Thinking about applying for a Fulbright award?

By Kathleen M. Nokes | 08/08/2016

Helpful tips from a three-time recipient.

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In Part 1 of this two-part series, “The Fulbright Program at 70: Now more than ever,” Daniel Oerther provides a brief history of the Fulbright Program and discusses why, seven decades after its legislative creation in 1946, the program is more important than ever. In Part 2, Kathleen Nokes identifies steps that improve an applicant’s chances for receiving this prestigious award that promotes international understanding.  

Nurses can expand their practice setting to international locations in a variety of ways. U.S. nurse educators interested in spending anywhere from two months to a year in academic settings outside of the United States should consider applying for an award from the Fulbright Scholar Program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The Council for International Exchange of Scholars (CIES), the scholar division of the Institute of International Education (IIE), conducts international exchange programs for scholars and university administrators.
 
Nokes_Kathleen_ID_embed_SFWMy purpose in writing this article is to identify steps that lead to successful applications. In doing so, I draw upon my experience as a grant awardee and peer reviewer for the Fulbright Specialist Program. Applicants interested in pursuing a Fulbright award should also contact the Fulbright Program directly, as policies are revised frequently.
 
When?
Before applying for a Fulbright award, consider carefully when you want to teach abroad, as applications are reviewed annually. Because so many entities—the CIES, which supervises the U.S. side of the Fulbright process; its counterpart in the host country, which manages the program’s non-U.S. aspects; and your home institution, which provides letters supporting your application—are involved, I recommend getting started two years ahead of your desired arrival time overseas. Planning a sabbatical that coincides with Fulbright-award deployment is helpful, as salary and benefits your home institution provides will help supplement funding you receive from Fulbright.

Which award?
Once you’ve decided to look into a Fulbright award, the next step is to explore the program’s website. You’ll quickly realize the site doesn’t include a nursing-specific category, so most nurses apply to the program through its medical science or public/global health categories.
 
Fulbright offers a variety of award opportunities, but the two basic grants are provided by the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program and the Fulbright Specialist Program, and they differ with respect to financial support and duration. The Scholar award is completely funded by Fulbright, whereas the Specialist award requires contributions from the recipient’s host institution. Also, Scholar awards vary from two months to 12 months, compared to Specialist awards, given for two to six weeks. Fulbright administrators prefer granting awards to a variety of overseas institutions, so don’t plan on receiving a Scholar award for an institution and then returning to the same institution via a Specialist award for two additional grant periods. Although policies change, the general rule is that a U.S. applicant can receive one Scholar award and no more than two Specialist awards.
 
Where in the world?
Once you’ve determined whether you want to apply for a longer-duration Scholar award or a shorter-term Specialist award, it is time to think about where in the world you want to work. What you decide should reflect a match between your skills and the needs of the region. To illustrate, I’m an expert in the care of persons with HIV/AIDS, so I wanted to teach in an area that has high prevalence of HIV/AIDS. All three awards available under the rule mentioned above—one Scholar award and two Specialist awards—were in South Africa. If your expertise is more generic than this example, focus instead on where you would like to live for a while.
 
Consider carefully the cost of living, as the award may not cover all expenses for certain areas—the European Union, for example. Cost is also an issue if you apply for a Specialist award, because the host institution will be obligated to pay for your housing and daily expenses. If the host university provides housing, cost may be less of an issue, but you need to consider your safety, especially if you will be alone in an area where public transportation is unreliable and crime is high. Also, consider your health and how it may be impacted in the area where you want to live. For example, if you need to take medication to combat malaria, will it interfere with other medications you take? The Fulbright program does provide financial support for a spouse who accompanies you and for education of minor children.
 
OK. You’ve decided where you want to live while fulfilling the requirements of your Fulbright award, but make sure awards are granted for that region. The Core Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program offers teaching, research, and combination teaching/research awards in more than 125 countries, and the Fulbright Specialist Program grants awards in more than 140 countries. Because this is a U.S. government program, host countries must have a diplomatic relationship with the United States.
 
Let’s review. You’ve determined when you want to fulfill a Fulbright award. You’ve decided what kind of award you want to apply for. And you’ve figured out where you want to fulfill the terms of that award. Now it’s time to choose a host institution.

What institution?
Acceptable academic-institution candidates have prior relationships with the Fulbright program, so make sure to identify an institution or institutions that fit the award you’re seeking. To illustrate, you may want to collaborate with a faculty member of an educational institution that is not based in an institution of higher learning. As in the United States, not all nursing education programs award baccalaureate or higher degrees. So, before pursuing that partnership, contact CIES to determine if the host institution you are considering is an appropriate choice. To connect with a staff member for the region or grant you’d like to apply for, click here.
 
Your time in the host country will be short, so communicating with nurse faculty in your preferred host institution is helpful in two very important ways: 1) Exploring needs ahead of your time in the host country helps you develop a preliminary work plan. 2) The work plan you develop, when combined with a letter from the host institution that supports your application for a Fulbright award, makes your application much stronger. The Fulbright Scholar Directory is an excellent resource, and nursing is identified as a discipline in this directory. (Use “advanced search” to filter for nursing.) Fulbrighters are often open to conversing with interested applicants and can provide excellent insights into lessons learned during their in-country stays and projects started that could be advanced further.
 
Insights from one who has been there
Be careful when proposing projects. Keep them broad and specific. Your final report will be based on the project and related activities you proposed, so you need to be realistic and make sure your goals can be fulfilled within the specified time period. To illustrate, helping a faculty establish a graduate nursing program is not going to be achieved in three months. On the other hand, a preliminary needs assessment for a new graduate program may be realistic within the target time frame.
 
As I mentioned earlier, the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program offers teaching, research, and combination teaching/research awards. The Fulbright program favors combination grants over research-only grants because combination grants indicate that United States-based faculty will be building capacity with the host faculty and students. Supported activities and projects are those that, in addition to their intellectual merit, recognize and promote the critical relationship between educational exchange and international understanding. According to the CIES website, applications that offer broad multiplier effects are particularly welcome, as are projects conducive to awardees sharing experiences and knowledge with colleagues and students and, ideally, with the general public, both in the host country and upon returning home, in the United States.
 
As a nurse, your application should highlight why you are qualified to represent the United States as an academic working with the nursing faculty of an international host institution. During your time in the host country, you will interact with U.S. embassy staff members, and you will be called upon to share, both formally and informally, your expertise about nurse education strategies from a U.S. perspective.
 
Fulbright Scholar Liaisons compose a network of people who are crucial to promoting the Fulbright Scholar Program within the U.S. higher education community. Check the website to see if your U.S. institution has a liaison, and, if so, make an appointment to see if he or she can offer helpful insights or is aware of other faculty members from your institution who have received awards for the host region. At this point, the academic discipline of the faculty member isn’t as important as learning more about the potential institutional setting, its needs and challenges.
 
You’re not done yet
After you have been awarded a Fulbright grant, there are still a few more steps. Your proposal will need to be approved by the host country, and the in-country agency varies country by country. Your host university may or may not know what agency administers the Fulbright program in that country, but its international office is an excellent resource. Use your initial application as a starting place and think carefully about the details because, after your proposal is approved by the host country, there will be little opportunity for revision.
 
To be on the safe side, schedule a Skype call, or visit with members of the sponsoring faculty to carefully and clearly reframe planned activities because those activities create your structure. As a Fulbright scholar, I used them to organize my daily schedule and to prepare my final report. To illustrate, if a proposed—and accepted—activity was “Meet with nursing faculty to discuss their research program and publications,” I listed in my daily journal the number of faculty members I met with so that, in my final report, I was able to say, “Met with five unduplicated faculty members for a range of four to six meetings, and two publications were submitted for review.”
 
After the host country approves activities you have proposed for fulfillment of your award, you will work closely with CIES to identify airline flights and verify dates. For the Specialist award, after you complete the program and submit your final report, you will receive per-diem funding, so it pays to submit your final report before you leave the country. This will expedite receipt of funding and, while in-country activities are still fresh in your mind, helps you answer additional questions that may arise.
 
As a peer reviewer for the Specialist award (I was recently selected as a peer reviewer for the Core program), I was particularly interested to learn if an applicant was qualified to perform within the United States the same project that he or she proposed to do within the host country. For example, if an applicant who proposed assisting with curriculum revision did not have doctoral preparation (including Doctor of Nursing Practice) or had not completed nursing education courses at a graduate level, I questioned if the applicant had the necessary skillset for that proposal. I suggest, therefore, that if your educational credentials to perform a proposed task are not obvious, describe why you are qualified to pursue that goal.
 
Finally, I urge nurses to consider applying for Fulbright scholarships because they help develop sustainable relationships that are incredibly rewarding. The number of nurse applicants needs to increase. In some quarters of 2015, the first year I served as a reviewer for the Fulbright Specialist award, no nurses applied. RNL
 
Kathleen M. Nokes, PhD, RN, FAAN, is professor emerita, Hunter College and Graduate Center, City University of New York. She is president of Alpha Phi Chapter, Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.
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