Georgetown University is the number one producer of Fulbright student scholars in the United States for the second consecutive year, with 39 students and graduates awarded scholarships.
The Fulbright Program is an international exchange program available to undergraduate and graduate students to pursue individually designed research projects, pursue master’s degrees or teach English in foreign countries. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted this year’s program, with a portion of the 39 awardees possibly not accepting their scholarships because of concerns about health and wellbeing, depending on the specific safety guidelines of their host countries, according to a Feb. 17 university press release.
Most students were notified of their scholarship decisions during fall 2020 with their work or course schedules beginning in January 2021. Despite not being able to take in-person classes, the program still offered many opportunities to gain valuable experience, according to Sophia Mauro (SFS ’20), who is using her Fulbright scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in Turkish studies at Sabancı University in Istanbul, Turkey.
“Fortunately, I was able to travel to Turkey in order to participate in my classes from the same time zone and in the same setting as my classmates,” Mauro wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Classes are not in person, and I’m staying in the city instead of on campus. Of course, classes are only part of the equation; Fulbright is also about connecting with the country that you’re staying in and the people that you’re surrounded by.”
In last year’s scholarship cycle, 45 Georgetown students and graduates were named Fulbright recipients, which marked an all-time high in university history and placed Georgetown as the top university or college to generate Fulbright student scholars in the United States. During the 2018 cycle, 30 Georgetown students set the university’s then-record, after the 2017 cycle’s group of 27 Fulbright recipients.
The process of applying for a Fulbright scholarship begins with the Georgetown Center for Research and Fellowships recruiting interested students, hosting information sessions about the application process and conducting one-on-one advising, according to Laura Perille, the associate director of the center.
Students then submit their applications to Fulbright. However, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the timeline of Fulbright applications shifted depending on the country to which students were applying, with some of the programs having their start date delayed, according to Perille.
The application process to the Fulbright scholarships this year included a lot of time spent waiting to see if the programs would take place, according to Fulbright recipient Ashley Lane (SFS ’20), who is working as an English teaching assistant in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
“There was a lot of waiting and uncertainty surrounding the Fulbright program this year due to the pandemic. The final decision on our January departure date to Uzbekistan wasn’t made until late fall,” Lane wrote in an email to The Hoya. “In a ‘normal’ year, our 10-month grants would be from September to June, but this year that shifted to January to November 2021.”
Even after programs began as planned, the unprecedented circumstances of the pandemic made for a more nerve-wracking Fulbright experience than anticipated, according to Gavin Myers (COL ’17), a master’s student at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy.
“Beyond the delayed start, it’s really impacted my level of comfort in a foreign nation,” Myers wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Normally, I’d feel pretty unphased by hopping on a plane into a totally new and strange, at least for me, place but now a lot of my experience is underscored by concerns for my health and anxiety around potentially having to navigate the Italian health system without speaking the language.”
Over the past year, more than 2.8 million people have gotten COVID-19 in Italy, with over 96 thousand people who have died from the virus.
To adapt to the virtual environment, the Center for Research and Fellowships implemented new practices to support students throughout the Fulbright application process, according to Perille. The center introduced online question and answer sessions in addition to virtual drop-in sessions where students could join Zoom calls to work on their applications.
While the application process had to adapt because of the pandemic, the center has strived to maintain applicants’ enthusiasm, according to Perille.
“We really want to emphasize that the application process is a valuable and meaningful experience, and we want to build that sense of community to keep people energized, to help them know that they are a part of something larger,” Perille said in a phone interview with The Hoya.
No matter the circumstances, preparation is key to make the most out of a Fulbright scholarship, according to Lane.
“My advice to prospective Fulbright Scholars or ETAs would be to prepare yourself as much as you can before you leave,” Lane wrote. “Your grant period will go by faster than you think, and whatever you can do before you leave — whether that’s learning your host country’s language or preparing yourself to teach or conduct research in-country — will help immensely in the transition.”