Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A High School English Teacher in Indonesia

Since the end of this past August, I have been living and working in Medan, Indonesia as a Fulbright ETA (English Teaching Assistant) in Northern Sumatra. When I found out last summer that I had been offered a scholarship, and signed the paperwork to accept, I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting myself into. Having lived the experience for four months now, I can say that it has been nothing less than life-changing.
One of my reasons in coming to Indonesia was to learn another culture, and there is no better way to understand a different way of life than total immersion. I teach in a Catholic senior high school (not being Catholic, that has been a new experience unto itself), and I am amazed every day at the level of respect afforded to teachers in Indonesian culture. You are addressed by students and fellow teachers alike as “Bapak guru,” which translates literally to “Father teacher.” I’m only 22 years old; before Indonesia I had never been called “father” anything. When you enter a classroom, all of your uniformed students will rise from their seats, bow politely, and greet you in unison on command from the class president with “Good afternoon, Mister!” They are polite, respectful, and eager to learn. I have never had classroom teaching experience before coming here, but I cannot imagine a better environment to learn in. Teaching here is a joy and a pleasure, and I look forward to coming to work every day. The students are like sponges for the English language and American culture; they want to know as much as possible, and they take in everything. I had a student last week at the end of class raise his hand, and ask, “Mr. John, next week, can you teach us about Abraham Lincoln?” From my own high school days in the United States, I can’t recall very many times the students requested extra lessons.
Being an American in Indonesia is a very interesting experience, and a little like being a local rock star. Foreigners are a rarity in many parts of the country, and most Indonesians never leave their island. I have had many complete strangers just come up to me and touch my arm to feel my skin, as if they didn’t believe I was real. This also has to be one of the friendliest places I have ever been. I cannot go anywhere without people coming up to me out of the blue and starting a conversation, and complete strangers will drop anything they’re doing to help you if they think you need it. The culture is extremely generous, and being invited home for dinner is both a very common occurrence, and a special treat. The sense of community here is amazing, and even in very poor areas, you never see homeless people in the streets. There is almost always someone in the community willing to take them in before they will let them live without a roof over their head.
The Fulbright program affords many opportunities outside of the classroom as well. There is plenty of time to travel, as Indonesia has the most national holidays of any country in Asia. Besides the many cultural events I’ve seen, along with my fellow ETAs and Indonesian friends, I’ve climbed some of the many volcanoes of Indonesia, hiked through dense jungle, enjoyed relaxing hot springs straight from the ground, surfed the beaches of Bali, been SCUBA diving in some of the most diverse marine environments on Earth, and spent weekends relaxing at nearby Lake Toba, the result of an ancient super volcano that is now a lake bigger than Singapore.
However, and thankfully so, not everything here is an easy vacation. Personal growth is the result of rising to meet challenges, and there are ample opportunities in Indonesia to overcome obstacles in your path. Learning Bahasa Indonesia (literally- “the language of Indonesia”) is not required, but if you put in a little work and study it during your time here, your experience will be greatly enriched. The language is often described as very “economical,” and with no articles, tenses, conjugations, or gender, it is actually very easy to pick up quickly. Learning the language is a reward in itself, and the best way is to simply go out and talk to people. Everyone here is always eager for a conversation, and are always happy to help a beginner practice.
For anyone that is at all considering applying for this scholarship, I cannot possibly encourage you enough. This has been one of the best experiences of my life, as well as one of the most educational. For whatever field you choose to go into afterwards, you will enter that field as a stronger individual than you otherwise would. You will learn a lot about Indonesia in your time here, but even more so about yourself.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Adam Tart - Mitchell Scholarship 2008-2009 - November 18, 2009

It has been over a year since I first stepped foot on Ireland for my year-long adventure, and I just wanted to say that the Mitchell Scholarship continues to provide interesting opportunities, connections, and experiences, even months after I’ve returned home to America. The scholars have continued to stay in contact with each other, and now that we are spread about the country (and world), I have a wonderful network of friends to visit and stay in touch with. Trina Vargo, the US-Ireland Alliance’s president, continues to keep us in touch with scholarship- and Ireland-related news, information, activities, and she reaches out to connect scholars of different years with each other. I have come to realize that this adventure was really so much more than just an education abroad. Rather, I have become a member of a huge, caring, unique, and inspirational family, consisting not only of Mitchell Scholars but of all Irish people everywhere. Incredible. Absolutely incredible!

Adam Tart - Mitchell Scholarship 2008-2009 - June 30, 2009

As I expected, my ten months on the Emerald Isle are over before I knew it. Wasn't I just writing my first journal entry yesterday? I can't believe my time in Ireland is already over! Time really does fly when you're having fun! Well, where one door closes, another opens.

Eh... actually, none of these or any other nostalgic, reflective clichés really does justice to the way I feel about saying good-bye to Cork and hello (again) to America. (But they sure do provide a nice crutch to fall back on, right?) It is no stretch of the truth for me to say I've had the best time of my life over the course of this past year. I've made fantastic friends, traveled extensively, and made a palpable connection to a gorgeous, exciting, and culturally rich country. I've made the most of my time here. And that feels really good to say.

Perhaps that's why I'm so much looking forward to going home; I'm not leaving behind missed opportunities -- just my newfound second home that I know I will return to many times throughout the rest of my life, come hell or high water.

And the year couldn't have ended on a sweeter note with which to leave fond memories of my time here at the forefront of my mind. Since my last entry, I underwent an ordeal of six straight weeks of almost nothing but work on my thesis and studying for exams, day and night, weekends included. Then followed four weeks of actually taking the strenuous exams. But this made the rewards that followed all the more worth it: the end-of-the-year Mitchell Scholars retreat at Parknasilla (amazingly relaxing and delicious is the best way to describe it) and a month of relaxation and traveling, including trips to Iceland (the most amazing place I’ve ever been in all my travels), Amsterdam, Athens, and even some Ireland sightseeing that I had not previously gotten around to (e.g., kissing the Blarney Stone and driving the Ring of Kerry).

The retreat at Parknasilla was so outstanding that it really deserves some further explanation. I mentioned in an earlier entry that the Mitchell Scholarship gave its scholars the royal treatment. This fact was raised to a fine art on a whole new plane of existence on this retreat. Parknasilla is a resort on the beautiful Ring of Kerry in west Ireland, with a luxury spa, a golf course, and 500 acres of forests, trails, rivers, and sea. Its director is a friend of the Scholarship, and he decided to allow us to stay there for a few nights. We got to stay in private chalets, gorge ourselves on incredible food, enjoy a relaxing massage and spa treatment, and explore the nature of Ireland at one of the country’s most beautiful and serene locations. Then, to top it off, we trekked back to Dublin for a day where we got to stay at the 5-star luxury Westbury Hotel off the famous Grafton Street. The following morning we were treated to a visit to the U.S. Embassy where Ireland’s Prime Minister, Brian Cowen, presented each scholar with a commemorative class ring. The “extras” that come along with this scholarship are seriously mind-boggling. All the places that we the Scholars got to go, the people we met (especially Senator Mitchell and Ireland’s President and Prime Minister), and the treatment we received were completely and unlike any experience I’ve ever had. It was as if we were true ambassadors from America to Ireland. And this trip at the end of the year really topped it off in the most amazing, once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity kind of way.

But don't let me convince you that these year-end trips were enjoyable only because my previous time in Ireland was not. No, I know I'll savor and treasure every moment I had this past year (a relatively simple task with my 4000+ photos).

Actually, that inspires the most-probably-best way to think about my time here: regardless of whether I was doing something adventurous, every moment abroad felt adventurous in one way or another. That's something I'll miss when I return to the familiarity of home. But hey, all the more reason to come back. And that day won't come soon enough.

Adam Tart - Mitchell Scholarship 2008-2009 - April 1, 2009

In the two months since my last journal entry, my daily amount of schoolwork at UCC has increased tremendously. Thus my last two months in Ireland have had a very different character than my previous five -- but don´t think that that´s a bad thing! One of the main reasons I was excited to move to Ireland and pursue a master´s degree in computer science was that I couldn´t wait to study the field I knew I was so passionate about but had yet to pursue in my previous degrees. (I was passionate about my previous degrees, too, though!) School has been much more difficult lately, with most weeks including at least three all-nighters of coding. But whereas most people would shudder at the thought of such a situation, I´ve never been happier with the way school has been going. I´m proud (albeit unfortunately, depending on my mood!) to say that I could easily be happy sitting at a computer for days on end solving complex programming problems, fine-tuning programs until they work juuuuust right. And the Mitchell Scholarship and UCC have given me that opportunity. I feel so lucky to have had this taste of a career I know I will be passionate about. I´m really looking forward to getting started with computer science work and research in the "real world" and through a PhD (once I narrow down my specific research field of choice).

Of course, as much as I love programming computers, my life would be pretty unwell-rounded if sitting in front of a screen was all I ever did. And my experience in Ireland and elsewhere abroad would certainly not, in my opinion, have been spent to the fullest. So I have made every effort possible to travel and experience the outdoors in my free time. One of my favorite recent travels was to Venice for Valentine´s Day. Neither my girlfriend nor I had been before, so we were incredibly excited to experience one of the world´s most romantic cities on one of the world´s most romantic days (according to Hallmark, at least). The city certainly did not disappoint! The twisting, narrow alleys, devoid of cars, and bordered by gently flowing canals was absolutely enchanting, made moreso by the delicious food and wine, beautiful weather, and all-around pleasant atmosphere, architecture, and environment. And, lucky us, we arrived at the beginning of Carnival, Venice´s annual special holiday where everyone wears masks and costumes and overflows their parties from the bars and restaurants into the streets and squares. If you´ve never been, you must go. I´m so glad I did and can´t recommend it enough!

If you´ve read any of my previous entries, you would know just how much I have enjoyed the mountaineering club at UCC. Well, I wouldn´t want to disappoint my faithful fans by not mentioning it in this entry as well. One of my recent favorite trips other than Venice was a 3-day weekend hiking excursion to the southwest of Ireland to a city (rather, a small town) called Portmagee in County Kerry that overlooks the Atlantic. The trip was by far my favorite hike with the club and provided possibly the best scenery I´ve seen yet in the Emerald Isle. The highlights included giant, Celtic crosses atop a mountain shrouded in mist, smooth green hills rolling out into the ocean, and some of the best craic (Irish for extreme fun) with tons of great new friends I´ve had in recent memory. I´ve said it before, so why not say it again: if you attend UCC sometime in your life and enjoy hiking, join this club!

Another highlight of the past two months was getting to meet Senator George J. Mitchell himself, an incredible opportunity provided by the Mitchell Scholarship. (Though, technically, HE provided the Mitchell Scholarship… Chicken and egg, anyone?). All of the scholars who could attend met up in Dublin along with Trina Vargo (the US-Ireland Alliance´s founder, president, and dignitary-extraordinaire) and eagerly awaited Senator Mitchell´s arrival. He soon sat down with us and spent the next hour and a half or so telling us some great stories from his life, including his experiences with the Ireland/Northern Ireland troubles and with his new role as the U.S. envoy to the Middle East. His resolve, passion, and intelligence (all of which were easily evident in our rendez-vous) make him a true inspiration, and I feel privileged both to have met with him and to participate in a scholarship program in his honor. (My raise in funding will arrive any day now! Hah... Just kidding!) And as if meeting Senator Mitchell weren’t amazing enough, we were subsequently privileged to meet Ireland’s President Mary McAleese at Ireland’s version of our White House. Similar to our meeting with Senator Mitchell, President McAleese sat with us for a while just sharing some stories and thoughts, and the whole time I just kept thinking to myself, “I can’t believe I’m talking with the president of Ireland right now.” The sheer excitement of opportunities like this through the Mitchell Scholarship was matched only by their surreal quality.

One other very important highlight from the past few months was the Mitchell Scholars’ Belfast retreat. Like the previous fall retreat, the twelve of us met up, though this time in Belfast in Northern Ireland. We got to stay in the infamous Europa Hotel, and our activities included sit-down meetings with representatives from each of Northern Ireland’s different political parties, a tour of Crumlin Jail by former prisoners (held there as criminals during the “Troubles”), and a driving tour of the city’s divisive murals. It was truly an eye-opening experience to the strife and hardships Northern Ireland has faced over the years due to political and religious differences. On the lighter side, we also made a trip to the northern coast to see the Giant’s Causeway (a fascinating geological structure surrounded by myth and mystery), the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge from whose dizzying heights fisherman once reeled in massive quantities of salmon, and the original Bushmills (whiskey) Distillery. In spite of all its turmoil, Northern Ireland remains one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen. (And it is in large part thanks to Senator Mitchell that the turmoil has all but disappeared!)

I´m in Barcelona writing this now (another FANTASTIC destination), so I will close this entry and continue to enjoy the rest of my time here. My time in Ireland really has flown by, but I´m so glad that I´ve had experiences like this one and those mentioned above and in previous entries, and I´m so glad to met the people that I have and to have formed a lifelong bond with one of the most amazing countries and peoples in the world. Excitingly enough, I know that even when this program is over, because of the bonds I have formed and the memories I have made that have made such an impression on me, I know I will continue to strengthen them and make more throughout the rest of my life. And I can´t wait! Adios!

Adam Tart - Mitchell Scholarship 2008-2009 - January 21, 2009

Wow, where to begin... I left off my last "Reflection on Ireland" with anticipation of all the new activities I could enjoy after my shoulder healed, so I suppose I should start by saying now that my shoulder has healed (from its dislocation during my second week in Ireland), I have been even more thoroughly enjoying my time here on the Emerald Isle than before! This is due largely to the following three factors:

1) I am no longer injured.

2) I am actively participating in the UCC Ultimate Frisbee Club, which is loads of fun and provides a great opportunity to meet people and travel around the country (for tournaments).

3) I am actively participating in the UCC Mountaineering Club.

I think the third one is perhaps the most important. If there is one thing I can recommend above all else to do with your time in Ireland, it is to join the mountaineering club (if one exists at your university)! The experiences with the club have so far been absolutely, incredibly, superbly rewarding. So far I've gotten to hike up the Galtee Mountains in Ireland's "Golden Vale" region, Purple Mountain in the Macgillycuddy's Reeks in County Kerry, and the Knockmealdown Mountains on the border of Counties Tipperary and Waterford. Each hike I go on, I fall in love with the country more and more, as the views from the mountain tops overlooking the Irish countryside below are some of the most breathtaking, inspiring, and, dare I say, magical sights I have ever seen.

But it is not just the rewarding views that make the Mountaineering Club so wonderful. Rather, the fact that each hike is more of an expedition/adventure/bonding-experience carries more weight in my high opinion of the Club. Unlike the hikes that I'm used to (mostly in the Southeast and on the Appalachian Trail), the hikes here have no trails, no trailblazes, no paths. I couldn't believe my ears on the first hike when the guy leading the group looked at his map, looked to the top of the mountain, looked back at his map, then looked up and said "Well, I guess we're just going to have to find some way across this river here and then go up whichever way gets us to the top."

This adventurous spirit, combined with the relentless rain and the ubiquitous bog-like terrain, makes the hikes more like expeditions than hikes. (In fact, on that same first hike, we got so high up the mountain that the rain turned into hail, and the wind was literally blowing people off the mountain. We had to huddle behind a rock for thirty minutes to stay warm until the storm passed!) After trudging through six to eight hours of bog, rain, hail, wind, rain, stunning views, fresh air, rain, and more rain, we then all head to a nearby pub to enjoy great conversations over some Guinness or Murphy's.(Murphy's is a stout local to Cork, even tastier than Guinness in my opinion! If you ever come across it, give it a try!) It's almost like once per week heaven comes down to Earth for a day.

Well, now my journal entry looks like one big advertisement for the Mountaineering Club. But I can't stress enough how awesome it is and how much it has made me feel like I've been enjoying this country to its fullest!

Of course, I'm making sure to enjoy the other countries in Europe to the fullest, too. I have done so in particular by undertaking one of my greatest achievements to date: a roadtrip across Europe. Over the Christmas break, Jose (one of the other Mitchell Scholars) and I joined one of his friends, Berni (who is from Vienna), on a journey from Dublin to Vienna, a distance spanning more than 2100 km, and a trip covering a total of ten countries! We took a ferry from Dublin to Wales, then drove through Wales to England. We explored London for a day, then left from London to Dover (as in, the Cliffs of Dover!) where we boarded another ferry to Dunkirk, France. Then we drove through France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany (where we got to experience the glory that is the autobahn), and finally Austria (Salzburg, precisely). Six countries in one day! Wow! Then we explored Salzburg for a day before driving to Berni's home in Vienna, where his mother made us homemade Kaiserschmarrn, and then Wiener Schnitzel the next night. Berni drove us to Bratislava, Slovakia the following day where Jose and I said goodbye to him and caught a flight to Rome, where we had the delight of seeing the Pope come out on the balcony to say Merry Christmas! Then the following day, I was off to the Netherlands. My girlfriend flew over, too, and we got to celebrate the New Year in Amsterdam!

All I can say is: Phew! What a trip... A roadtrip is DEFINITELY the best way (at least that I've come across so far) to see Europe. We got to see so many different countries and cultures and had so much freedom in our travels. Three straight weeks of living out of one carry-on-sized bag with great company and plenty of sites seen and fun had... It was an irreplaceable, simply fantastic experience.

Aside from these travels, two memorable experiences stick out in my mind that were direct byproducts of being a Mitchell Scholar. The first (which I forgot to mention in my previous entry) was the ability to attend the U.S. Election Party, sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Ireland, at the Guinness Storehouse. All of the Mitchell Scholars received private invitations, and we got to witness the Presidential Election while drinking free Guinness all night. It was a great way to make up for not being able to be home in America for such an important historical event. Then, later in November, all the Scholars got together at the home of one of the Scholarship donors for a home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner. There we got to have a wonderful meal with several Irish men and women, and the conversation flowed as sweetly as the red wine on the table and as richly as the gravy on the delicious Thanksgiving turkey. (I have learned that such is the case with nearly any conversation with someone from Ireland.) Like the Election Party, it was a great way to make up for not being home for Thanksgiving.

Now a new semester is upon me, and it's back to school and homework. I've got plenty of adventures left ahead of me, though: Venice with my girlfriend for Valentine's day, ten more hikes with the Mountaineering Club, trips planned to Switzerland, Sweden, and Portugal, and plenty more Murphy's to be had in Cork's many wonderful pubs. Hopefully my next "Reflection" journal entry will be even more exciting than this one! Slainte!

Adam Tart - Mitchell Scholarship 2008-2009 - November 17, 2008

When I arrived in Cork, Ireland, the first thought that came to mind as I stepped off the airplane onto the tarmac was, "Is this really what Cork looks like? Or is this some big landscaping project that was performed to make the airport look nicer?" Right by the airport were beautiful, green, rolling hills and an expansive sky with clouds dramatically thrown across it. After going through customs and hopping into a taxi, I realized along my way to my new apartment that it wasn't just some landscaping project; there was beautiful countryside everywhere. I couldn't believe it. (And I've since realized that this countryside isn't even the most breathtaking in Ireland!)

Before coming to Ireland I had heard that it would be beautiful. The country has far surpassed my expectations. (I still can't decide if the grass here really is greener than in Georgia, where I'm from, or if I've just convinced myself that it is.)

The countryside is not the only beautiful aspect of Cork: University College Cork's (UCC's) campus is outstanding! And not just for its aesthetic qualities: I REALLY enjoy my classes. My professors are fantastic (and most of them are Irish, which makes me feel especially like a part of the Irish culture), and the course material is interesting and challenging. As fascinating as my Statistics program at Georgia Tech was, it's nice to finally be taking classes again in a subject I'm especially passionate about (computer science). Surprisingly, my program (M.Sc. Mobile Networking & Computing) has only seven people in it, and only one guy is Irish. It looks like some international friends and I are going to become a tight-knit group!

The realization that I am satisfied and content with my being matched with UCC in Cork is profoundly important to me in such a positive way. See, the Mitchell Scholarship allows twelve U.S. students to study in Ireland each year, but we don’t have complete control over which university we get to attend. Instead, we submit a “top five” list with our scholarship application, and the following factors determine which Scholar attends which university: which programs are offered at each university to provide a good match for each scholar, how many scholars each university is willing to accept, and the scholar’s interview performance. I had some reservations about being matched to UCC and Cork since it was such a small city “in the middle of nowhere” (by American standards) with a university I hadn’t heard of prior to applying to the Scholarship. I have come to realize, however, that I actually got the best deal I could have hoped for. The university provides a wonderful academic and social environment (and is very highly ranked internationally to boot), and the city itself is a dream come true. Cork is the perfect compromise between Irish countryside and city-life: the hills and pastures are a stone’s throw away (unlike the industrial Dublin), while the city center provides an incredible downtown experience with seemingly unlimited choices of shops, restaurants, bars, pubs, clubs, and cafes. I have the best of all worlds in Cork. Serendipity at its finest.

I've tried to get involved in a few things on campus to meet new people and get the most out of my experience here, but for the past couple months or so it seems as though fate has been working against me. I joined the Ultimate Frisbee team, and at the end of the very first training session, I dislocated my shoulder. If you've never done this before, I can't recommend trying it. I had to be rushed to the hospital, and I was placed in a sling for four weeks. This prevented me from doing the activities on campus I was most interested in (ultimate frisbee, mountaineering (a hiking club), and running). But of course, I did not let this prevent me from making the most of my time here! Sling or no sling, I've been sure to get in plenty of traveling, including trips to Prague, Paris, Barcelona, London, and all over Ireland. Traveling around Ireland is especially great since I get to visit the other Mitchell scholars and see what their experiences are like. I'm so glad we all get along so well. I feel very fortunate to have been picked for the Mitchell Scholarship when I see what amazing people they are.

I felt like I really got to know the Scholars well, and realized how close we could potentially come, on our fall retreat. One of the greatest advantages of the Mitchell Scholarship is the plethora of opportunities that it provides beyond just the education, travel, and stipend. Our fall retreat is one fantastic example. Soon after the twelve of us arrived on the island, we each hopped on trains to Limerick and proceeded to travel around the west coast, see some common and not-so-common sights, meet some locals, and get introduced to the Irish way of life. This included a trip to the staggeringly impressive Cliffs of Moher, an Irish cooking class at a local lodge, and a stay at the five-star Doonbeg Golf Resort where we got to meet several of the benefactors and donors of the Scholarship after the US-Ireland Alliance’s annual golf tournament there. I couldn’t believe the royal treatment we received! I feel like there was no better way to begin to fall in love with this country.

Similar opportunities cropped up as time went by, such as the chance to see famous Irish actress Fiona Shaw’s portrayal of Samuel Becket’s “Happy Days” play at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, including the chance to meet her after the show. I would never have had this opportunity had I not been on the Mitchell Scholarship here!

I can't believe I've already been here in Ireland for two months. The time has just been flying by, and I've been having so much fun. Getting to be a part of Irish life, seeing all of the beauty, history, and activity this country has to offer, getting to meet so many amazing people, and getting to travel so many places has really been a dream come true. And, now that my shoulder has finally healed, I can't wait to get started on all the other things I've been looking forward to so much. I'm having a blast, and it looks like the rest of my year here is going to be even better. I can't wait!

Adam Tart - Mitchell Scholarship 2008-2009

It has been two years since I was awarded the Mitchell Scholarship, one year since I thus began my adventure in Ireland, and about six months since I once again stepped foot on American soil. Although much time has passed, I made sure to document my travels and experiences throughout my time there in my journal, and I am happy to share these journal entries with all of you out there who might be interested in applying to the Mitchell Scholarship. (I would highly recommend doing so!) My year abroad in Ireland was the best time of my life, and I hope that the following journal entries help convey that and convince you that the same could be true for you.

And as soon as I have a little more time, I will go through these posts and add some of my favorite photos to them! :-)

Note: Because each of these entries was written a while ago, ignore the actual timestamps of them on this blog and instead note that their dates of writing is mentioned in their titles.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Fulbright: Research and Language Study

Sabaah El-Khier and Bonjour from Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia on a gorgeous May afternoon. While the beautiful warm weather is enticing me to make a trip to the beach today, I thought before I went, I would write a post for the Georgia Tech Fellowship Blog to discuss a bit the Fulbright program as well as my research experience. My name is Thomas Earnest (INTA ’07), and I am currently in Tunisia studying the country’s economic development narrative. For my blog post, I wanted to focus on two aspects of my Fulbright experiences that might be helpful to prospective applicants: (1) language acquisition while on your Fulbright; (2) completing research overseas, especially what to do with all your work at the end of your grant.

Living in Tunisia, I have the valuable (and sometimes challenging) experience of living in a bilingual country where French and Arabic are used almost interchangeably--sometimes a sentence will be composed, for example, of an Arabic subject, a French verb, and an Arabic adjective or adverb. This process, coupled with the fact that Tunisia is one of the few remaining countries in the world where the common populace has barely any knowledge of the English language, has made my Fulbright experience almost as much about enhancing language skills as it has been about actual field research. So if you are excited about or wanting to practice or learn a foreign language, then the Fulbright experience is definitely one to consider.

And the great part is, depending on where you choose to do your research, the Fulbright grant will pay up to six months of in-country language study before you begin your research through the Critical Language Enhancement Award (CLEA), a supplemental grant available through Fulbright for students pursuing research in areas of the world where “critical-need” languages are spoken. Examples include Arabic, Farsi, Russian, Korean, Hindi, and Bengali, just to name a few. Iif you are interested in a part of the world where few Americans speak the language, you’re probably eligible for the CLEA award. And I highly, highly recommend your applying for this supplemental grant for the obvious reason that you are getting up to six months of (free) language training, a personal advantage but also extremely helpful for conducting your research in your host country’s native language. However, there is a more subtle reason that has a long-term benefit on your research. With the typical Fulbright grant period lasting nine or ten months, by the time you truly get settled and comfortable in your new surroundings and academic environment, it's almost time to leave. However, with the CLEA program you get to spend your first months getting settled both personally and within your academic research environment while you complete language study; and when it is time for the research portion of your grant to kick in, you are completely settled and ready to hit the ground running with your work. You maximize your research time this way, and undoubtedly your final research product will reap the rewards from these extra months in the country.

The second topic I wanted to discuss is actually completing research during your Fulbright. If you are considering applying for a Fulbright, you probably suspect researching abroad is an experience unlike anything you may have had at home (or at least, it has been for me here in Tunisia researching in the Arab world), but know that it is an extremely rewarding, intellectually stimulating experience as well as a time of personal, professional, and academic growth. In your host country, you learn to operate in new professional, cultural, and societal norms and sometimes are forced to revisit your research proposal if you find it needs to be reworked to be more flexible. Overall though, it’s a pretty awesome experience when you realize that the success or failure of your research experience rests completely on your shoulders. You created this proposal, secured funding, and now that you are in country, it is your sole responsibility to see the work through to its end.

To give you a brief look into my research experience, I arrived in Tunis is September 2008 with plans to create a documentary film on the Tunisian development narrative, after completing my CLEA grant. I had some experience in documentary films in college and wanted to get on the streets and really examine the current state of Tunisia’s development. It is a country that on the surface looks to be head and shoulders above many of its neighbors; however, I had become skeptical of these lauded successes and wanted to explore them in depth through film. Unfortunately though, when I arrived in Tunis, I realized my project may have been a bit too ambitious because I met resistance and caution to my idea of filming. People here are wary and hesitant to put their faces and voices before a camera--especially if discussing the government or its policies. Naturally, this setback was a disappointment; but committed to the essence of my research, I returned to my proposal and began to rework and refine my ideas. It was an evolving process that spanned the initial weeks and even first couple months of my grant period. In the end, though I believe my research is stronger, more focused, and has a more realistic and attainable end-point.

So here I am now, eight-months after I arrived in Tunisia, with the end of my Fulbright experience quickly approaching (my grant ends in August, but I am considering extending my stay in country following my Fulbright). The question on my mind now (and one you may be considering for yourselves as a current applicant) is what do I do now that I have this wealth of research at the conclusion of my Fulbright grant? It is an important question because you have invested an entire year of your life into a research experience, and you want to share your findings with others. Do you write an article for publication? Submit an abstract to a conference to present your findings? Write an opinion piece for a newspaper? Submit your findings to a journal as research notes? The right answer or answers may be unique to your project, but it an important thing to consider before and during your research.

For me, I’m still working through ideas to decide which avenue is best for my research and am looking into working on an article and/or an op-ed for submission, but I have already taken a couple of opportunities to share my work that may be of interest to you. In mid-April, I attended a conference at the Université de Gafsa in Southern Tunisia to present some of my initial findings. This experience was my first time to present research in an official academic setting, and I think a similar experience would be perfect for any Fulbright researcher. I also recently traveled to Amman, Jordan for the annual regional Fulbright Enrichment seminar, which was a chance for Fulbright researchers in the Middle East and North Africa to come together, share their research, exchange best practices, and receive training on research methods. I am also planning a presentation for late July when I will present my final research findings at the Centre d’Études Maghrébines à Tunis to an audience of foreign and domestic members of the academic community in Tunis to share my research as well as receive feedback before I begin preparing my work for its final format (and hopeful) publication.

As I now realize that my entry has spanned over two pages in a word document and not wanting to risk loosing your attention, I will end here for now. But my hope is that this article will be a helpful resource for any prospective applicants or anyone curious about what Tech grads are doing overseas. Please feel free to contact me at thomasdearnest (at) mac (dot) com if you have any questions. Go Jackets!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Marshall Experience + Interview


My name is Inn Inn Chen and I was a Marshall in 2008. I first want to say to anyone reading this that if I was able to a fellowship, YOU CAN TOO. The experience of applying/interviewing for these fellowships was absolutely amazing (and that included a Rhodes interview in which I was slaughtered) and I would encourage anyone seriously considering applying to do so.

I'll keep this brief, but feel free to contact me with any questions you have. This post is in two parts, one about the "official" marshall experiences, and the second is about the two tips that I think are most important for the interviews.

Marshall Experiences:
-Marshall Orientation:
-Official visits to the State Dept. w/ a debriefing session with the Deputy Secretary of State (I'm sorry but there were so many debriefing sessions with politicians, I don't remember any others. . .)
-Official visit and lunch in the Senate Building
-Cocktail event in the Senate Building with various scientific lobby groups
-Q&A with some distinguished Marshall alums
-Tour of parliament
-Official visit to 10 Downing St. and sessions with the Prime Minister's staff
-GOOGLE PARTY!! (This is the highlight of the year--Google throws an over-the-top party at an amazing venue for all the Rhodes and Marshalls each year. They do some informal recruiting presentations, etc. but it's worth sitting through for the amazing (free!) dinner, reception, party, live entertainment, and alcohol. . . )
-Free invitation to the official London Inaugural Ball for President Obama--Another great party, better still because the tickets were all at least $100, but one of the Marshall commissioners is on the board of Democrats Abroad
-Annual Marshall Trip
-All the Marshalls have an annual trip to either Ireland, Wales, or Scotland. It's free.
-It's a packed trip with official visits with many of the heads of state
-This year, it was Belfast and Dublin, so we met with the leaders of N. Ireland, including Martin McGuiness and the Nobel lauruete John Hume. It was really incredible to hear their views about the state of the world today.
-For those Marshalls in Oxford, the marshalls and rhodes meet every week at a specific pub in Oxford. . . it's great for those politically-inclined scholars for networking. . .I must admit, I've only made it to two of the weeks since I've been in Oxford

My Interview Tips:
There are many tips, but these are two (almost conflicting) tips that I wish EVERY applicant considers.
-Wikipedia everything in your application--your interview panel will not be experts in your field but they will ask very specific questions about your area. While the questions will be very specific, the extent of their understanding of the answer will be "mostly" based on what wikipedia says, and not from the latest paper from your field's journals or esoteric knowledge. The panel is very diverse, and they do have to research the areas of all interviewees, so wikipedia is a common source. That said, you probably will have at least one expert in your area--so you are expected to answer in sufficient depth when they ask follow-up questions.
-This tip is in hindsight: Prepare for the interview, but understand that preparing for the interview actually doesn't make a huge difference in the end. I say this because when I look back, EVERYTHING I talked about in the interview was based on thoughts/ideas/knowledge that I had known/carried with me for some time. Cramming doesn't do anything for this type of interview. The interviewers are really looking for WHO YOU ARE, and who you are DID NOT suddenly appear just when you started applying for this fellowship. I wish I had known that before the interview, because honestly, I read a lot of things specifically to "prepare" for the interview. . . and they didn't help AT ALL.
-Oh one last tip: your favorite classical music composer is Handel. It just is. Several Marshalls were asked that question and they were all challenged why it wasn't Handel. He is a huge part of the heritage at Oxford. . . so just WIKIPEDIA him!

I hope some of this is inspirational for you guys! PLEASE feel free to contact me--Dr. Adams has my email.

GOOD LUCK!!!!!!!!

Inn Inn

What is a PhD?

[Caption: Managing time by preparing plates for experiments after a dinner party]

I am now at the beginning of my second year of my PhD and I am beginning to get a deeper understanding of the purpose of a PhD. I took up a Gates Cambridge Scholarship to research in microbiology at the Biochemistry Department at the University of Cambridge. When I first arrived, I had grand visions, to say the least, of using this opportunity to change the world, to make an impact in social and economic development. You're probably thinking that I have different interests from microbiology, but I have a vision where science and service for the advancement of civilization go hand in hand.

But back to the question of this post, 'What is a PhD?' I realized that I'm still quite young and require further training and preparation to be able to provide a meaningful contribution toward the social and economic development of the world. And this led me to realize that in order to manage a huge task like that, the PhD is equipping me with skills needed to do that by giving me training in project management. Therefore, a PhD is essentially training in project management. Up until now, through high school and undergraduate university, I've been taking classes to gain a foundation of knowledge and skills to be able to apply what I've learned toward a problem in order to come up with a meaningful solution. Along the way there were a few small projects, both on an individual and group level, to gain practice in applying those skills to solving projects.

But a PhD is essentially the first opportunity where I was a given a large project with a relatively long term time scale of 3-4 years to which I was given full responsibility to manage and carry it out, and for which I would be held fully accountable for my work and results by professionals in the field in the viva examination at the end. During this time I will learn how to be independent, adapt to different personalities along the way such as my supervisor and lab colleagues, and develop a system to manage an accumulating and large amount of information that I will have to synthesize into a coherent report, the thesis. This thought process is comforting especially if someone feels their project is uninteresting, for they can find motivation to carry on their project by seeing a greater goal beyond it.

At the end of the PhD, I will most likely get a job where I will be given another project to tackle another problem and come up with a solution. If you haven't already guessed it by now, you can see that a PhD looks like training to be a consultant. Of course this is based on what I understand at the moment in the second year of my PhD which is variable to change. But I suspect it is for this reason that top management consulting companies recruit PhD students, because consultants manage a variety of projects and the PhD is the first real training a student receives in project management. Perhaps some will say that a masters degree fulfills the same criteria. Well, perhaps that is true but I came into the PhD directly from an undergraduate degree. I did have two years of undergraduate research experience but the PhD is a significantly expanded project management experience.

And having done a year of research in Kuwait in 2007 on a Fulbright Scholarship where I researched the values of Kuwaiti youth to women's rights, that experience appears quite similar to my PhD in microbiology, a completely different field, when looked at the in the light that both were essentially training in project management where I was learning a key set of skills:
  • Developing a focused research question.
  • Managing accumulating and large amounts of information.
  • Synthesizing information and facts into meaningful insights.
  • Learning to adapt to and collaborate with different personalities.
I will end here now for my first post. Perhaps in a later post I will discuss how I plant to integrate my various interests in the future and how they overlap.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Fulbright Fellow Application Tips - Daniel Shorr - Japan


My name is Daniel Shorr and I'm a GT graduate of '08, current Fulbright Fellow researching international warning symbol comprehension at Kyoto University as a psychological researcher.

For this post, I'd first like to share a little personal history to put things in context and then focus on providing tips about the application process, concluding with a very brief reflection on my Fulbright grant year thus far.

Personal history:
  • Since summer before Sophomore year, I have been affiliated with GT psychology labs, involved in the research process and loving it. (I did my senior thesis with the HFA Lab - wonderful, supportive research environment [yes, for undergrads too!])
  • I studied Japanese at Tech for three years (quality program), freshman - junior (I would have continue senior year but requisite courses for my graduation created a scheduling conflict).
  • Summer before junior year I attended GPC's 20 day study abroad in Japan program (note: USG students such as Techies are eligible to participate). I don't know how the current program is conducted, but in the incarnation that I experienced it it was a great introduction to Japan - basically a guided tour to many, many places [from Tokyo to Hiroshima], granting much freedom to explore on your own, and allowed nearly all of the bookwork to be completed upon return to the states (grade was mainly based on a research paper).
  • Summer before Senior year I attended Tech's 6 week LBAT Japan and had a great, but very different experience - much, much, much more emphasis on studying. If you go, I highly recommend remaining in Japan after the program finishes if you want to have a chance to relax, hang out with the cool folks you met when slaving over your coursework, and do some more sightseeing.
  • After returning to the states, I was considering my post-graduation options. I knew I wanted to return to Japan somehow; I wanted to become more accustomed to Japanese life, I wanted to become fluent, and I knew that the only way to do that would be to live here. I also knew that I loved research, and had interest in conducting cross-cultural studies.
  • I spoke with Dr. Howard Rollins who suggested I consider the Fulbright program. He told me I'd be able to perfectly merge my interests of psychology research, cross-cultural research, and living in Japan (and I have).
Application Process:
  • I was then directed to Ms. Amy Henry who very supportively guided me through the application process.
  • Before meeting with her, I first did extensive research about the Fulbright Fellow program online. There was a mountain of information and it was somewhat overwhelming, but after sorting through it for hours it started to make sense.
  • If memory serves, I had less than 2 months from the time I became aware of the Fulbright program to the time my application was due. That was intimidating. As soon as I decided that I was going to apply, I requested letters of recommendation (rec).
  • Who provided my 3 letters of rec? 1) one of my HFA lab directors, 2) a Tokyo Tech professor who was friends with my lab directors and whom I knew from making a presentation to his lab, and 3) one of my GT Japanese professors whom I knew well.
  • Because of the imminent deadline, I prioritized the application and "fought to keep my drafts on other people's desks." By that I mean to say that since I could only control the rate at which I completed work, and not the rate at which others reviewed my work, I prioritized completing my work as quickly as possible so that it could be back on their desks as quickly as possible. While they were working on proofreading I could refocus on my classwork and other obligations.
  • In addition to the written application, there was a GaTech conducted interview. Do not fear this at all. It is more akin to a final, group proofreading and advice session. Literally, a few Tech professors discussed with me my proposed research and helped me better tailor it to the Fulbright application reviewers.
Takeaway Tips:
  1. It is never too early to start considering your future. Make choices that lead toward your goals.
  2. Use the internet to research things first before you meet with people - it saves both of you effort in the long run. When you meet you can focus on any gaps in the online/published info; no one needs waste their time discussing what is already printed and understood.
  3. Don't be dissuaded by tight deadlines.
  4. Ask people to proofread - get a variety: friends, professors, TA's - people whose ability you respect and with whom you have a candid rapport.
  5. Be 100% sure that you are applying before you request letters of rec.
  6. As soon as you are 100% sure, request your letters of rec (i.e., respect others' time).
  7. Create a timeline of when you should have each step of the process completed. It will keep you on track.
  8. Do not fear the Fulbright interview.
Me with some of my labmates in Amanohashidate

Reflections on my Fulbright Grant experience:
I am thrilled to be alive. Kyoto U. has fostered wonderful experiences for me in many ways.
  • Research-wise: via my helpful research advisor (Dr. Kusumi), supportive labmates, and thought-provoking weekly seminars and department colloquiums.
  • Japanese language-wise: via the numerous Japanese language classes taught by engaging professors, and through my simply living here.
  • Socially: via my friendships with labmates and connections outside of the university - some through Fulbright events, some through my own exploration of Kyoto, and some through friends I had from previous visits.

If you'd like to know more, you can contact me at dshorr [at] gatech [dot] edu. And feel free to check out my photosite and personal blog.

Photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/zed868/collections/
Blog: http://zed868.livejournal.com/

Best of luck to you in achieving your dreams,

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Thomas Christian Featured in Udall Scholar Newsletter!

Thomas Christian was recently spot-lighted in the Udall Scholar Newsletter for his exciting work in Egypt during his Udall Scholarship last year:

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Mitchell Scholarship Finalist Interview Tips

cross posted at www.sarangshah.com

My name is Sarang Shah, Mitchell Scholar class of 2009-2010, set to study theoretical and mathematical physics at the University College Dublin and the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies. 

This is part one of a multi-part series of posts about my experience in applying and interviewing for the Mitchell Scholarship. I will also be publishing each part out of chronological order, hence why I am starting with the very last part of the application process, the finalists interview.

I also believe that many of the suggestions I offer in this post may be useful in other scholarship interviews, or may not be of any use to you at all.

First, before you leave for Washington, it may be helpful to do the following:
  • Review your application! Expect to be asked about any item you put in the application. This preparatory work should not be terribly difficult as it is your own life you are describing in your application, but definitely be sure to consider the various sorts of questions an interviewer may ask you. In general, be aware of the context and consequences of your previous activities, research, and studies.
  • Polish your ability to answer questions shortly and concisely. The finalist interview is in general 10-15 minutes shorter than the semifinalists interview.
  • Learn about Ireland and how Ireland relates to your field of study. For general history and a bit of culture, try reading Joseph Coohill's Ireland: A Short History . For more specific knowledge related to your field, a Google search should suffice. If you are in the sciences and engineering, be aware of organizations such as Forfas and other Irish research initiatives.
  • Have a well prepared answer to the question "Why Ireland?". It may seem obvious, and if you have gotten this far, it means you have answered the question to a large extent in the application and previous interview. Nevertheless, your response must be effective and persuasive during the interview.
  • Learn more about the Mitchell Scholarship, Senator Mitchell, the US-Ireland Alliance, and your potential interviewers. The US-Ireland Alliance website has plenty of information about the organization, its sponsorship, its activities, and even some of the people you will meet at your interview and reception. While not essential, it helps to be familiar with the organization and its sponsors.

Your first night in Washington, you will attend a reception
  • Enjoy yourself! Whether you get the scholarship or not, you will meet some amazing people, and make some great contacts for the future. Your fellow scholarship candidates will be great fun to talk to as many of them will have done some amazing things that you have never heard of. The attendees at the reception will include some judges, some former Mitchell scholars, and some other interesting people.  
  • If you are of a science/engineering background, don't be shy about discussing history/politics/arts/etc. If you have come this far, it probably means that your interests go beyond just science/engineering. I personally enjoy talking to people who do have a wide range of knowledge and an open-minded curiosity, and I think the other people at the reception and in the interview would like that too.
  • Get a good nights sleep, but don't pass up going out to dinner with the former Mitchell scholars and the other scholarship candidates.  
The next day, you will have your interview.
  • Practice, practice, practice! In addition to your mock interviews, which you will have plenty of, try coming up with your own questions and formulating answers to them. You should have an idea of some of the more obvious questions an interview panel will ask you. The morning of my interview, I sat at my hotel stationery desk, put on some "getting pumped" music, took out some stationery and a pencil, and wrote out some questions I thought I would be asked. I then made an outline of answers, and gave myself a mock interview, timing my responses for conciseness, and observing myself in the mirror to monitor my body language. While you may not be asked these questions exactly, you will be in the frame of mind to answer questions by the time the real interview starts.
  • Don't eat at the Jockey Club unless you are prepared for an awkward and expensive breakfast/lunch. Dupont Circle, where you will probably be staying, has a number of good places to eat.
  • Finally, and most importantly, be relaxed and be yourself. The best interviews are like a conversation. Be sure to take a sip of water occasionally. Taking your picture before the interview should also get you a bit relaxed too. As strange as it may sound, the picture taking session is pretty fun.
If anyone wants to ask me a question about the Mitchell Scholarship, I can be reached at sarang dot shah at gatech dot edu. 
cross posted at www.sarangshah.com

Monday, January 5, 2009

Halley Espy, Fulbright in Germany

Welcoming 2009 with a Berlin Bang

Today I woke up to an absolutely gorgeous day. The sun is shining and the ground is covered with a fresh blanket of snow - it is my own winter wonderland in Berlin as I start back to classes and research after the winter break.
The past few weeks have been incredible for me, with chances to travel with new Fulbright friends, have my family spend Christmas overseas with me, and experiencing the New Year's Eve traditions of Berlin (the news reported a crowd even bigger than Times Square!).

My entire family was able to come overseas and spend Christmas with me here in Berlin. It was an incredible opportunity for my family, and so much fun to take part in all of the German Christmas traditions. A very memorable Christmas for the Espy Family!

After taking part in a 6 weeks intensive German language course in Marburg right before my official grant period, I established close friendships with other Fulbrighters that are researching for the year all across Germany. Some of the Fulbrighters and I at the New Years Eve celebration in downtown Berlin.

But amidst all of the excitement and short break from university life, I have been reflecting over my 2008 road to achieving the Fulbright in Germany. The research opportunities, the exciting conference events, the new friends, the chance to be immersed and live in a new culture, and the life-long ties that I have already begun creating is absolutely incredible - my Fulbright experience has already turned out to be the most rewarding opportunity in my lifetime, and the grant period is not even half way over yet.

It would be hard to try and unbundle all of my experiences in this short blog post, but I will try and give a small snap shot into my Fulbright life Germany style.

The Fulbright is a unique program that allows each grantee to pursue a specific project. There are no cookie-cutter experiences or paths, but tremendous support and help to guide you in your personal research goals and endeavors. I am taking two university classes at Freie Universitaet Berlin this semester related to my project topic of Energy Security in the European Union and working on my personal research project. My advisor here in Germany, along with the Fulbright Commission, has helped put me in contact with individuals and conferences in my field. I have had the opportunity to hear Chancellorin Merkel deliver a speech, spoken with NATO retired generals, attended events at different Embassies in Berlin, had coffee with think tank researchers, listened to current and visiting Professor lectures on campus, have been invited to join a small research team of young professionals working on energy security issues in Europe (we hope to organize three conferences in 2009), and have remained in close contact with my mentor at Georgia Tech along the way. And looking ahead to 2009, so much more is in store as I begin to dig deeper into my personal project!

Chancellorin Merkel speaking at Hotel Adlon at the 54th ATA Conference in Berlin. I was on the 6th row!

In the Reichstag overlooking the Budestag (German Parliament) seats.

I do not have much more to offer right now, but I hope to update the blog with more adventures and discussion of my research. I am a 2008 graduate, with a BS in International Affairs. And I encourage anyone interested in pursuing a Fulbright to go for it - it is indescribably worth it!!! I am happy to answer any questions through email and if you are interested in following my day-to-day adventures, check out my personal blog: http://halleyingermany.blogspot.com/