Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Hello, Senegal! Hello, Fulbright! (très bientôt)

I probably should've posted this when I found out I got the Fulbright (in April 2015), but such is the life of a procrastinator.   =)

I'm taking a temporary pause from teaching domestically and pursuing more work in the field of international education.  

As the subject line suggests, I received a Fulbright grant/scholarship as an ETA (English Teaching Assistant) to live and work in Senegal.  Yes, that's right -- I'm heading back to West Africa!  My grant is for 9 months (much shorter than my time in the Peace Corps), and I'll be living and working in a big city (one of the biggest French-speaking cities in the world): Dakar, located on the westernmost tip of continental Africa.  ETAs sent to Senegal work at the university level (one of the biggest reasons for me applying); however, I expressed interest in training teachers, and will be working with the Office of English at the Ministry of Education to help train English teachers all throughout Senegal. 

If you're unfamiliar with what the Fulbright program is, I turned to Wikipedia to help me out a bit:

The Fulbright Program is a program of highly competitive, merit-based grants for international educational exchange for students, scholars, teachers, professionals, scientists and artists, founded by United States Senator J. William Fulbright in 1946. Under the Fulbright Program, competitively selected U.S. citizens may become eligible for scholarships to study, conduct research, or exercise their talents abroad; and citizens of other countries may qualify to do the same in the United States.

The Fulbright Program is one of the most prestigious awards programs worldwide, operating in over 155 countries. Fifty-three Fulbright alumni have won Nobel Prizes; seventy-eight have won Pulitzer Prizes.  

The program was established to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and other countries through the exchange of persons, knowledge, and skills.

There might be some of you that are interested in the Fulbright program and might want to know what the application process was like: 

  • October 2014: Applied through the University of Notre Dame (highly recommended that you apply through your undergrad or grad university). You can only apply to one country. 
  • November 2014: After tweaking my application, personal statement, and the like, I submitted my complete application. 
  • January 2015: Passed the first round of selection from the Fulbright Scholarship Board; my application was then sent to the folks in Senegal. 
  • February 2015: Had a brief phone interview with the U.S. Embassy in Dakar. Was told there might be an opportunity for a Fulbright ETA to work at the Ministry of Education. 
  • April 2015: Received word that I received the Fulbright in Senegal! 
  • June 2015: Was flown out to D.C. with other Fulbright Scholars heading to Sub-Saharan Africa this year, including the 7 other ETAs heading to Senegal. 
  • October 2015: En route to Senegal. Will have a 3-day orientation at the U.S. Embassy in Dakar, followed by the rest of our 9-month grant. 

June 2015 in Washington D.C. for the Fulbright Pre-Departure Orientation for scholars heading to Sub-Saharan Africa. This is with the 7 other ETAs and 2 scholars + Kiné (far right) from the U.S. Embassy in Dakar. Wonderful group of people, and excited to be embarking on this adventure together. 


You might be asking, just why did I go for the Fulbright?  For those of you that know me very well, this goes far beyond me being a wanderlust and moving around from place to place.  I’ve realized I like the blend of learning and applying that knowledge to practical experiences, and have found a true passion for education, especially foreign language education and international education in general.  And I feel like the Fulbright fits perfectly at this point in my life.

Today, I leave San Francisco after being back home for about 2 months.  I don’t think I’ve been home for that long since 2009, but it was a truly special time seeing family and some close friends. 

Probably the greatest experience was watching over my Grandma and spending time with her (my grandparents have lived with us since we were little, and they helped raise my brother and I as my parents went off to work).  I was even lucky enough to be there for her 89th birthday, which is a rarity!  Nowadays, she doesn’t say much but it was simply being present with her that made the difference.  And as I left the house early this morning and said a “goodbye for now” to her, I cried a little.  She told me to enjoy this experience but to find a job that allows me to stay closer to home.  I told her that there’s so much to see in the world; it’s hard for me to stay in one place.  After a long and pensive pause she said, “Michael, take care always.”  Simple as that.  And with that, I am off to this new and exciting adventure that awaits. 

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