For anyone applying for a Fulbright, the personal statement is one of many hurdles.
This is the one page letter that convinced the Americans to let me represent them, and the Romanians to let me visit. Expressing “your uniqueness” in one page is not easy. I rewrote this dozens of times and still wince reading it now!
When I was a little girl, my parents told me that they were pirates. They convinced me that they were exiled from the United States because they were felons. As the years went on, their story morphed: they became “time-traveling pirates.” This outlandish rationalization made sense to me only because I thought there had to be a radical explanation for why we were the only gaijin, or foreigners, in our small Japanese town in Ibaraki-ken. I struggled with identity and the concept of “home” at an early age when I looked at pictures of my classmates and me and always stood out as the pale blonde one. When my parents gave me truthful explanations about their childhoods in Texas and New York, these stories were just as removed from reality to me as the family pirate-lore.
Although I found acceptance from proxy “grandmas” in Japan, I still wanted to relate to my passport country, the United States. I became obsessed with reading anything I could find written in English. My bibliophilic tendencies connected me with brilliant members of my extended Anglophone family. Although a thousand books introduced me to the magic of words, my parents taught me the essence of the language. When my mother would sign “Love Mom” at the end of a chore list, we would joke that it was an imperative, and I learned the importance of the comma.
When I moved to America in 2003 at age 13, I was excited to speak English with strangers. I was a “hidden immigrant” with perfect grammar, syntax, and a vocabulary beyond my age, but I had no idea what the lyrics to most American pop songs were. I half-expected Americans to be what I had grown up reading about – exciting pioneers from Little House on the Prairie. Instead, I was living in LA and watching reruns on TV that first summer, trying to understand American culture. In retrospect, I realize that I absorbed some very outdated slang from watching “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” a show from the 1980’s, which took years to unlearn. When I finally started eighth grade and moved on from books and movies to communication with real, live Americans, my background made me feel alienated from my peers. It was not until my late teens that I began to realize the strength, resilience, and confidence that came from the flexible conception of home that I developed.
Because of my immigration experience, I am sympathetic to the needs of others who feel displaced. Throughout my college experience in the United States, I’ve spent time informally mentoring international students as they transition to US culture. This year, I’m I am a resident advisor to fifty-two students, many of whom came from outside the US. While studying abroad in Heidelberg, Germany, I played at an afterschool program with latch key kids who were of mixed Turkish-German heritage. I had the chance to give a presentation to them about diversity in America and help them with their English homework. The ETA in Romania connects to my past, present, and future – giving me a chance to share the heritage of the English language, presenting a call to engage with the local community there, and giving me insight into another area of the world that I will joyfully call “home.”
If you are thinking about applying for a Fulbright THIS YEAR, read on…
– It’s not too late to start now (especially for an ETA grant).
– Check out the resources that your university offers. At Pepperdine I made use of the writing center, friends, professors, administrative staff for technical questions, and I took the advice of the faculty review board as gospel.
– Stanford’s guidelines were among the best I found: http://icenter.stanford.edu/orc/Handouts/FB_2_%20Guide.pdf
– Don’t worry about if you’re going to get it or not. I didn’t think I was going to, but all the brainstorming, writing, rewriting, and that final triumph of just turning in the application was WELL WORTH IT, apart from receiving the award.
– Once you turn in your application, get ready to forget about it. You won’t know anything for about 6 months…or more. No one’s going to sugarcoat it, waiting can be stressful as a senior in college, while everyone else “has a plan.” Never fear, you have taken the plunge, you are a Fulbright-Scholar-in-Waiting. At the very least, you’ve articulated thoughts about your passions and talents in September, far before anyone else was even thinking about graduation.