Letters of Recommendation

July 31, 2007

I don’t know if this advice applies to getting letters of recommendation for jobs or what have you, but from my experience, there’s some things I would recommend you do:

  • Leave plenty of time. I asked for one letter a month before I needed it, and when I came to get it three and a half weeks later, the person had forgotten about it. Don’t be a jerk, but keep up some low-intensity pressure.
  • When asking someone to write you a letter, tell them what it’s for, and be specific, as to what scholarship you’re applying for, who sponsors it, what you’d get if you’re accepted, and so on. Tell them why you want that particular award, but not that same “I think I will develop as a person” baloney that everyone says when applying for anything.
  • Some people are going to ask you to write your own letter of recommendation and then they’ll just sign it. Save yourself some time and just write one for yourself ahead of time anyway. Trust me. It’ll come in handy if they forget about and ask you to do it at the last minute. Talk yourself up, but don’t brag, and if you can’t do that, pay a friend to write the letter. But check it for lies.
  • Weigh the people carefully: a well-respected professor that you know moderately might be better than a someone that’s your best friend but has no, for lack of a better term, social standing.
  • If you think there are any buzzwords that the application reviewers want to hear, suggest the person writing your letter use them, but in moderation. Don’t go overboard. Phrases like “good cultural ambassador for the United States” is probably a good one for a Fulbright application.

That’s all I can think of right now. I know that’s not entertaining, but maybe it’ll help one of youse.


Application Process: Getting Started

July 29, 2007

How I started my application is an embarassing story. The department secretary sent around an email to let us know that the application process had begun. I read it, thought the idea was interesting, and then said to myself “I’ll never get one of these,” and deleted the email. My advisor forwarded me the email, not knowing I’d already gotten it, and I figured hey, why not apply.

This is something I’d like to make clear: I’m a doofus. There’s not much special about me, other than that I work hard. I’m no smarter or better looking or well-groomed than anyone else. And despite my own constant self-sabotage, I managed to recieve a Fulbright. If I can do it, you can do it. Apply and see what happens.

Anyway, the first thing I had to do was figure out what country I wanted to apply to. I took French in college and minored in it, so I figured I should go to a French-speaking country. The head of the application program at Drexel suggested France, but all French-speaking people go to France, so I asked her what was the most exotic French-speaking country available. It turned out to be the Ivory Coast. Perhaps I was looking for something a little less exotic.

After reading the country descriptions, I decided on North Africa. My advisor is from Egypt, and he put me in touch with someone in North Africa, who didn’t have room to host someone. But he knew two people who he thought might, and the first one I contacted, Dr. Abderrahim Aatiq, said he’d sponsor me.

Speaking a non-english language was the first thing, in my opinion, that I had going for me: the odds of going to a non-english speaking plalce are much better than the odds of going to England, Australia, or wherever. Everyone applies to go there. The second thing was finding an advisor with whom I could work over there: apparently, they see that as a big plus. Which makes sense.

Getting a Passport

July 29, 2007

When applied for a Fulbright, I didn’t have a Passport. When I was notified that I had recieved the grant, I didn’t have a passport. So the first thing I did to get ready to go overseas was, appropriately, go down to the post office and apply for one. I paid for the expedited service, which was not money well spent. I’m sure you’ll understand why.

About two weeks after I should have gotten my passport, I got everything returned to me: I’d been denied a passport. The first thing I did was panic. The second thing I did was call my senator’s office. The third thing I did was call the office of the guy who was actually my senator, and not the one from the next district over, who I had called in the first place.

Somewhere in the phone call process, I was told why I’d been denied a passport: I wasn’t an American citizen. Yeah, I was surprised too.

Apparently, there’s a computer somewhere that truncates the names of where people are born. Either that, or someone who uses a computer somewhere isn’t very good at it. They’d entered my birthplace as the town of Madison, in Jefferson county, INDIA. For the record, it’s Indiana. The state. Not India, the country.

I was able to appeal the process, however, and mailed them every possible peice of information I could. Birth certificate (again), data from where I go to school, baptismal certificate, a picture of me from the newspaper, printouts from the departmental website, on and on and on. Eventually I got my passport.

 I hope someone was making fun of me when they told me I’d been born in India. It’s actually less disturbing for me to think that maybe they just deny applications to anyone that wants to go to an Arab country and then see what happens during the appeals process.

Application Process: Notification

July 29, 2007

I’d applied for the Fulbright grant and then more or less forgotten about it. All the paperwork, and there was a lot of it, got in just under the wire sometime in November. Then for some reason, late on a Saturday night in February, I decided to check my mail. I’d gotten a letter from the Institute of International Education. The first line read:

“On behalf of the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board and the Moroccan-American Commision for Education and Cultural Exchange (MACECE), I am pleased to inform you that you have been selected for a Fulbright award in Morocco for the academic year 2007-08. Congratulations!”

I thought to myself that this was a very, very polite rejection notice, put it down, and went back to watching TV. But something was bothering me. I read the letter a second time, and the feeling just grew stronger. Something just wasn’t right. The third time I read it, I got a sneaking suspicion: perhaps this wasn’t a rejection letter.

I’m not going to lie: I was shocked. For about two hours I was convinced that I’d somehow read the letter wrong. When I finally got it through my head that I had, in fact, earned the grant, I sat on the couch and stared at the wall. I think I mumbled the phrase “I’m going to Morocco” over and over again; to be entirely honest, I wasn’t happy so much as shocked. That didn’t really go away. That first night I felt sort numb.

Everyone was surprised, but pretty much everyone was supportive. The first person I told was my friend Marisa, because I’ve known her for 15 years now, and she travels all over the world. I think she’s in Japan right now. Someone who shall go unnamed told me that South America is a nice place. And that Morocco is a lovely island. Most people were really interested, and as they started asking me questions, I realized that I had no idea what a Fulbright grant was. I didn’t know how much I got paid, how long it was for, etc.

I was up a creek.

As a side note, I had also applied for a Critical Language Enhancement Award so that I could learn Arabic. I didn’t hear anything about it in that initial letter; I got an email some time later that told me I’d been accepted. I was surprised to learn that the CLEA duration was at least 90 days of study; for some reason, I had gotten it in my head that the whole program was only 5 weeks. Surprise!

First Post

July 29, 2007

I’ve known I was getting a Fulbright scholarship to go to Morocco since February. However, I didn’t want to say anything until all of the official paperwork was signed, stamped, and sent out. I’ve even got a plane ticket now. Anyway, I wanted to start a blag (see below) so that  people could see what I’m up to, future Fulbright recipients can see what my application process was like, and I can entertain the folks back home.

I didn’t make a blag on my actual domain, www.theironskeptic.com, because I couldn’t figure out how to make a Squirrel Server, or whatever it’s called. Also, I keep calling this a blag, in contrast to a blog; blogs are for emo-esque whining and ignorant political views. Blags are for the hip, cutting edge smarty pantses like me.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be putting postst that describe the application process, hopefully one topic per post. After that, it’ll be updates from Morocco. I leave for Rabat on 2 September.