In just under two weeks I will be on a plane on my way to New Zealand. In all, it will take three flights and a grand total of 20 hours and 48 minutes from take off to landing to get to New Zealand. I will cross the international date line, which basically means I will skip Friday, January, 11. As long as that seems, the entire journey leading up to actually leaving for this Fulbright experience has been even longer.
This application was long and intensive. Honestly, I think they weed people out just by the sheer amount of time and effort the application takes. I started trying to narrow down which country I would apply to in the summer before the application went live. The Fulbright DAT website gives you a list of participating countries and some information and links to learn more about their education systems. I started by listing the countries I was most interested in visiting. Then, I took to Google and researched special education in several countries. After finding that New Zealand had recently undergone a Learning Support Update and revamped special education, I decided New Zealand was the place for me.
Next, came the application. When all was said and done, I probably spent 30-40 hours on my application. In addition to the usual resume type questions, I had to complete more in depth research to write a detailed inquiry project proposal. I had to state the name of my project, its goals, research questions, project format, and the outcomes. I had to defend why I needed to be in New Zealand to complete this project, and outline my research plan. In addition to the project proposal, I had to answer open ended questions ranging from why I would be an ideal global ambassador, to detailing my previous time abroad and professional experience. It entailed ordering transcripts from undergrad and graduate school and ensuring that three references were completed by the deadline. The latter was especially stressful because the Fulbright DAT email was somehow blocked by my school district’s email server. I also had to get the leave office to sign a form stating they would allow me to do the program if I was accepted. Do you see why I think they weed people out with the application? After all of this, I submitted my application in mid December of 2017 and the waiting began.
Updates and Interviews
On January 19, I was emailed that my application was deemed complete and I met the basic requirements (e.g. 5 years teaching, master’s degree, etc.)
On February 28 I found out I had advanced to the next round. I inserted a screenshot of the email below, because I think you will all get a kick out of it. I think someone was playing a cruel joke when they crafted the first paragraph…I was sure I was getting a rejection email.
On March 15 I got invited to do a fifteen minute phone interview. The interview ended with me in tears. If you have ever participated in a phone interview, than you know how awkward they are. You can’t read body language, so you have no idea how your responses are going over, and you inevitably end up talking over someone. Well, a fifteen minute phone interview is even worse. They asked three set questions (which were all extremely similar or identical to application questions). I repeated a lot of what I had written on my application, so I was sure I had failed. They even cut me off at one point, which I was positive was a terrible sign. Then, I had a chance to ask questions. I tried to ask one about what alumni have accomplished after the program and was pretty sure I insulted the interviewers in the process. Needless to say, I was convinced I had blown it.
They told me they’d be making decisions in early April. Early April came and went and the waiting was excruciating. Every time my phone buzzed my heart skipped. Could that be the Fulbright email? Finally, on April 19 my phone buzzed. I pulled it out and there it was!
Since then it has been a whirlwind of preparation.
Orientation was held in Washington, DC at the Mayflower Hotel (hilariously where my prom was held) from August 1-3. I was nervous meeting the thirty-seven other Fulbright teachers and the alumni. They are all so intelligent, passionate, and accomplished. It was hard not to feel like a fraud. However, I started to realize that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. No one could believe that they had been invited into this elite group.
At orientation we learned the details of our grants, the expectations for our inquiry projects, and got to hear from alumni about their experiences. The highlight of orientation for me was meeting the seven other teachers going to New Zealand. We immediately hit it off. By the end of orientation we were laughing and joking together. At the farewell dinner we were each given our Fulbright pin and welcomed to the Fulbright family. Each group took a photo in front of the Fulbright banner. For some reason our New Zealand group decided to all get on the floor for our photo (obviously because we are the most fun….).
Leaving orientation I was exhilarated, excited, and stressed. My To Do list was pages long and has only recently started shrinking. It seems like I am constantly thinking of new things that need to be done before leaving. Here’s a look at what’s gone into preparing to leave:
- Medical Form- I had to schedule a physical ASAP after orientation and have the doctor fill out a multi-page medical form ensuring I was fit to participate in the program. This was more stress inducing because I was dealing with it at the start of the school year.
- Find Housing- Fulbright gives us a living stipend, but we have to find our own housing in New Zealand. Accommodations in Wellington are not easy to come by. Most places we looked at were studio apartments. These wouldn’t work for us since Elijah will be working, as well as completing grad school, from New Zealand. He will need to be up participating in meetings or class in the middle of the night sometimes. So, we needed at least two rooms. We eventually found a long term airbnb that is the size of a studio but has a door to the bedroom.
- Visas- These applications took so much longer than I anticipated! Mine wasn’t terrible, but it was not easy figuring out exactly what I needed to fill out for Elijah’s.
- Moving- We rent a house in Austin. We don’t want to pay rent on it when we won’t be here. So, we are packing all of our stuff and putting it in storage while we are gone. We will then find a new place when we return.
- Prescriptions- This seems like it should be easy, but it hasn’t been. I have made no less than 10 phone calls trying to get my maintenance medications filled for the duration I am gone. This still isn’t fully resolved…
- Health Insurance- My district does not continue to pay for my health insurance while I am gone. So, Elijah is switching me to his. We also needed to research travel medical insurance and purchase a plan for Elijah. (The Department of State provides me with travel medical insurance.)
- Project Preparation- Before I begin observing and interviewing I have to submit an ethics proposal. Victoria Wellington sent us information on it in advance and I am supposed to begin preparing it before I leave.
- Vacation Planning- This one was fun, but time consuming. Before my grant begins on February 1, we will spend a couple of weeks traveling the South Island. As with any international vacation, a lot of time went into choosing destinations, booking accommodations, etc.
- Penny- This was the hardest. If you know me, you know I love this little cat more than anything. She’ll be staying with my parents in Virginia until we get back. Leaving her there when we flew back for Christmas was by far the hardest part of preparing for this trip so far.
Needless to say, it has been extremely stressful preparing to leave. I just keep reminding myself that I am about to embark on a once in a lifetime opportunity. It will be worth it.