Every time I start believing that I am sufficiently removed from my Fulbright experience to return to my anonymous student life, I get requests like this from readers like Darsh who want to know more about the FLTA experience in the United States. I’ve once written about what to expect in a one-year trip away from home, but here are a few more. As soon as you have passed the initial stages of being selected at your local country consulate, you are almost on your way to the United States.
1. How much is the monthly stipend? A: In 2009/2010, it was a little over $1000 per month. I hear that it also depends on where in the US you’re posted to. I was posted to Southern Illinois. f you are on the coast, you get a lot more (but then spend a lot more as well for food, and rent).
2. Is the stipend ever sufficient? A: Yes. With very prudent use, you would usually spend about half of the whole stipend monthly on food, housing and books. At the very worst case scenario, you would still be able to save about $300 every month.
3. Can relatives visit me from home? A: Technically, they can, but that is not what the program is about, so it is not encouraged. Believe me, the last thing you want is carrying the home baggage with you. But then, it’s up to you.
4. Can I date my students? A: No. Bad idea.
5. Can I date other students on campus? A: Yes.
6. If any of the people I date at #5 ever become my student in another semester, what should I do? A: I have no idea. But the fact that you know that such scenario is possible should make you re-think #5. You’ll find very many opportunities to meet other new people.
7. Will I need a mobile phone? A: Yes, but you don’t have to bring it along from your country.
8. Will I need a car? A: Not usually. You’d be able to get by without one on most campuses. Many FLTAs however often apply for, and obtain, a driver’s licence before they leave the US. It could be a worthwhile endeavour, so pursue it if you can.
9. How cold is a cold weather? A: Very cold. If you have never seen snow/experience winter before, chances are you will start needing to buy winter clothes and boots as soon as late October. Right now, it is 6 degrees Celsius.
10. Can I stay in the US after the program? A: No. There is a mandatory “return policy” which you’d sign on your way in. As soon as you’re done, you are required to head home first, before you do anything else. Many people return to the States for advanced degrees afterwards.
11. Tell me more about this “return policy”. A: Every grantee is obligated to spend two straight (consecutive) years in their home country after completing the Fulbright program. The aim of this clause is to make sure that the grantee returns home to contribute to the development of their country. If you do return to the US immediately after you return home after the FLTA, and spend a couple of years pursuing a degree, you will still need to eventually complete this mandatory 2 year home stay period before you’re ever allowed to process any long-term immigration to the US later in life.
12. Do I have to live in campus housing during my Fulbright year? A: You don’t have to, but in my experience, campus housing gives you a chance to know a bit more about American campus experience. And if you’re lucky to have stayed in a highbrow student housing like we had in Edwardsville, you will have a fantastic experience. However, many FLTAs have found other housing arrangements downtown (or somewhere close to school) that are more affordable than the campus housing (sometimes through r00m sharing with other international students). This can work too, but you may lose out on much of the “executive” campus scholar experience.
13. Can I send money home? A: Why not? But in most cases (refer to #2 above), the money is barely anything. By the time you buy an iPod, a camera, and a few gifts to take home with you, you barely have anything left. And if you hope to return for advanced degrees, you might want to save as aggressively as you can.
14. What do I need to take along to be a successful teacher of my language? A: In my case, a few books, some movies, plenty traditional clothing, and an adventurous spirit. American students are curious and they’d appreciate your efforts. Dressing to class at least once a week in your native wears will send a message of cultural appreciation more visibly than one month of teaching. I also showed a couple of movies in class. Use YouTube. There are plenty there that you can use to illustrate any point that comes up during teaching.
15. Can I travel out of my state? A: You will travel, at least once during the program. The first travel takes place before your teaching starts: you will be taken to another state for the FLTA Orientation. And then, in December, you will have to attend the annual conference in Washington DC. This is a five-day event which will allow you to meet up with your fellow scholars, and visit parts of the nation’s capital. Aside from these mandated trips, you will also have the time during your year to visit any other place you want, as long as you do it during times where your presence is not physically needed in your place of primary assignment. If you’re in Illinois, you should try to visit Chicago or Springfield.
to be continued…