Fulbright ETA to Mongolia: The How and Why


     The eastern shore of Maryland is not the typical home of wannabe world travelers.  However, it is the place I will soon no longer be calling my home. At the end of July, I will be packing up and heading off to Mongolia. This adventure started on a whim on May 4, 2016, when I emailed Salisbury University's fellowship advisor asking if I could meet with her to discuss the possibility of applying for a Fulbright. That meeting started months of writing essays, getting recommendations, interviewing, and waiting.

     This waiting was all for the chance of being a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Mongolia. The Fulbright Program is a U.S. State Department sponsored program that promotes cultural exchange between the U.S. and the world. The Fulbright ETAs act as English teachers internationally in K- Higher Ed. Institutions. This program seemed to be made specifically for me. I am a TESOL major, who wants to go abroad and eventually work within the U.S. government. However, my choosing of Mongolia isn't so obvious to understand. 

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     Mongolia is a country with a long history. Everyone knows Genghis Khan, or more accurately Chinggis Khan. Nevertheless, modern Mongolia has been long ignored by American society. The only exceptions are those interested in the mining industry or hiking. My personal interest came from wanting to learn about educational policy. Mongolia's education system was heavily influenced by both Chinese and Soviet powers, but Mongolia's new democracy has the ability to form their own independently planned education system. Currently, this system is, in the words of many Mongolians that I have talked to, terrible. However, by being a part of this system, I hope to be able to see what works and what doesn't work, while also promoting American education philosophy and techniques. Despite my academic interests in Mongolia, I was also one of those caught by the romantic image of the traditional nomadic culture of Mongolia. The land of the eternal blue sky calls those with an interest in the wilderness and exploration, and I was called.

     That call motivated me to complete the application process for a Fulbright ETA. The entire process takes around 7 months. First, because I was applying through a university. I had to submit my draft application to my Fulbright coordinator before the university's application deadline. If applying through a university, you will most likely have to go through an interview with a panel of experts to confirm university support. My interview was with 6 different professors and a Mongolian culture expert. During the interview, they reviewed my two essays (the personal statement and the statement of purpose). Each essay needs to be one page and outline your goals. Any advice I can give on the essay has already been posted, but I can say to not worry about being the most eloquent writer on earth. Just be clear and mean what you say.

     You will need to gather three recommendations if you are an ETA. Make sure you choose people that can actually talk about your skill at being a leader or teaching. Remember what you are applying for when getting recommendations. All of these things make up the application, but don't be worried about not being impressive enough. I heard a story of one man that got passed through to semi-finalist for his hobby of tight rope walking. Having a weird tight rope walking American is apparently a fun concept for the State Department to promote. Your skills and hobbies are unique and promote an America that the government wants to demonstrate to other countries. There are many academics, but there aren't many of you.

     After submitting your application officially in October you will enter the period of waiting. You will not find out until January if you made to semi-finalist. Then it could be until February that you find out that you are a finalist. Then you need to get medical approval, which you can easily get at Your Doc's In. This is the most annoying step, as no one enjoys going to the doctor without being sick. Getting a Fly America compliant flight, a visa and other documents can be a struggle, but in the end, it's all worth it. I will warn you not to expect much help from anyone at Fulbright, as they will not give you any valuable information. Nevertheless, the entire process is worth it, frustration included, because nothing is better than saying that you are a Fulbright.