By Erin D’Amelio

Before we start talking about moving forward with Malaysia, let’s take a step back to see how I got the grant in the first place.

Erin working with students in Madagascar

Erin working with students in Madagascar

So you may be wondering, why, of all the countries in the world, did I choose Malaysia? In my previous article, I mentioned how I traveled to both Paris and Madagascar. I have been fortunate enough to experience two very distinct and complex countries; what was missing, I felt, was an understanding of an Asian culture, and that was something I yearned for. Malaysia wasn’t the only country in my pool of options, and admittedly, my choice was fairly arbitrary. I’m the type of person who can easily and happily adapt to situations. As a result, I wondered whether or not Malaysia was ultimately the country I in which I wanted to teach. But then, as I researched the country further, I learned that it is such a rich mixture of culture- it has Chinese, Indonesian, and Indian influences- that is found in all aspects of its society. In a way, I was getting several Asian cultures in one country, and I want to explore all of them eagerly and learn as much as I can about them. With this all in mind, I then began the application.

The process of applying for a Fulbright ETA grant involves a barrage of time-consuming tasks: filling out a form online, submitting your college transcripts, getting three references, and submitting two one-page essays. The application was due mid-October, but Lafayette (and many colleges and universities around the country) requires an endorsement from an appointed Fulbright Program Adviser, which essentially meant that I had to write and submit my essays in early September. So, realistically, my preparation for the grant began right when my fall semester started. Easy, right? Well, mostly. Those two essays… One was a personal statement, asking possible grantees to portray both their history in terms of cultural, intellectual, and professional development, and their intended trajectory after completing the grant. The other essay, a statement of grant purpose, informs the review committee why you want to teach English in the first place, how you might do so, and why you chose the country you did. Did I mention that these essays were one page each? I’m not always the most concise of writers- I mean, I do love a long-winded phrase when it’s worded elegantly- so trying to capture all for which they asked while heeding a 700-word limit was, let’s just say, tedious. My essays went through the editorial wringer several times, getting mined for their imperfections and reworded so much that I started to wonder if I’d ever get my essays submitted. Eventually, though, they finally seemed good enough- and apparently were- to send in with the rest of my application.

At that moment, I was done. There was nothing else to do. And so I waited. Around January, I received an email from the National Screening Committee of the Institute of International Education (IIE), which reviews all Fulbright grant applications, informing me that I had been recommended for a grant. It was a nice way of saying, “You’re one step closer to getting a grant! But let’s wait just a couple months more…” Finally, on April 3rd, 2013, at 12:14 pm, the email arrived: “Congratulations! We are pleased to inform you that you have been selected for a Fulbright U.S. Student award for 2013-2014 to Malaysia.”

I was alone and in front of my computer in my dorm room when I first got the email. When it popped up in my inbox, there was a brief moment of hesitation. I don’t want to open it, I thought to myself, I don’t want to know. I’m pretty sure that I even got up from my desk to avoid opening it, but the temptation and the buildup to this moment quickly overcame me and I clicked on the email. After reading through it, I immediately got up from my desk again and paced around, exclamations of disbelief and vigorous gesticulations being thrown around to an absent audience. In the next moment I was calling my family and sharing the news, still dubious that this was, in fact, real life.

But because my grant wouldn’t begin until January 2014, I had to face perhaps the biggest challenge with the Fulbright process: waiting.

My name is Erin D’Amelio and I’m going to Malaysia for ten months as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. Over the next 10 months I will be submitting regular journal entries of this incredible adventure, documenting my thoughts and experiences. The views and beliefs I will present in these articles are my own; they do not reflect those of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State. Below are the articles, in order of publication. Just click on any link and continue the journey with me.
An Unforgettable Journey

How Does One Get a Fulbright, Exactly?
And Then We Wait
Sensory Overload