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Exploring the World as a Fulbright Student

Graduating Seniors and Graduate Students Encouraged to Apply

July 28, 2014

Volker Janssen, associate professor of history, is seeking a few good students — students with a sense of adventure and a desire to expand their education beyond the borders of Cal State Fullerton, even beyond the borders of the United States.

Janssen is program adviser for the Student Fulbright Program. As a former Fulbright student from Germany, he is encouraging students to consider the benefits and rewards of the program.

"I realize that for many of our students, just getting the college degree is a big deal, and they don't necessarily consider the idea of traveling to and studying in a foreign country," said Janssen. "But being a Fulbright student — Fulbright Scholars are faculty recipients — offers benefits that go beyond the classroom, to experiences that can broaden and enrich a student's life experience."

The Fulbright Program was established in 1946 and is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Approximately 8,000 grants are awarded annually to both U.S. and foreign students, American and international faculty and other professionals. More than 300,000 have participated in the program.

Cal State Fullerton's most recent Fulbright student, Douglas Jeffcoat '14, is spending the 2014-15 year teaching English in Colombia. His goal is to use the experience toward his teaching career. The program, he said, "offered me the opportunity to expand my knowledge about South America, particularly Colombia, while also allowing me to continue to teach and volunteer."

Janssen recently explained why students should consider applying for a Fulbright grant.

Who should consider applying for a Fulbright?

Eligible for Fulbright student grants are U.S. citizens who will have a bachelor's degree at the beginning of their grant period, so any senior expecting to graduate next May should consider this. CSUF also administers the applications of its alumni.

Ideally, I would like our students to learn about this program and its mission well before they are eligible for this fellowship. Fulbright tries to encourage not just study abroad, but a sincere and persistent engagement with the world outside the United States. Fulbright looks for students with a sense of purpose, not just ambition. Those who can demonstrate such an involvement and sense of purpose have a clear advantage in the competition, so early preparation is key.

Interested in a teaching assistant fellowship in Peru next year? Then you should already be learning Spanish. Considering a research grant in archeology in Turkey? Then you should gain some experience in archeological digs now.

How difficult is it to get a Fulbright fellowship?

This program is very competitive and involves a very thorough vetting process that includes an on-campus interview in early October, a selection committee in New York in January, and the final approval by the host country in spring.

That means you will compete with students from across the nation and compete against graduates from top research universities. That can be daunting, but students should remember that the ranking of the home campus has no bearing on a student's chances and that a good research proposal or a solid teaching philosophy is competitive wherever it comes from.

However, the odds of even the best proposal can be low if it has to compete with hundreds of competitors, or if the number of available grants are limited. That depends on the country you are applying for. English-speaking countries tend to draw the most applicants, and the competition is tougher. Countries with comparable living standards and universities with international reputations also attract a larger applicant pool. Our recent grant recipients went to Bahrain, Mexico, Rwanda and Sweden — as broad a mix as you can imagine.

What are the benefits of a Fulbright for a student? What does it do for future studies and careers?

On the one hand, a Fulbright grant is the result of the commitment and persistence of bright and energetic future researchers and teachers. On the other hand, it also opens up enormous opportunities for students to make new connections among fellow Fulbrighters overseas and abroad.

Students return not only with a new level of expertise in their field, but with a professional outlook and a maturity that future employers value highly. Even if your one year abroad does not translate into a lifelong international career, the lessons you learn overseas about the world, about yourself and about where you are from change your career prospects decisively. I wouldn't want students to think that Fulbright recipients "have it made," but they are entering their lifetime careers with decisive advantages.

You were once a Fulbright student recipient. Can you share some of your experiences?

I grew up in Germany and decided to try living abroad on my own after my national service. I had spent three years living abroad — in England, Belize and New York City — before I decided to return to Hamburg, Germany, for college.

I prepared for the Fulbright fellowship from my very first semester and three years later I was on my way to UC San Diego. My dream was to complete my M.A. in history and return to my job with public radio and become a foreign correspondent.

Well, my plans changed entirely after I experienced archival research. I fell in love with my discipline. I started out as an exchange student and ended up an immigrant. That is the beauty of studying abroad — it opens up all sorts of opportunities and possibilities that you never knew existed.

Deadline Coming Up

The deadline to apply this fall is Oct. 1, but interested students will need to attend the orientation meeting Thursday, Aug. 28, at 4 p.m. in Room 815B of the Humanities-Social Sciences Building. Students should RSVP by emailing Volker Janssen. Additional information is available online.

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