Education & Career

How to Make the Most of Your Fulbright Year

September 24, 2018
Black woman in Paris, smiling ankara print yellow dress

Getting a Fulbright – or any other Fellowship or program that allows you to explore a new part of the world – is a opportunity you don’t want to take lightly!

I was a Fulbright English teaching assistant in France during the 2015/2016 school year. I definitely took that time to revel in the whole experience – from getting involved inside and outside my school, seeing the world and just generally learning new things!

The list below is based off my personal experiences – all things I did and thought really paid off, and things I wish I had done to get to get more out of my experience.

Diverse group of Fulbright English teaching assistants in France1. Network at Orientation

If you have in-country orientation or pre-departure orientation, make sure you make a concerted effort to get to know the people in your cohort. Who has research interests that align with yours? Who just gives you a cool vibe? Remember to bring your business card and your game face. If you are an ETA or other student Fulbright program, try to network with both the older people in your cohort and those in your same program. And rather than just thinking of it as a networking session, also consider that these are people you can build genuine friendships with. After all, you all decided that you want to spend about a year in the same country or region. Own that and start chatting people up.

2. Make a list of goals and must-sees and do a half year audit of those

Time runs out quicker than you think so also don’t put things off. Early on, I made my list of goals for my time in France so I could keep my priorities there straight. You want to ensure you’re not just “seeing how it goes” and instead being an active participant in what you get out of the experience.

3. Join Facebook groups and Meet-Ups

Once you are in the country, or even before, you want to find ways to make local friends or friends outside your Fulbright group (especially if you are somewhere where the participants are more spread out). I joined a facebook group that advertised excursions every couple weekends and it was a great way to get out of town and meet new people at the same time. Also early on, I as part of a meet-up group called “Black Expats in Paris.” They took us to an annual Parisian event, Nuit Blanche , that I might otherwise not have known about. In that outing, my roommate Jasmine and I ended up making some really good friends that we are still in touch with today.

Montmartre4. Take a free walking tour of your neighborhood or town

If you are in a city that gets some tourist traffic, chances are there is a free walking tour of your city. I did my very first walking tour in Krakow, Poland and absolutely loved it. So much so that I proceeded to do one in almost every city thereafter. These tours are led by locals and it’s just a really great way to get to know where you are visiting (or living) and meet new people or like-minded travelers. When my little brother visited me in Paris, we went on a walking tour of my neighborhood, Montmartre  It was one of the best decisions I made because I had already walked some of those streets and loved the area. But after the tour, I had a renewed sense of appreciation for my little corner of Paris.
You can find more tips about getting to know your new (or current) city here.

5. Take advantage of other programming and opportunities your commission has.

Your orientation and half year meeting likely won’t be the only program your Fulbright commission hosts (if you are in a country with one). I’m not saying you have to attend everything, but it is a nice way to check in with people in your program – plus free food might be involved!

6. Save money for important things.

Part of keeping your priorities straight is knowing what you want to get out of the experience. While it might be nice to be in a post apartment in the chiquest part of town, it won’t leave you much money to do other things like travel and head to museums. You’ll always have time to live it up, but when’s the next time you’ll get this kind of exposure to a new culture or cultures?

Musee de montmartre

7. Get a language partner

You might have chosen your Fulbright experience because of the language learning opportunities so much the most of that. As awesome as immersion in a new language is, having that one person you can sit with and talk comfortably with, with the precise aim of improve you language skill is super helpful! Similar to making goals at the beginning o your experience, you just want to be intentional about everything you are getting out of you Fulbright year!

 

8. Look up ways to get involved in your community ahead of time and early in your stay.

Don’t wait til the last minute to get involved. Look up places you are interested in volunteering for early on and once you’re settled, head there to inquire about volunteering. Some places have a volunteer training so if you wait too

 

9. Find local things you would have been involved in back home anyways

Don’t just be a traveler while you’re there! Do things that make you feel part of the community and normalize the experience for you! Don’t just work there, but really LIVE there. If you typically do dance or have a gym membership at home, find that in your new locale as well! Don’t treat it like a short stint and really take the time to delve into your community – you live here now.

Montmartre student sitting

10. Do start making your post-Fulbright plans as soon as you can.

Although it seems to contradict the last statement, what is important is to act like you are staying forever, but remember that you aren’t. I made the mistake of counting my days in Paris – it was mostly a aesthetic thing for my journal, but it affected my mind set and kept me from doing things I might otherwise have if my time there had been perceived as infinite.


Deciding if you should do Fulbright or another Fellowship? Here is why you should DEFINITELY do one!

Not sure which Fulbright or other Fellowship program to do? Here is a helpful guide.

Trying to apply for Fulbright or other fellowship programs? You might find these tips helpful!

 

Do let me know if you found these tips helpful! And please share with someone in your life who is taking up a new opportunity!

Have you done a program like this before? Or moved to a new area for an awesome opportunity? Comment below which tips you think are the most helpful and add a few of your own!!

 

Always,

Omolayo Nkem

 

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