FAQ: Applying to Fulbright "at-large"

Hello, all! I am excited to present my first ~feature~. I reached out to the incredible Mikayla Bishop with a few questions regarding her experience applying to the Fulbright “at-large”, meaning without a university affiliation. Check out her thoughtful answers below :)

Mikayla is from Salem, Massachusetts and grew up with a deep appreciation for the ocean, eccentric people, and the idea that everyone has the power to make magic in their life. She loves doing what scares her most, because she believes that bravery is found in vulnerability. She attended Emerson College in Boston, MA and graduated in 2017 with a double major in Theatre Education and Acting. She has been teaching the past two years using theatre/drama as a tool to support learning--- but above all, she believes theatre teaches cooperation, collaboration, compassion, and connection, skills a student will carry with them for the rest of their life.
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How was your experience applying to Fulbright without a University affiliation?

Overall, it was ideal! Frankly, I had no choice as I was two years out of school nor did the college I attend have any Fulbright advising program. Looking back, I am so thankful to have done it all on my own. I was responsible for everything, and I got to create my own timeline. I had to hold myself accountable to check things off the list; as a procrastinator, this was a great challenge for me. That said, being on my own schedule, I never had to play email tag or chase people down for paperwork at the last minute. I was my own editor, my own advisor, my own guide. I had to keep myself motivated and inspired--- and I’m stronger today because of it!

Applying at-large was the prep I needed before diving into a Fulbright grant and moving abroad. Upon being accepted to Fulbright, there’s a lot you have to do without someone holding your hand--- the Commission provides a great amount of guidance, but in the end it’s up to you to dig through the information they provide and carve out your path toward getting a visa. Also, once in the country, you’re on your own finding housing, opening a bank account, and obtaining legal residency. Though all of this was still stressful, I felt fully prepared, because I had gotten myself this far and I knew I had it in me to keep going!

What was your timeline like?

In truth, I decided to apply for a Fulbright grant with only four months left before the application due date. It was precisely having to apply at-large that withheld me from starting it earlier, because I doubted myself--- did I have it in me to take this on alone? Oh my gosh, look at all that work I need to do! Do I even have time for this between jobs? I haven’t even been in school for two years! How do I write an essay again? There’s no chance I’ll be accepted, not without the affiliation of a university tagged onto my name, not without someone to tell me if my application is good enough!

But I certainly wouldn’t be accepted if I didn’t even bother to apply. And so, with the clock ticking, I got to it.

Checklists became my best friend. And I also full-heartedly believe that the best work can get done if you reward yourself with a snack. So I gave myself a piece of chocolate every time I accomplished a step.

What were some obstacles you encountered and how did you overcome them?

The biggest obstacle is the task itself: applying at-large. It was a challenge working on my own--- keeping track of deadlines, revising my own essays, lacking someone to turn to should a question arise. The big thing I lacked was guidance--- I had no one to walk me through the application process, no one to serve as a mentor during such a stressful but soul-shaping time in my life. In many of these cases, the Internet became a great ally. I found blogs of former Fulbright grantees, Reddit threads, open forums of discussion. I scoured other people’s blurbs about their own experience, and on one occasion even sent an email to a woman who had written a blog post about Fulbright Spain (she never responded, but at least I tried). And when the Internet proved inadequate, I reached out to former professors and trusted mentors. Having to reach out foreshadowed one of my greatest lessons living abroad--- there is no shame in asking for help when you need it. You do not have to do this alone.  

I truly believe that where there’s a will, there’s a way. If you want to make something happen, go for it. If you want an opportunity, jump at it. But be willing to face the challenges along the way, and trust that those challenges are actually just lessons in disguise, to help you grow into a wiser and braver you.

All this said: if you decide to undertake the application process at-large and find you need help, don’t hesitate to reach out to ME! I am happy to provide further guidance or answer more specific questions, should you have any. And let me be the first to say how proud I am of you for choosing to take this first step in a grand adventure! Good luck, buena suerte, and lots of hugs!

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If you have any questions, Mikayla can be reached via email at mikayla.bishop@gmail.com. Also, be sure to follow her on Instagram (@mikkibish) to see more of her journey in the beautiful Canarias!