Goodbye, USA! Hello, UK! (Or, Fulbright Wrap-Up)

In January 2017, I left for the United Kingdom on a Fulbright Distinguished Teacher fellowship. I conducted research at the University of Glasgow on cross-demographic arts education. I'd been preparing for this fellowship since 2008 when I first joined Teach for America as a corps member — checking off the requirements one by one (masters degree? check! coaching experience? check! national awards? check!). This Fulbright had been almost a decade in the making — so what happened once it was over? And did the experience live up to the hype?

(Spoilers: The Fulbright exceeded the hype. Like by a lot.)

Q. So you're back in the classroom now, right?
The Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching was created so that teachers could conduct research abroad and then utilize their findings in the classroom. My intention was to return to Uncommon Schools when I wrapped up my fellowship, possibly to a brand-new position at our high school. However, life takes you in all kinds of different directions and, while I was abroad, I met a Glaswegian-accented lad and got engaged!

Q. So you're basically the real-life version of that Fulbright parody article from the New Yorker?
Errr . . . Yes.



Q. So what happened after the Fulbright?
For my Fulbright inquiry project, I developed a comprehensive plan for creating a national youth theatre in the United States (modeled on organizations that I'd observed in the United Kingdom, like the National Youth Theatre and the National Youth Music Theatre). Afterwards, I created a residential summer program for high school and college students through the National Theatre for Student Artists (NTSA). This program was located at Daemen College in Western New York and was able to accommodate every accepted student, regardless of their financial situation. (Almost 70% of our students were on partial scholarships, and we were even able to distribute some full scholarships, which included tuition, room and board, and local transportation!) We also were able to employ some of our alumni from 2013 and 2014 when NTSA was limited to local students. The summer program was a huge success, bringing three brand-new productions to the York Theatre off-Broadway! Unfortunately, as a one-person administrative staff, it also left me feeling completely exhausted. Working 24/7 for a month and a half (frequently with no one else on-duty) was way harder than I'd anticipated. By the time we'd cleared everything out of Daemen College and sent out the last payments to venue and staff, I was ready to take a multi-month nap — not launch into picking out another script for next season!


(NTSA Session 2 students performing The Dolls of New Albion at the York Theatre off-Broadway)

NTSA is still one of my major passions, but I've also come to realize that I need to be realistic. There were hundreds of times last summer when I thought: "I really wish that I could clone myself." Unfortunately, that's not possible. And until it is (c'mon, science!), NTSA will have to be a bi-annual program so that I can get the free time that I need to recharge in between seasons. To be fair, the national youth theatres in Scotland and Ireland have also chosen to have bi-annual programs so that they can make sure that every production meets their high standards, so that they can experiment with new types of programming, and so that their staff members can get a well-deserved vacation! Just another best practice that I'm adapting from our counterparts abroad!

Q. Anything else?

I also had the opportunity to teach workshops at the Texas State Thespian Festival, adjudicate at the District 10 Florida Thespian Festival, and do both at the Iowa State Thespian Festival! (At the Texas State Thespian Festival, they gave us so many free room service vouchers that I ended up ordering the "Texas Size Cookie", a chocolate chip cookie that took up an entire dinner plate for $15! I was only able to finish half, and I'm not a girl who messes around when it comes to cookies.) Thank you to the Educational Theatre Association (EdTA) for facilitating all of these incredible conferences every year and all of the folks on the ground who make the magic happen. I loved going to all of your events and watching the outstanding productions that high school students are working on across the United States!


(The magic of Texas Thespians!)

Q. So what are you doing during your hiatus year?

Good question! During my Fulbright, I became interested in long-distance education. I read a few articles (specifically "The Online Devising Process" and "E[Lab]orating Performance: Transnationalism and Blended Learning in the Theatre Classroom"). NTSA was able to break even this past summer, even with all of our scholarship students; however, in order to keep the program affordable for everyone, we're looking into methods for conducting digital rehearsals before coming together for an in-person residency. My research into online teaching led me to a number of different ESL programs serving students in China.

While I was initially interested in their instructional platforms, I started reading blogs and watching YouTube videos and decided to sign up! It's a fantastic way to make some extra money in the wee hours of the morning, and, since you do all of your work at home, it's a job that can move with me from the United States to the United Kingdom. So I went through the interview process with VIPKID and Magic Ears and signed contracts with both of them!

Other than that, I'm planning a July 2019 wedding at the Barn at Harburn in West Calder, Scotland. I'm also taking some time to travel around Europe this year. (My fiancé and I both love Spain!)

Q. So would you recommend that I apply for the Fulbright?

YES. YES. A MILLION TIMES YES.

The Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching was the best thing that ever happened to me. I launched a successful summer arts program, discovered an intense passion for travel, am moving to my host country (permanently!), and got engaged to the man of my dreams. Now, I'm not saying that you're guaranteed to meet a dashing Scottish lad à la Outlander if you apply for the Fulbright . . . but I'm also not saying that you won't.

Before I applied for the Fulbright, I read a lot of blog entries that talked about how the Fulbright gives you "the gift of time." Really, there's no better way to put it. During the school year, I always felt so overwhelmed. All of my time was dedicated to my students and my school; there was very little time left for me personally. During my Fulbright, I was able to reflect on who I wanted to be as an educator, what I was interested in doing with my life, and what mattered the most to me. I'm a much different person now than I was when I left for the United Kingdom back in 2017. I'm much happier now than I've ever been before, and I have to credit the Fulbright with most of that. (Thanks, US Department of State!) If you're feeling "stuck" in your craft as a teacher, if you're looking to make a major life change, if you want to move beyond the four walls of your classroom, then I highly encourage you to apply for the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching. It changed my life; it could very well change yours too!

Planning on applying for a Fulbright DAT? Check out my application tips here!


(The East Coast of Scotland by train)

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