Wednesday, July 17

UCLA students have opportunity to research abroad with help from Fulbright program

With help from competitive Fulbright program, students have opportunity to research abroad

Michael Silvers has spent the last 10 years traveling to Brazil.

He first visited northeast Brazil with a community development nonprofit organization during his senior year in high school, and he fell in love with forró, a style of Brazilian dance music played with accordions, triangles and bass drums.

Silvers, a doctoral student of ethnomusicology at UCLA, returned to Brazil this week to spend the next nine months in the city of Fortaleza conducting dissertation research as part of his Fulbright fellowship. He plans to study the relationship between the content of forró and Brazil’s changing climate, an important theme of the genre.

As one of the most prestigious exchange programs, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program is open to anyone who has obtained a bachelor’s degree but not a doctoral degree.

This year, Silvers is one of only four fellows selected for the Fulbright-mtvU fellowships, a specific type of Fulbright grant. The program provides for all his research needs because the grant covers living expenses, and mtvU provides all of the filming and recording equipment, he said.

Because of the increasing globalization of today’s world, UCLA hopes to increase opportunities for cultural exchange, said Cherie Francis, director of outreach, diversity and fellowships at UCLA.

The Fulbright program supplies funds for students to spend one year abroad either conducting research, taking graduate coursework or working as an English teacher as part of the English Teaching Assistantship. Besides the student program, Fulbright funds several other programs, including the US Scholar Program, to allow doctoral students to conduct research and lecture abroad.

“We are really trying to push the Fulbright program here at UCLA,” Francis said.

The Obama administration has also been emphasizing the importance of the Fulbright Program in countries such as China, India, Russia, Turkey and Indonesia. Students can still apply to any of more than 155 countries.

“Supported by the people of the United States and partner countries around the world, the program has provided more than 294,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists and professionals from the United States the opportunity to share ideas and contribute solutions to common international concerns,” said Alina Romanowski, deputy assistant secretary of state for academic programs, in a press release.

In the 2009-2010 year, 7,500 Fulbright grants were given out, including more than 1,500 students, according to the Fulbright Web site.

Out of the 42 UCLA graduating seniors, recent graduates and graduate students who applied, nine received scholarships, Francis said.

This puts UCLA in the top 35 research universities to receive the largest number of scholarships, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The program is relatively well-funded, said Antonio Zaldivar, a doctoral student of history. He is almost two months into his Fulbright grant in Spain and is researching the use of language as a political tool in the 13th and 14th centuries.

Zaldivar has visited some of the largest archives of medieval history in Aragon and Catalonia, two regions of the country. He pursued his interest in medieval history after taking some courses during his undergraduate years.

“It’s a competitive scholarship, but even if you’re an undergraduate and think you can’t get it, you should still try. You’ll learn a lot in the process and you won’t know what will happen,” Zaldivar said.

Applying for the Fulbright is a very intensive process, and students need to prepare for the application six to 12 months in advance, said Gina Farales, fellowship administrator at UC Berkeley.

To apply for a research scholarship, students need a host affiliation in the country they are considering.

Students need to know what they want to pursue, and they need to be assertive and contact anyone they are interested in working with, even if they have had no previous contact, added Farales.

Francis said she suggests students talk to their current professors about possible contacts.

UCLA students need to apply through the university where a committee reviews each application and interviews every applicant. Students are then given an opportunity to make changes suggested by the committee before the New York Fulbright office receives a final evaluation from the committee.

If the New York office approves the application, it goes to the host country for consent, and then finally to the Fulbright Commission board in Washington D.C.

To learn more about the program, undergraduate students can enroll in “Perceptions of Americans Abroad,” a fiat lux seminar being taught this winter quarter. The course is led by Professor Ann Kerr and includes visiting Fulbright scholars, who will discuss their country and its general impressions of America, as guest speakers.

“Obviously (the visiting scholar) can’t represent the whole country, but it puts a face and personality for students to remember,” said Amanda Rizkallah, a doctoral student of political science and an assistant at the Visiting Fulbright Scholar Enrichment Program at the UCLA International Institute.

The course was started following the events of Sep. 11 with the goal of providing American students an opportunity to understand the international image of the U.S., Rizkallah said.

“Another really important component is … the cultural diplomat aspect of it. You represent the United States,” Zaldivar said.

With reports from Rotem Ben-Shachar, Bruin reporter.

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