If you have ever been interested in studying, researching, or teaching abroad, or even just doing something totally extraordinary, do yourself a freakin’ service and apply for a Fulbright grant. The deadline is October 18 this year and you can find information here.
I say this now because I’ve just returned from my Fulbright orientation in Athens and Aegina, and I have truly never been so electrified by a sense of purpose in my entire life as I am now. Meeting the other Fulbright students and scholars, as well as the Fulbright staff, traveling with them and seeing the things we saw and experiencing the things we experienced has filled me with a gratitude, pride, humility and inspiration unlike any I’ve ever experienced in my life.
Here are some highlights from the actual orientation itself:
Meeting the other Fulbrighters was a joy!
- Four other students:
- One other ETA
- A student of law with a project on green energy
- A student of classics finishing his disseration on Roman baths
- A pre-med student with a project on nutrition in Crete
- Two scholars:
- One professor who works with deaf students and is researching Greek methods of teaching the deaf
- Another professor with a research project on loss of language in stroke victims
At lunch the first day, we got to meet some officials from the US Embassy in Athens. I will never forget the advice given to me by the Deputy Chief of Mission on teaching with personality in Greece: “The more you can keep them in line, the more you can be yourself.” As a side note, we were all invited to a reception at his home this week, and though I couldn’t attend because I’m back in Thessaloniki, I do have a very fancy-looking piece of paper that says that he and his wife “request the pleasure of the company of Ms. Kathleen Essember Peterson.” Eee!
Our time was largely spent between visits to ancient archaeological sites, touring the city/surrounding area, swimming in the sea and eating wonderful meals together.
On Thursday night, we got to visit the home of internationally famous artist and former Fulbrighter Kostas Varotsos (whose work includes the Runner in Athens–Google it! It’s amazing!) for dinner. His home is beautiful; very modern, sleek and hip. It’s on a hillside overlooking the western side of Aegina, and there’s an outdoor pool and these gorgeous tiny lights studded in the cement of his porch that look like stars. We were all blown away! We also got to see his studio and hear his thoughts on traveling in the States; he loves America because he thinks Americans are very open, and that anything is possible in the USA.
And the last day, we listened to a talk by a historian, who happened to mention that Nikos Kazantzakis (the author on which I’m doing my research project while here, and the author of my favorite book, Zorba the Greek) lived on Aegina for around 20 years and his house is just up the road. (At this, of course, a small squeal-like noise escaped my lips. If you’ve ever wondered what pure literary delight would sound like, it was sort of like a cross between a little girl being given a pony and any given victory cry from “Revenge of the Nerds.”)
So, my new friend and fellow Fulbrighter Alan and I struck out to try and find it! We knew it was somewhere near the coast, but had no idea of the specifics. And after a 45 minute walk (during which we accidentally trespassed on private land and surprised a sunbathing German lady yelling “Prive! Prive!” as well as getting several wrong directions), we found it!! Kazantzakis lived in this house for 20 years, and it was while he was there on Aegina that he did some of his most profound literary and philosophical work. The sense of connection I felt while standing in front of his house was absolutely extraordinary. I’ve never experienced anything like it.
Honestly, being around the other Fulbrighters and the Fulbright staff, having such fascinating conversation and hearing about their research projects, and just learning more about Fulbright, the possibilities for me while I’m here, and how hard people worked to get me here… I feel so inspired, grateful, proud, and honestly moved. A Fulbright grant is a truly singular thing; knowing I’m here as a Fulbright scholar creates a fascination in both Americans back in the States and Greeks here, so I really feel like an ambassador–a true link between the two. I now feel so ready to embrace my time here fully; to teach and learn to teach well, to show Americans what Greek life is like and vice versa, and to dig into my research project and add to the collective body of study and knowledge that is out there.
So today, my message to you is this: apply. Whether it’s for a Fulbright grant, a job you’ve always been curious about or a passport to travel abroad, the time is now because there won’t be any other time. It’s so easy today to blame the economy, the job market, or what have you. But it’s certainly possible to keep your feet on the ground and look at the stars at the same time. You’ll never know if you don’t put yourself out there; and the hard knocks are well worth the eventual success. Good luck. Cheers.