Disclaimer: this is a personal website. All views and information presented herein are my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.
‘Tis the season to apply for the 2015-2016 Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching! Applications are due November 5th. It’s funny to think that at this time last year this experience was just an idea, but now it has become a full reality. What a difference a year makes, eh?
It’s been wonderful that I’ve gotten e-mails recently from applicants who have stumbled upon my blog. I’ve gotten some good questions, and I am eager to help others have this amazing opportunity that I’ve been afforded. So my first bit of advice is, APPLY! (If you want know why I did, check this out.) You have no idea what magical things can happen for you if you do.
Fellow Fulbright DA grantee Kate has some good general application tips on her blog called “I got it!” if you are interested in those. Below, I’ve included a few of the questions I’ve received, along with my response to those questions. These answers are my personal opinions, and my experiences have to do specifically with what I know–the New Zealand program–so please keep that in mind. Please let me know if there are any other Q and A I should add. Happy applying!
How did you make (or how are you making) your contacts in New Zealand, both university and in schools? Have you had trouble meeting people or making connections?
New Zealand is a small country. As an American, it’s like living in small town U.S.A. It’s not too dissimilar from where I grew up in Wisconsin, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of town, where there are four stoplights that are all found on “Main Street.” People here in New Zealand say that there is two degrees of separation (although some argue for three) between its citizens. This means that when you are networking with someone, either she will personally know the person you’d like to get in touch with or she will know someone who knows that person. This also means that within one week of moving into my apartment, I’d walk into a dairy (convenience store) within a two-block radius and would hear, “Oh, you must be Jessie!” Word travels fast here.
As a result of the tight knit nature of the Kiwi Community, meeting people really depends on who you know. They are a bit like a Kiwifruit ironically, a bit hard to eat because you must cut through a tough outer layer, but once you do, they are incredibly mushy and wonderful on the inside. (I am in no way endorsing cannibalism) . It was quite hard when I first arrived, as I wasn’t culturally ready for how careful and standoffish Kiwis would be (although I haven’t had this experience when meeting Māori men and women–who have opened their doors and felt like Whānau (family) right away–but I’ll write more on that in another blog post).
The good news is that once you are in, you are in. And the Fulbright family really is a family that will help you get “in.” The support I’ve gotten from Fulbright Scholars and Fellows (thanks especially to Brenda, Ben, and Sarah) is amazing. They were able to formally introduce me to key people, who have in turn introduced me to key people, and my small world here has just been expanding to something delicious (I think I’m still thinking about that kiwifruit).
So yes, it was hard at first. Kiwis are perplexing because they are so kind and giving, yet they can be difficult to get to know on a personal level. But if you can get to know one in the field you are interested in, you are set. I spent the first three weeks feeling like I was the new girl in the cafeteria, sitting awkwardly alone with my bruised banana, looking at every passerby with eyes that read, “Will you please be my friend?” But now that I have made some important contacts, the invitations to homes, to meetings, to conferences, and to hopefully lifelong partnerships, is overwhelming.
It will take patience, a dazzling smile, a little bit of luck, and the help of some of your fellow Fulbright family members, and you will break through the figuratively hard shell of the Kiwifruit to find much sweetness inside.