Fulbright Opportunities for Your Students, Your Faculty, and You
If you are reading this, you believe in higher education and are committed to making your program and unit as dynamic as possible. This requires hard work every day: creating, maintaining, updating, and adapting. So it is especially important to look for opportunities to enrich, refresh, renew, connect, and diversify. That’s what Fulbright is about. So take a few minutes to read my capsule introduction and consider stepping out of your routine to apply for an opportunity through Fulbright. This is an investment in you, in the quality of the programming you offer, and in internationalization and diversity.
As a faculty member and administrator at Western Kentucky University, I created opportunities for my students, for my colleagues, and for myself through Fulbright. While still on the tenure track, I applied for a Junior Faculty Research Scholarship that enabled me to spend a year abroad focused on research. As an assistant professor, I mentored undergraduates who applied for Fulbright Research Awards and Fulbright English Teaching Assistantships. Their success stories are among the most treasured memories of my entire career. As department head, I applied to bring Fulbright Language Teaching Assistants to campus and hosted some 30 of them over the course of a little more than a decade, nearly doubling the number of languages our department offered. I collaborated with Fulbright alumni on my campus to bring Fulbright Scholars hosted by other US institutions to speak on our campus through the Fulbright Outreach Lecturing Fund. And more recently, I was named to the Fulbright Specialist Roster in February 2023, where I will be listed until February 2026 as available to provide short-term support for a project proposed by a host institution abroad. My areas of expertise are world languages and higher education administration. These are just some of the ways my students, my colleagues, and I participated in Fulbright programs.
In what follows, I will provide tips for a successful Fulbright application, outline a few of the Fulbright programs, and share ideas for creating a Fulbright-friendly campus. Note that there are a plethora of Fulbright opportunities, and these may change. So it is worth taking the time to dig into Fulbright information online to learn about current offerings and eligibility. I will provide a basic introduction infused with my own best advice for your next steps.
What is Fulbright?
The US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) administers Fulbright. Senator J. William Fulbright founded the program in 1946. According to the Fulbright Scholars website,
The Fulbright Program, the United States government’s flagship program of international educational and cultural exchange, offers passionate and accomplished students and scholars in more than 160 countries the opportunity to study, teach, conduct research, exchange ideas, and contribute to mutual understanding. These talented Fulbrighters from all backgrounds inspire, innovate, and contribute to finding solutions to challenges facing our communities and our world.
Fulbright awards typically come with a stipend commensurate with the level of award, health benefits, and airfare.
How to apply
Begin by using the “Who We Are,” “About,” or “Awards” or “Overview” section of the appropriate website below to read about opportunities and selecting the one that most closely fits your goals. Read the eligibility information closely. Note that for many Fulbright awards, the lead time from application to start date can be as much as a full year. As with preparing for any high-stakes application, create a backward-planning timeline for assembly of relevant documents, obtaining any required letters of support or recommendation, and taking application essays through multiple drafts to arrive at their best final form. The Fulbright application process is competitive, and a top-quality application is essential. Will there be an interview? Do you have questions about the application process? Contact Fulbright. I have always found them to be responsive and helpful. Is there a Fulbright advisor on your campus? Find out and connect.
Types of awards
The Fulbright US Student Program offers a range of opportunities for American undergraduates to spend a year abroad, typically after graduation or within a few years of it. Students can apply to serve as an English Language Teaching Assistant (ETA) or to carry out a research project. For a young person who wants to get their first or additional international experience, this can be a wonderful way to gain professional experience while living in another culture The ETA program is best suited for undergraduates who think they might like to pursue a career in teaching or who simply love working with kids and are ready to immerse themselves in a foreign environment. ETAs will typically support language instruction in a K–12 context and be integrated into the life of a school and community abroad. Training in teaching English as a second language is not required. The research award requires preparedness to carry out independent scholarly work abroad.
Faculty, administrators, and professionals
The Fulbright Scholar Program distinguishes between incoming and outgoing scholars. For US scholars, it has extensive information to help you determine which program is right for you. Many people know that this program offers opportunities to conduct research or teach at a host institution abroad. But there is more. There are also postdoctoral awards, international education administrator awards, artist awards, and community college administrator awards, to name a few. It is worth exploring opportunities listed online as there are Fulbright opportunities for every stage of an academic career. Even retired faculty are encouraged to consider sharing their expertise through participation in a program. Under “Which Award is Right for Me?” Fulbright distinguishes the different types of awards by career stage and required qualifications.
Bringing Fulbright to you
Fulbright also offers a range of opportunities for you to internationalize your campus by inviting a Fulbright Scholar. As head of modern languages, I applied for foreign language teaching assistants in Arabic, Russian, and Swahili. An institution’s financial obligation for FLTAs in less commonly taught languages is extremely low and higher for commonly taught languages like French, German, and Spanish. The host department must, in my opinion, be prepared to provide TA training and supervision, social and cultural mentoring, and administrative support for settling on campus (arrival, housing, local orientation). Ideally, FLTAs enjoy direct supervision by a faculty member who teaches their language. Reliance on FLTAs to teach independently as instructors of record without such supervision is risky. If the incoming FLTA will support cultural programming and instruction but not serve as instructor of record, there is less risk and less training required. But there is still a need to be support FLTAs in whatever role as they adjust to life in the US and to American campus culture.
Preparing your campus community for success with Fulbright
There are many ways you can create awareness of Fulbright opportunities on your campus. Ask your office of international programs to link to Fulbright opportunities on its resources page, to name an advisor who specializes in Fulbright programs, to announce the receipt of Fulbright awards by students and faculty through press releases special events, and in the case of faculty Fulbright recipients, to host a post-return campus-wide lecture.
You can also create awareness by using Fulbright resources to internationalize the on-campus learning experience for your students. When students meet, work with, or engage with a scholar from abroad, they are more likely to consider applying for a Fulbright themselves. Read about opportunities to invite non-US Fulbright Scholars to your campus for a shorter or longer visit. For instance, the Outreach Lecturing Fund provides support for inviting non-US scholars currently in the United States to visit your campus for a few days of lecturing and engagement with students and faculty. Search the online database by home country or subject area to identify scholars whose interests match programs that you want to promote on your campus.
You can also take steps to foster student interest in applying for a Fulbright. Ask faculty to mention Fulbright opportunities directly to potential applicants they identify in teaching and advising contexts. For many undergraduates, a Fulbright application will be one of the most detail-oriented, complex sets of documents they have assembled. Some campuses have created an office of scholar development to help students with this. Recognize faculty and advisors who support students in submitting completed, top-quality applications (even if they are not funded).
To support faculty, make Fulbright opportunities a part of the culture of new faculty orientation. Create policies that help faculty know how their award and subsequent time away from campus will be treated. As the first person to receive a Fulbright at the pre-tenure stage at my institution, I had to negotiate the sabbatical clock and “top-up” compensation (the Junior Researcher Award did not match my salary). As an administrator, make an effort to treat faculty consistently in these special cases. As a faculty member, seek wisdom from mentors and Fulbright alumni who can help you stand up for yourself. Also to support faculty, provide funding for a faculty member or small delegation to attend the national Fulbright conference. Ask the representative or team to disseminate information on campus on their return.
The international exchange that Fulbright affords, whether it occurs when you as a participant go abroad or when you host a non-US scholar, can be personally and professionally transformative for you and others. Don’t miss out on this opportunity. And another word of advice: do it sooner rather than later. Who knows, you might want to do more than one Fulbright!
Laura G. McGee, PhD, served most recently as head of the Department of Modern Languages at Western Kentucky University. Under her leadership, the department nearly doubled the number of its languages, programs, and majors. She now conducts program reviews and consults for LifeStories Matter LLC Intercultural Training and Coaching. In February 2023, she was placed on the Fulbright Specialist Roster for a period of three years. As a Fulbright Specialist serving a university abroad on a short-term consulting assignment, she will share her expertise in the areas of world languages program development and higher education administration.