Fulbright Scholars: Interviews & Advice  By

Fulbright Scholars: Interviews & Advice

Every year academics travel to other universities, nationally and internationally, as Visiting Scholars. Year after year, Fulbright Awards are one of the most sought-after honors. Fulbright Alumni are a diverse group of accomplished international scholars who study, research, and teach the subjects that improve our understanding of science and humanity.

Traveling to another university, city or country with a scholarly goal naturally facilitates the exchange of ideas, exactly what the Fulbright program was designed to do. As stated on the United States Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs website, Fulbright is “led by the U.S. government in partnership with 160 countries worldwide, Fulbright builds lasting connections between the people of the United States and the people of other countries – building mutual understanding between nations, advancing knowledge across communities and improving lives around the world.”

The SabbaticalHomes.com team had the opportunity to interview a sampling of people who have been awarded a Fulbright at different points in their careers. They’ve shared how their Fulbright has made a difference in their academic careers as well as provided unique personal experiences. And as Fulbright alumni and SabbaticalHomes.com member Jeanette Simmonds said, “being a Fulbrighter stays with you, it gives you a vast alumni network and opens doors throughout your career.”

Related: Learn More About Fulbright Scholar Programs

Visiting Scholars Gabor Somlai and Lili Mark: From Budapest, Hungary to New York, New York

Gabor Somlai and Lili Mark Visiting Scholars from Budapest to NYC.

SabbaticalHomes.com members Gabor Somlai, PhD and Lili Mark, PhD are a dual-academic career couple from Budapest, Hungary who stayed in New York in the spring of 2023. Gabor earned a Fulbright Award to do research at the City University of New York (CUNY). In Hungary, he holds a permanent position at the Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) and is also a research fellow at the Alfred Renyi Institute of Mathematics.

While at CUNY (and without his normal teaching load), Gabor focused on his research, connected with new colleagues, participated in seminars, and even attended a course taught by someone who proved two key theorems related to his work.

Lili is at Central European University in the Department of Economics and Business. During their time in New York, she was a Visiting Student Scholar at Columbia University, working on independent research in her field of Applied Microeconomics and Labor Economics.

Fulbright from Budapest, Hungary

We asked Gabor to share his experiences in Budapest applying for his Fulbright Award and insights after his return from New York. From his perspective, the Fulbright Program in Hungary was very knowledgeable during the application process. They plan Fulbright Alumni events regularly to maintain the connection.  

Additionally, the Renyi Institute was quite proud of his award! While Hungary has a very strong math community, there has been less awareness of Fulbright Awards there. He was the first Fulbright awarded mathematician in 20 years. It seems that his award may have changed the tide, however, as another candidate will be currently applying and may be heading from Budapest to U.C. Berkeley.

Challenges for Dual-Career Academic Couples

It can be extremely challenging to support the career goals of dual-academic career couples, but Gabor and Lili managed this by planning far ahead of time. Since the Fulbright application process happens quite early in the academic year, Gabor had applied and been awarded his Fulbright by early 2022.

Once they knew they were heading to New York, this gave Lili time to apply for a grant from her home university. She also connected with a colleague at Columbia University to be her sponsor at the university, so that she would have the more formal Visiting Student Scholar status. This is a more cost-effective way to have access to classes and university resources.

Related: How to Apply for a Scholar Visa to the United States

The Temporary Housing Challenge & Living in New York, NY

Gabor Somlai and Lili Mark at the Natural History Museum in NYC.

Of course, once a scholar has the academic part settled and funding of their travel confirmed, the next part can be the most daunting: temporary housing. Some institutions can help awardees with a place to stay or a sublet, however, if that’s not the case or there is nothing available that is a good fit, Fulbright Programs also share resources like SabbaticalHomes.com with awardees.

Gabor and Lili learned about our website from the information distributed at two large meetings organized by Fulbright Hungary for all the Fulbrighters heading to destinations all over the world. They had the additional challenge of finding temporary housing in a U.S. city with very low supply of housing and very high average costs of the available places.

The couple approached finding a place to stay with a flexible mindset: an initial 7-week stay in one home (found through friends), a longer stay for most of the time in a second home and a short 10 day stay for the last part (both found through SabbaticalHomes.com). They also found a separate apartment through SabbaticalHomes for visiting family who enjoyed New York with them on an extended stay.

A wonderful silver lining of their time in New York was that once they sorted out housing and a quality daycare solution, they were pleasantly surprised by how family-friendly and welcoming it was. They enjoyed the parks, playgrounds, public libraries’ programs, public pool and overall were “pleasantly surprised, especially with a 2 and half year-old son. You don’t really hear about how it’s a great city with children, you just hear about Broadway, events, skyscrapers, how it never stops!”

Related: Fulbright.org Resources for Visiting Scholars “Before you Arrive”

Advice for Fulbright Applicants

For others considering a Fulbright or Visiting Scholar position in New York, both Gabor and Lili emphasized how helpful it was that they’ve both lived abroad before and know how important it is to be flexible.

They felt lucky to have some friends who had gone to New York on Fulbright the year before, and to have some family nearby to provide local tips and knowledge. In the end, their advice is simple: do a lot of research and keep an open mind.

Gabor and Lili’s experiences underscore the value of preparation and adaptability for those considering a Fulbright or Visiting Scholar position. Drawing on prior international living experiences, leveraging networks of friends and family, and conducting thorough research are crucial steps towards a rewarding experience.

Related: Temporary Housing near CUNY and Columbia University

Fulbright Alumni Gregory Daddis: From San Diego State University to Pembroke College, University of Oxford

Professor Gregory Daddis at the University of Oxford in Spring 2023.

In addition to interviewing those coming the United States, we had the opportunity to chat with scholars going abroad from the United States. In our conversation with Professor Gregory Daddis, we learned about his Fulbright experience and his unique academic career path.

As a United States Military Academy at West Point graduate, he served in the Army for 26 years. His military service and his studies were intertwined: he earned an M.A. in American History from Villanova University, a Ph.D. from UNC, Chapel Hill, worked as the Command Historian in Baghdad, Iraq, completed his service as a United States Military Academy Professor and then transitioned full time into academia at Chapman University.

In his current role at San Diego State University in San Diego, California, Gregory holds the position of Professor of History and the USS Midway Chair in Modern U.S. Military History. He also directs the Center for War and Society at the university.

An Overview of the Fulbright Program

It’s fitting for a military historian to discuss the background of the Fulbright Program because his expertise in the geopolitical climate of the post-World War II era provides a nuanced understanding of the program’s origins.

Established by legislation in 1946 and sponsored by Senator J. William Fulbright, the program was conceived in a time when fostering international alliances and understanding was deemed essential for global peace and stability. A military historian can effectively analyze how the devastation and lessons of the war influenced the creation of such educational exchanges, aimed at healing and bridging divides between former adversaries. This context enriches our appreciation of the program’s enduring objectives and successes.

The Fulbright Distinguished Scholar Award

Gregory’s work focuses on the Vietnam War and the years of the Cold War as well as the consequences of war throughout history on people around the globe.  For his Fulbright, he went to the United Kingdom to build a stronger relationship between his academic center, the Center for War and Society in San Diego, with a parallel academic center at Pembroke College, the Changing Character of War Centre (CCW).

It was a valuable opportunity to collaborate with others who specialize in Military History and its effects on society. A highlight of the experience was a special seminar series “War and Society” that Gregory assembled for colleagues to participate in and served as the moderator. The seminars explored topics such as “the meaning, culture, limits, and consequences of war​” (Politics Oxford). Each one concluded with a shared meal, further building connections.

Temporary Housing at Pembroke College

Gregory was lucky to have housing provided at Pembroke within Visiting Scholar quarters because his specific Fulbright Award came with a place to stay attached to the position. For other Visiting Scholars, plenty of them were not eligible for housing.  There was a lot of anxiety around finding temporary housing. Additionally, since the rental prices are quite high near the college, it was challenging for many to find a decent place to stay at an affordable rate.

Related: Homes to Rent near the University of Oxford

Advice for Future Fulbrighters

In hindsight, Gregory mentioned things that worked well for his Fulbright Award:

  • He was able to schedule his Fulbright travel by frontloading his teaching in the fall semester in San Diego, so he did not have teaching responsibilities for the spring semester at Pembroke College
  • He also appreciated the opportunity to use the libraries while writing and researching at Pembroke. He said it was very satisfying to have the time to work on his own projects and workshop to get invaluable feedback from non-American colleagues for a different perspective.

If he were to give any advice to someone interested in a Fulbright or Visiting Scholar position, it would be to:

  • Research all the opportunities available, starting with the Fulbright Program resources. This can be time consuming and difficult to do while managing normal responsibilities and applying.
  • Put the time into setting up meetings with other colleagues during your stay. This can also be challenging if you are focused on a book project but is invaluable.

Michaela Fogarty’s Teaching Fulbright: from Pitzer College to Galicia, Spain

Fulbrighter Michaela Fogarty in Galicia Spain.

We also talked with Michaela Fogarty to get the perspective of a Fulbrighter earlier in their career. Michaela is a recent graduate of Pitzer College, one of the five Claremont Colleges in Pomona, California. Pitzer College has been recognized as a “Top Producer of Fulbright Students” for over a decade and has long been committed to supporting its applicants.

Pitzer College: A Clear Path for Fulbright Student Applicants

Having had her college experience interrupted by pandemic shutdowns, Michaela was eager to experience some version of her canceled study abroad program. At the start of her senior year, she attended meetings and workshops on campus, received faculty feedback on her essays, and was awarded a teaching Fulbright for the 2022-2023 academic year.

She was originally interested in traveling to Ecuador since that had been her planned study abroad location for her junior year. During the Pitzer workshop, she learned that Ecuador had very few Fulbright spots, so she explored other countries, including Colombia and Spain.

Because she was interested in teaching primary or secondary school as a career, the positions in Spain teaching younger people were a better fit. She was still interested in Colombia, but it was not as ideal when she learned it was a teaching position with adult learners.

Like many students and scholars hoping to go on a fellowship or Fulbright program, she simultaneously investigated other options, including research-focused positions. Ultimately, when she was awarded a teaching Fulbright with adolescents in Spain, she was thrilled!

Teaching on a Fulbright in Galicia, Spain and Traveling throughout Spain

Michaela spent her year in Galicia, Spain working as an English teaching assistant at a public school called IES O Couto. She rotated between different classes, supporting the main teachers as needed. It was a great experience working with the students, the other teachers and having an active role in developing curriculum.

Overall, her Fulbright experience showed her that teaching is something she would love doing in the future, but that she’s also interested in exploring other avenues professionally. Since her return to California, she has been working at the Office of Diversion and Reentry Services with Santa Clara County, providing services to people who are exiting incarceration. She is also taking prerequisites for nursing school and plans to begin a Patient Care Assistant job at UCSF hospital this summer.

The location in northwest Spain, very close to Portugal, was also ideal. In her time off, Michaela made the most of being in Spain and explored as much of the country as possible. She enjoyed weekend trips around the country with other Fulbrighters, new friends from Spain and people she met who were doing European exchanges. A lot of this was possible due to inexpensive flights around the country. She even had a few highlights like going to the Canary Islands and Mallorca. As a Fulbrighter, there is a limit on the number of days she was able to be outside of Spain, but it was not a problem for her.

Fulbright Grants & Housing Challenges in Galicia, Spain

For most people, planning for a fellowship of any type can be challenging financially. In Michaela’s situation, she felt the stipend was reasonable to cover her monthly expenses, but she funded her extra travel from her own savings. In general, Fulbright has different scales of the grant funds associated with different positions, i.e. someone who is going on a Fulbright to a larger city like Madrid would receive a higher stipend to help cover the cost of living.

Housing, however, was quite hard to find. The advice from the Fulbright office was to book a temporary home for a couple of weeks and to use that time to decide which area to live in. Originally, she wanted to live with only Spanish university students, but it was much harder than she anticipated since most of those students had already found housing. She and another Fulbrighter ended up finding a 3-bedroom home together, then found another roommate through a Spanish website. There were leaks and black mold, so unfortunately, they ended up moving out and losing their deposit, so they had to go out and find a new place to stay at an additional cost.

Fulbright does offer help and guidelines at the start of the housing search process, but after that, most Fulbrighters in her program were on their own to figure it out.

Related: Homes for Rent or Exchange in Spain

Advice for Fulbright Teaching Applicants

Michaela’s advice to others considering applying for a Fulbright is very practical:

  • Start with the contact or office at your school or institution that handles fellowships
  • Find out the dates of informational meetings and any workshops
  • Research the number of positions that are available in a given country and assess that based on the volume of applicants
  • Write a little differently in the personal statement and grant proposal than you might in an essay for a class; this is more of a narrative with imagery

Related: Fulbright Statistics: Available Positions by Country

SabbaticalHomes.com: Longtime Supporter of Fulbright and All Visiting Scholars

Our vision at SabbaticalHomes.com is to make the housing challenge easier for the higher education workforce. Since 2000, our website has served as a temporary housing resource for thousands of Fulbrighters, Visiting Scholars and the like. We are so proud to be able to help scholars all over the world find a place to stay or a tenant for their own home so they can focus more on their work and passions!

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