Dreams Come True (Or, Fulbright 2017)

When I first joined Teach for America, I started looking into opportunities that were available for teachers. The one that really caught my attention was the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching program. During my undergraduate career, I hadn't been interested in the prestigious fellowships that were being promoted left and right -- Rhodes, Gates, Fulbright, Marshall, etc. While my friends spent late nights studying in Butler Library, trying to score that qualifying GPA, I was picking up job skills on the internship market. I was always much more interested in practical work than academic work.

But this Fulbright had its roots in practical application. It wasn't for educational researchers; it was for real-life teachers who wanted to study best practices abroad. At the end of the grant, they didn't expect you to write a methodological study; they expected you to create a toolkit of resources for teachers back in the United States. You were able to choose your area of research and were in-residence at a host university -- attending advanced undergraduate or graduate level classes. Add in the fact that one of the host countries was the United Kingdom (home of the National Youth Theatre and National Youth Music Theatre), and I was completely sold. I printed out the application guidelines and spent the next eight years acquiring the credentials to meet them.

Yes, I've been working on my Fulbright application for eight years.

I finally made the decision to apply this year. One afternoon, I logged onto the Fulbright DAT website and misread the updates, leading me to believe that they'd cancelled the program in the UK. I was filled with such an all-consuming sense of loss that, when I discovered that I was mistaken, I knew that I needed to apply sooner rather than later. If I missed out on this chance through my own procrastination, I would never forgive myself. I spent three months filling out the actual application -- completing a series of personal essays and an inquiry project description, ordering copies of all of my academic transcripts, requesting recommendations from employers and professors, etc. I'd heard that the Fulbright application process was a long haul.

"Long haul" was an understatement.


Once I'd sent in the application, I waited. And waited. And waited. In February, I found out that I was being considered as a finalist for the United Kingdom and needed to attend a phone interview with the Fulbright US-UK Commission. I'd read interviews with previous recipients in which they chronicled how poorly their interviews had gone. In contrast, I thought that my interview went extraordinarily well. Every question that they asked was one that I'd already prepped in advance. (Admittedly, if you looked at my "interview prep" document, you would find over thirty pages of prospective Q&As.) And then, at the beginning of April, I received the email that would consume my every waking thought for the next six weeks.

Greetings again from Fulbright Program staff at the Institute of International Education (IIE) in Washington, DC. We are writing you today with an update regarding your selection status to participate in the program.

You have been recommended for selection for a Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program grant to the United Kingdom for a 3-6 month period during the 2016-2017 program year. Final selection decisions are contingent upon many factors and selection is not guaranteed until all elements of the selection process are confirmed. Your selection is currently pending confirmation of a host university in the UK. This process could take as little as two to several weeks. It is possible that a host university will not be found and that you will not participate in the program.

I had been told that host university placement might be a challenge for my project, so this email sunk into the pit of my stomach like an iron weight. To know that I'd gotten so far ("recommended for selection"!) only to be possibly thwarted by logistical details in the final hour was almost unbearable. I further tormented myself by setting a Google Alert for the Fulbright DAT so that every time a teacher received a host university placement, I received a foreboding ding in my inbox. I also found a blog by a teacher who'd been recommended for the now-defunct Fulbright Teacher Exchange program. It included this anxiety-provoking line from the IIE:

Dear Fulbright Classroom Teacher Exchange applicant,

On behalf of the Fulbright Classroom Teacher Exchange Program, I would like to update you on the status of your candidacy. Although you were recommended by the peer review panel based on your application and interview, you have not been matched with an international candidate after the first round of the selection process.

As the weeks slowly passed (one week . . . two weeks . . . three weeks . . .), a thick atmosphere of dread settled over my apartment. I would lie awake for hours, staring at the ceiling. I read forum archives on GradCafe -- testimonials from graduating seniors who were stuck in "Fulbright Limbo." My parents complained about my stunted conversation skills; the only thing that I was capable of talking about anymore was the Fulbright. I would analyze every minute detail of my exchanges with the IIE, like a girl trying to determine if the boy in her second period class liked her or liked liked her.

And then, while weeding lawns in a community impacted by Hurricane Katrina (on our end-of-year trip to New Orleans), I finally received the email that I'd been waiting for:

Dear Ms. Chatfield,

We are writing you today with an update regarding your selection status to participate in the program. We are pleased to let you know that a placement for you at the University of Glasgow has been confirmed. This means that we can move forward to the next step in the process which is to send you your official selection letter and selection packet to complete. We will be sending this email out shortly.

My euphoria was somewhat tempered by the placement. Glasgow? It's not that I'm not excited about spending time in the third largest city in the United Kingdom (and the largest city in Scotland). After all, I've attended every National Theatre of Scotland production that's toured to St. Ann's Warehouse. It's just that all of the organizations that my inquiry project focuses on are based in London. I'm still trying to figure out how I'll make the eight-hour commute every week to attend classes in Glasgow and conduct research in London . . . but I did promote myself to the Fulbright Committee as being extraordinarily flexible. And so flexible I will be. (Plus, when I scanned down the list of placement sites, I realized that Glasgow's the best location for me. I'm used to high-energy metropolitan areas, and Glasgow certainly fits the bill. Plus, so close to Edinburgh! Global theater city of the highest order!)

(Glasgow. How is this an actual place? It's like the architectural depiction of fairy-dust.)

So I am now officially a Fulbright Distinguished Teacher. I'll be leaving in January for the UK and will be staying abroad until July. I cannot tell you how thankful I am to the Fulbright Committee and IIE for this opportunity. I've spent the past eight years dreaming of this moment, and now that I'm getting ready to move out of my apartment and apply for my visa, I can't believe that it's actually happening.

Day Eight (31 Days of Trip Planning): Contacted the National Association of Youth Drama, the International Youth Arts Festival, and the Dublin Youth Theatre.

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