One of the many nationally competitive awards for undergraduates is the Fulbright Summer Institute. I was a Durham University participant in 2016. I applied because the Fulbright awards are prestigious, they promote diversity, and it would be ridiculous not to apply. Also, the award covers all the expenses for your program; except for any extra weekend excursion or extra food you may want. I chose my specific program because I am a history major and classics minor, and the program covered history and archaeology of the ancient Romans and medieval Northumbria, which are two topics that interest me. I will try to illustrate what helped me to earn my spot and to illustrate how I made the most of it.
One can apply freshman and sophomore year of their undergraduate career. I wasn’t rushing into that first year of college, so instead I got involved and I joined groups on campus, made connections with my professors, my supervisor at my internship, and Pat Whitlow, who is the Director of the Nationally Competitive Awards office. I got an internship that dealt with preserving history. I also had an internship under a curator and had job shadowed the university’s archaeology department. My steps were different from the other participants, but the similarity was that we all were involved in our schools and had above average academic records.
The application process was not difficult because Pat helped me through it, and there are extensive instructions on the Fulbright website. The application has an essay portion that I had my internship supervisor, Pat, and my mother look over for ways to better my answers. The next hurdle was an interview over the phone, which I practiced for in front of mirrors and while driving in the car. I wrote up an outline of why I was suited for the program and why I wanted to do it because they were most interested in these questions. After a deep breath, I answered the phone and dived in with my cheat sheet handy. Two people interviewed me, and they sounded natural, which soothed me, and I made them laugh. I smiled, sat up straight, clutched the phone like it was keeping me tethered to earth, and I answered with my heart. Then, several months later I was hugging one of the women who chose me for the program with a delirious grin on my face.
In “making the most” of an education abroad experience, it differs for everyone. I found a balance of indoor and outdoor; I walked virtually everywhere, joined in on the weekend field trips that took some trekking, and we enjoyed ruins outside and artifacts inside for hours. Take a million photos to preserve the memories forever. I took pictures of beautiful, towering arches in cathedrals, of Big Ben in London, of the cobblestone street in York, of my delicious and bizarre meals, and of the goofiest smiles of my new friends enjoying a new culture. I wrote a blog post and posted pictures for every day I was abroad. It was a diary journal essentially about what I learned and my adventures, infused with what I hope came across as wit.
Final words: try for the competitive awards even if you don’t think you will get it. I like living without regrets, and it paid off. I gained a new sense of independence, I made new friends, I made international connections, and I got to live in a different culture. When I saw the Durham University program, I genuinely loved it, and that must have showed in my interview and essay. Also, know your awards-related resources, like Pat Whitlow. Get involved on campus. I encourage all you readers to be your best selves and to attempt to earn competitive awards.
Abby King is a senior studying history and classics at the University of Kentucky. She studied abroad in Summer 2016 in England where she participated in the Durham University Summer Fulbright Institution and learned about ancient and medieval history and archaeology.