I basically interrogate any non-national in Ireland about their home, their culture, their traditions and everything in between! I find it fascinating. This orientation program gave me the opportunity to learn about so many different countries, from Afghanistan to Ukraine. It allowed me to dispel some of the misconceptions I had about some countries while also making me more aware of the unique way of life in other countries. Although most Irish people enjoy having a few drinks, I hope I helped to dispel the notion that Ireland is a nation of alcoholics and leprechauns! 🙂

Fulbright’s aim is to promote cross-cultural understanding in an effort to reduce global conflict. And I believe that this orientation program, and others like it, go a long way towards achieving this aim. If we really are to be the leaders of our generation, as Fulbright hopes and expects us to be, I can safely say that there will not be any conflict between those of us who were in attendance this week. Although we did not always agree on certain matters, we were wise enough to accept each other’s differences and unique points of view.

We love our group shots! Photo Credit: Tamer Samak

We love our group shots! Photo Credit: Tamer Samak

Never have I connected so well with a group of people. And I believe that most, if not all, of my fellow Fulbrighters feel the same. Every day I talked to someone new, or sat with a new group of people at meal times, and the conversation always flowed. On the first day of the program, one of the professors mentioned that while we were all intelligent people, we were not chosen to receive Fulbright awards on the basis of our academic merit alone. Rather, our unique interpersonal qualities played a huge factor in the selection process. And from what I could see, everyone in the group was kind, generous, positive, open minded, hardworking, determined, motivated, and, of course, immensely intelligent. We weren’t just a bunch of boring academics! We had fun, we were witty, we were funny, we cracked jokes, and we laughed. A lot!

Hopefully we all manage to stay in contact. I am so grateful to Fulbright for giving me this amazing opportunity and to my wonderful Fulbright family who have made this experience so amazing thus far.

Outside Martin Luther King Jnr.'s family home in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo Credit: Tamer Samak

Outside Martin Luther King Jnr.’s family home in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo Credit: Tamer Samak

Now, it’s onto the next chapter!

Teambuilding!

Teambuilding! Photo Credit: Vanessa Sayajon

Day One in Atlanta, Georgia

Travel

Happy Monday!

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while, I was so busy getting everything organised for this trip.

So I arrived in Atlanta, Georgia last night. I’m not gonna lie, it was tough leaving home. I was so sad saying goodbye to everyone, especially one person in particular. I was in Chicago and NYC for five weeks just a few months ago so it seemed like this trip came around really fast and I was off again before you knew it!

A beautiful view of NYC from Central Park West in May 2015.

A beautiful view of NYC from Central Park West in May 2015.

Anyway, homesickness aside, the first observation I made is that Atlanta is HOT! Yikes. And I’m not great with the heat. When you walk outside the hot air blasts you in the face. Like when you open the door of a really hot oven. I’m hoping I acclimatise!

The second observation I made is that it’s dark at 6am! One of my favourite things about Ireland during the summer is the bright mornings, regardless of the weather. I’m an early bird so waking up to a bright morning is a huge bonus for me. It’s pretty bright by 7am though and, to be honest, I probably won’t be getting up until that time anyway! 🙂

How beautiful is the view from my home in Ireland early in the morning? Granted these mornings are few and far between these days!

How beautiful is the view from my home in Ireland early in the morning? Granted these mornings are few and far between these days!

Today I begin my Fulbright Gateway Orientation program so I will keep you all updated on that over the coming days.

Bye for now!

Tips for Writing the Personal Statement

The second essay that forms part of your Fulbright application procedure is the Personal Statement. This essay is probably one of the trickiest to write because there really is no strict format to follow. As with the Research Objectives essay, however, Fulbright will provide some general information as to what should be included. Again, it’s a relatively short essay, about fifty lines of text, and you should share your work with others so that you can get some constructive feedback. Start writing early as you will undoubtedly write multiple drafts.

One of the best tips I read in relation to the Personal Statement was, if your essay sounds like it could have been written by someone else then it’s not personal enough. Unfortunately, I cannot remember what site I read this on but if I come across it again I’ll make sure to post the link.

Obviously, the Personal Statement has to be personal. But it should also be academic. You need to find a balance. I think my first draft was way too personal and my supervisor advised me to insert some academic information, such as my achievements to date and plans for the future.

I don’t have any tips, as such, for writing the Personal Statement so I’ll just give you a brief outline of what I included in my essay.

In my Personal Statement, I basically outlined my academic trajectory.

I began my essay by discussing what motivated me to study American History. In the ‘About Me’ section of this blog I explain that my interest in the American South was inspired by Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I then proceeded to explain how my parents were very strong influences because they always encouraged me to find an occupation that I love. Teaching and researching is my passion so I’m glad I followed their advice. Even though I’ve been a ‘poor student’ for longer than I care to think about!!!

The next section of my essay discussed my academic qualifications and experiences. I explained how my B.Ed with History degree made me uniquely qualified to carry out the proposed research, the awards I received and the conferences I will be presenting at.

The remainder of my essay discussed how I planned to disseminate my research, how this dissemination would benefit Fulbright, Ireland and Mary Immaculate College, and what I planned to do when I returned to Ireland.

So that’s it. I hope it helps! Ultimately, I don’t believe that anyone else could have written an essay too like this. Everyone has different interests, inspirations and motivations. Equally, everyone has different academic achievements and plans for the future. So just be yourself!

Tips for Writing the Research Objectives Essay

In order to apply for the Irish Fulbright Student Award, you have to write two essays: a Research Objectives essay and a Personal Statement. The Fulbright Commission of Ireland will provide an outline of what information should be included in these essays. They are relatively short, about fifty lines of text if I remember correctly, although application procedures may be different in other countries.

In this post, I will share some of my tips for writing the Research Objectives essay. These are my tips only and are not endorsed by the Fulbright Commission of Ireland. My thoughts and ideas regarding the application procedure are entirely my own. I’m simply sharing with you what I believe to be the most important things to consider when applying for a Fulbright. Other people may have different interpretations so don’t limit yourself to what I say here.

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FIRST things first, if you are thinking about applying for a Fulbright award you need to understand what the Fulbright program is about. You will find this information on any Fulbright site but I found this essay (here), written by Kieran McCarthy, particularly useful. As I understand it, the Fulbright Program is designed to facilitate cross-cultural exchange in order to reduce global conflict. You won’t necessarily discuss this information in your essay but it’s important to be aware of the aims and motivations of Senator J. William Fulbright. In my opinion, if you are not committed to achieving Fulbright’s aims and objectives then there’s no point in applying for the award.

BEFORE you even begin writing your application, it’s worth considering what potential contribution your work will make to your country, your institution and the wider world. This, I believe, is a significant part of the application process. Fulbright aren’t going to give just anyone an award. They will probably choose proposals that have the potential to make a difference in society. Every proposal has the potential to make a difference, you just have to figure out what that is.

PLUS, as you may know, if you receive a Fulbright Student Award you are subjected to a two year home residency requirement, meaning you have to return to your home country for two years after your time in the US . This is understandable considering Fulbright will probably offer you an award on the basis of its potential to make a difference in your home country. And your home country won’t benefit from the study you conduct in the US if run back to the states as soon as you finish up in your home institution!

ANYWAY, this part of the application process can be one of the most difficult but I can guarantee you that every proposal has the potential to make some kind of contribution to society. It’s not all about “filling the gap” or “contributing to knowledge and understanding”. So spend some time thinking and talking about this. Your supervisor and academic friends will be a great help so talk to them.

NOW you need to start writing your application. I advise you to start early because you will write multiple drafts. You should also share your writing with someone. My supervisor was fantastic and really pushed me to promote myself a bit more – I’m a typical, modest, Irish girl who doesn’t like to “brag”. I also spoke with a previous Fulbrighter at my institution and she was a great help.

THE structure of you application is paramount. I’ve been very fortunate to secure four grants and I am convinced that it’s down to the grant writing template that Dr Karen Kelsky created. It can be found here. (I find this entire site fantastic – from CV tips to conference proposals, it has it all). The ‘Foolproof Grant Template’ can be frustrating at times because the structure is so rigid but it will really help you to organise your thoughts and ideas more clearly. I cannot stress how useful this template was for me.  That being said, Fulbright will probably give you a fairly comprehensive outline of what information should be included in the essay. For my Research Objectives essay I didn’t stick entirely to the ‘Foolproof Grant Template’ but I did for other grant essays. You just need to be flexible.

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SO that’s it. I hope it helps somewhat. Check out other blogs and see what others have to say also. And if you’re applying this year – the application process will be open soon – best of luck!!!

This was me on the day that I received my award. If I can do it anyone can!