My Application Process

First of all – I would never be where I am today without my husband, Oz. So hats off to him! I owe so much to him, including my decision to apply for Fulbright. About four weeks into my six week study abroad program in Russia, I received an email from USF’s Office of National Scholarship, saying that I was an excellent candidate for a Fulbright and urging me to attend an information session.

The trip to Russia was funded by numerous scholarships and grants, including the Gilman, the Genshaft/Greenbaum Passport Scholarship, and a USF Undergraduate Research Travel Grant. My own Aunt Connie had to loan me some cash as well! Going through that experience…it made me a lot less sensitive to the mountains of paperwork, the hoop-jumping. Once you apply for one big national grant/scholarship, it makes it a lot easier to go again for another one.

Even still, after a quick google of Fulbright (I had no idea what it was at that point!), I felt uneasy. This was a HUGE thing. Was I good enough for something like that? Was I on par with other applicants? I Skyped with Oz the night that I got the email, and to my surprise he jumped on it immediately. “Let’s do it! If you get it, it’ll be the biggest adventure ever! We’re young, we don’t have kids, and you ARE good enough for this!”

So, I took the plunge and attended the information session at USF when I got home. The Office of National Scholarships at USF has a truly amazing group of individuals that are very dedicated to the success of their students. I originally selected Russia as my country because of my comfortability with the language (I’ve been studying it for about three years now), and my love of the culture. However, Russia does not allow any dependents. After reviewing Russian-speaking countries, I found Moldova, which not only allows for dependent accompaniment, but also gives them an allowance too! I went through several rewrites of my personal statement and statement of grant purpose with my FPA (Fulbright Program Advisor), Lauren Chambers. I even attended a table reading, where former peer Fulbrighters read our statements and gave us their initial impressions and suggestions.

Finally, before submitting my application, Lauren helped me create a “test” application. This application was reviewed by faculty at USF who were Fulbrighters when they were younger. I never met them, as anonymity was an important aspect of the process. I was given very positive notes, which made me crazy because all I wanted to do at that point was revise, revise, revise! However, since it was recommended to change nothing, I went ahead and submitted my application on October 13, 2014.

October 13, 2013

Dear Tamara Sine,

Congratulations! You have successfully submitted your online application to Fulbright U.S. Student Program.  Applications will be reviewed in the coming months and you will be notified by email of the outcome by the end of January 2014

Thank you.

Then…I went a bit crazy with the waiting. Life took me away from it during the early months. I graduated in December, and celebrated with family and friends. Shortly after, I began applying to local schools in Hillsborough County. Mid-January, I was called for an interview for an itinerant position between Oak Grove Elementary and Northwest Elementary and got hired on the spot.

After I was hired, I steadily became more and more aware of imminent information from Fulbright. We were told that we would hear something towards the end of January, so nerves were tingling in the Fulbright community on Gradcafe (an excellent spot to vent and share in the waiting struggle with other applicants). Then, on January 28, at 5:39pm, I received an email.

January 28, 2014

Dear Tamara Sine,

I am pleased to inform you that the National Screening Committee of the Institute of International Education (IIE) has recommended you for a grant under the Fulbright U.S. Student Program for the academic year 2014-15.  Your application has been forwarded to the supervising agency abroad for final review.  In addition, your application will be forwarded to the program sponsor, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State, for transmittal to the presidentially-appointed J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board (FFSB).  The FFSB makes final decisions on Fulbright awards.

This letter is not notification of a grant since the number of recommended candidates exceeds the number of awards available.  The notification timeline varies by country. Final selection notifications for a particular country cannot be sent until the country has made its final selections and the candidates have been approved by the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board and the U.S. Department of State.

Final status notifications go out as early as February and can go out as late as June, depending on the country. All Final Status Notifications will be sent via email to the account listed in the application.  If the email address has changed, send an email to the IIE Program Manager for the World Region to update the contact information.For further information about the next stage in the selection process, go to the website:

http://us.fulbrightonline.org/information-for-recommended-candidates

Receipt of a grant is contingent upon: (a) submission of official hard copies of your transcripts (see below); (b) completion of the bachelor’s degree for graduating seniors; (c) approval by the FFSB; (d) concurrence by the supervising agency abroad; (e) medical and research clearances; (f) security factors in the country of your application; (g) availability of funds; and (h) participation in a Pre-Departure Orientation, where required.

Congratulations on your success in the preliminary stages of the competition.

Sincerely yours,
Daniel Kramer
Director, U.S. Student Programs 

Please arrange to have one official transcript from your current academic institution (if enrolled) and one transcript for all other institutions from which you received a Bachelor’s or Master’s or doctoral degree.  See the website listed above for further information.  Send transcripts to:

OFFICIAL TRANSCRIPTS
U.S. Student Programs
Institute of International Education
809 United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017

IIE must receive these transcripts by February 21,  2014. Transcripts must be in the original sealed envelope as issued by the Registrar’s office.

Please note that IIE cannot confirm the receipt of individual transcripts before February 21, 2014; however, we will notify you after February 21 if we DO NOT have a required transcript.

When I found out that I was recommended, it all started to feel very real, very fast. I started to think that this might actually happen! I carried on with my life, teaching public school during the day and private lessons in the evening. Around late March, I started to feel the itch again. A lot of people were getting acceptance/alternate/rejection emails on Gradcafe. Notification dates for Moldova in the past ranged from early to late April. Time dragged by, a beast I couldn’t fight. Then, on April 18 (a planning day ironically), at 12:26pm, I received the email. Oz saw it first, then turned the computer screen towards me. 

April 18, 2014

Dear Miss Sine,
We wish to inform you that you have been designated as an Alternate for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Thus you would receive an award only in the event that someone withdraws or additional funding becomes available. While you have not currently been selected as a Principal candidate, your selection as an Alternate for a Fulbright award is, in itself, an achievement for which you can be justly proud.
Please know we have no way of predicting the chances of an Alternate’s promotion to Principal, nor do we maintain ranked lists of Alternates. Promotions may depend on the profile of the Principal who declines a grant offer or other factors.

The majority of Principal candidates are given one month to make their decisions regarding acceptance or declination of an award. You can assume that the Principal candidates for your country are being notified simultaneously with this notice to you. Therefore, you can estimate the time frame in which most students will accept or decline their award offers. The chance of promotion will be greatest during the spring months, and then steadily decline as time goes on.   However, we maintain Alternate lists until the grant year closes and will ONLY contact you if an opening occurs.

It is our hope that you would be available to accept a grant should it be offered. In the meantime, it is important that you advise us immediately if there is any factor that could preclude you from accepting an award. You will remain on the Alternate list unless you withdraw, in writing, from the competition.

No additional information should be sent to us in support of your application, as it will have no effect on your status. Also, please be advised that in the event that we can offer you a Fulbright award, we will try to contact you by telephone or email first. If you need to update any of your contact information, please email your IIE Program Manager. You will receive no further correspondence on your status unless potential funding becomes available.

I want to emphasize that your Alternate status in no way prejudices your chances for success in futureFulbright U.S. Student Program competitions.  Each year’s selection is separate.  If you are not promoted to a Principal candidate and you wish to apply again for a Fulbright Award, your application will be considered solely on the basis of eligibility requirements, merits, and the placement possibilities in the country of your choice.

We appreciate your interest in the Fulbright Program.

Sincerely,

Daniel Kramer

Director, U.S. Student Programs
Strangely, I didn’t cry. Not immediately, anyway. I saw the large, bold (A) in the subject line, and leaned back. Oz looked at me nervously and asked if I was okay. “No, I’m not,” I said, and walked out of the room to prepare some lunch. He caught me reading the email later that evening, and held me. All of the old doubt crept back in. I reminded myself that it was a long shot, that I was competing against very gifted individuals. I found one of the grant recipient’s contact info on the Gradcafe spreadsheet and reached out to her on Facebook. She assured me that she was taking the grant, but encouraged me to keep up hope. I found the other alternate, a fellow Floridian in Miami. He and I agreed to stay in contact so that we would know asap if one of us got bumped up.
I was resigning myself to shelving away the Fulbright dream, when I got a call one day after school. It was May 23, somewhere between 4 and 5pm. I was sitting on the couch, petting my cat Freckles and relaxing before going to teach piano lessons, when I received a call on the phone. The caller id showed “Unknown, New York, NY.” I squawked at Oz to mute the tv. He laughed and said it was just a telemarketer. I yipped again, “Telemarketers don’t call from NY! That’s Fulbright! I know it! Gimme the phone! QUICK!!!” He tossed me the cordless and I pressed the pickup button with a comically trembling finger.
Alyssa Yeng, the Fulbright Eurasian program contact, was on the other line! She congratulated me and said that I had been promoted from alternate to principal. She asked if I needed time to think about it, and I asked for 24 hours. I wanted to double check with Oz that he really wanted to do this. She said that would be fine, but that she wouldn’t  see any emails until Tuesday on account of Memorial Day weekend. Less than 6 hours later, I emailed my acceptance. On Monday, I resigned from my teaching position. On Friday, May 30, at 12:58pm, I received the official email.

May 30, 2014

Dear Miss Sine,

Congratulations!

I am delighted to inform you that you have been promoted from alternate and selected for a 2014-2015 Fulbright U.S. Student Award to Moldova. The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program of the United States.  You will represent the country as a cultural ambassador while you are overseas, helping to enhance mutual understanding between Americans and the people in  Moldova. You will join over 100,000 Fulbright U.S. Student Program alumni who have undertaken grants since the program began in 1948.

Your IIE Program Manager will be in contact with you soon with further information on grant administration and pre-departure preparation. If you determine that you will not be able to accept the Fulbright Award, please be sure to notify IIE immediately.

Shortly you will receive a letter from the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board recognizing your accomplishment. This letter will be sent to the mailing address listed in your application and noted above. If you wish to change your permanent mailing address you need to email the information to your IIE Program Manager.

Please review the information on the Resources for Selected Candidates webpage and submit the required documentation in a timely manner:http://us.fulbrightonline.org/resources-for-pre-grantees-2014-2015

The Fulbright Award is contingent upon you obtaining: medical clearance, a bachelor’s degree, official research clearance from the host country, where applicable, and required visas.

Your Fulbright ID number is: 32142399   You will need this number for the Medical History and Examination Form, for the Fulbright online report system, and for any medical reimbursement claims submitted during the grant term.  Please record this ID number so that you will be able to reference it in the future.

All selected candidates must submit a Medical History and Examination Form before the grant can be finalized. The form must be completed and signed by a licensed physician and reviewed by the U.S. Department of State for medical clearance. Instructions for submitting the Medical History and Examination Form are posted on the Resources for Selected Candidates webpage.  Please make an appointment with your physician as soon as possible; the Medical Form is due within six weeks of this date.

Again, congratulations on your achievement and we look forward to working with you.

Sincerely,
Daniel Kramer
Director, U.S. Student Programs
Institute of International Education
809 United Nations Plaza
New York, NY  10017
And the rest is history. I am so unbelievably grateful to have had such an amazing opportunity to positively influence the lives of others, spread knowledge, deepen my faith, and strengthen Oz and I’s relationship even more. Woot! 😀

10 thoughts on “My Application Process

  1. Cool blog! I’m glad that another alternate had a success to get a grant!! What a nice surprise it was! I hope to meet you soon, Kim

  2. I’m this year! Yes I was an alternate. I got the email the last week of August and I arrived the first week of October. I’m in Chisinau. We’re friends on facebook.

    • Ahhh, okay! Now I remember! Someone mentioned you in passing conversation, but I forgot the name. You are the the one here on study, right? It seems like I’m getting friend requests nearly every week as people in town find me, so I knew I knew you from somewhere – I just couldn’t remember where! I hope you’re not offended! We will definitely have to meet when my husband and I go to Chisinau, for sure 😉

  3. Hi Tamara,

    My name is Samantha, I’m from Georgia and I applied for a Fulbright ETA in South Korea for 2015-2016. I received the “alternate selection” email about a week ago. I was immediately saddened by it because I worked tirelessly on the application and I was confident about getting the award, but like you mentioned, I was competing with incredibly gifted individuals. Being designated as an alternate is a huge accomplishment in itself, and I am thankful that I made it this far. Nevertheless, your blog makes me optimistic about being promoted to a Principal Candidate. Thanks and I hope you’ve been enjoying your Fulbright ETA in Moldova!

    • Hi Sam! Don’t lose hope! Making plans as if you didn’t get the grant is a good idea, but keeping up faith is just as important I think. Hopefully you should hear something soon. Have you reached out to the other South Korea applicants listed on this year’s spreadsheet in Gradecafe? It can help to let you know where you stand. I know it might seem awkward, but trust me – everyone’s in the same boat, so most people shouldn’t mind (unless they’re really evil…in which case we don’t really care about them anyways, right?). I’m so happy that my humble little words have been of help! 😀 That was one of the goals of this blog, and it’s been hard to know whether or not I’ve been successful since not many people take the time to write a comment. So, thank YOU! Best of luck for S. Korea (which is all the rage among Moldovan youth btw, haha)!

  4. Hi there! I really appreciated reading your blog, especially since I am in the same boat as an Alternate ETA for Taiwan. My name is Marianne, and I’m currently living in NYC. Although I was definitely disappointed with the results, I recognize how competitive this grant is and am trying to be positive– anything could happen! When I see success stories like your own, it gives me hope that the same thing could happen for me! I’m trying to put off signing any year-long leases or making any permanent plans until after this summer passes, as I hope to hear that Fulbright has decided to promote me. 🙂 I’m also huge advocate of the Gradcafe spreadsheet– I was religiously checking it until I finally heard the verdict last week and am in debt to whoever put that thing together!!!

    • Hey! Thank you so much for the kind words! I can totally empathize with the manic checking of the spreadsheet and blogs. Those months of waiting were a major pain. It’s still early for alternates, so there’s definitely hope! I’ve heard that the majority consensus is that once summer is over, it’s time to change gears (reapply, figure out what to do for the next year of waiting, lol). However, there are a couple of cases every year where they are still bumping up alternates as late as September or October. Actually, an undergrad researcher (which is kinda unusual in itself for Fulbright) found out she was promoted back in early October last year and arrived in Moldova around late October if I’m remembering correctly.

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