Tips on winning a grant for language teachers in the USA

Tips on winning a grant for language teachers in the USA
Participating in the Fulbright FLTA program is probably the best thing to have happened to me both professionally and personally. A lot of people seek advice on winning grants. I did too when I was applying, which is why I’ve decided to put together a list of tips that I think you should take into account when you are trying to win a grant. Some may sound too obvious, others may sound counterintuitive, but all are tried and tested by me firsthand. 

The mechanics 

If I had to give one single most important tip it would be: start immediately. Check the requirements and start working on them as soon as the competition is announced. Some things might take more time than you expect. Pay attention to the following areas: 

1. Documents 

What documents will you need related to your degree? Is a notarized translation of your diploma enough or do you need an apostille? How long will it take to do each? What are the institutions that can provide the service you need? 

2. References 

How many references will you need? Who will you need them from? Will you be able to reach your referees? What language will they have to write the references in? Can your referees write them in English? How will they have to submit those references? 

This might be a problematic area for people who graduated a while ago and might have lost some academic connections. All problems have solutions, of course, but the solutions might take time. 

3. Submission 

How will you have to submit your application? Is it going to be a 100% online submission? Will you have to create an account in a submission system? Will you have to insert text or upload scanned documents? (Do you have a scanner at home?) 

4. Writing 

What kinds of and how many texts will you have to write as part of your application? Most likely a personal statement. What else? Do you have a lot of experience writing things like that? 

Most questions above might seem very simple and straightforward. But life happens. Laptops crash, people get ill or go on vacations, institutions close for public holidays et cetera, et cetera. Don’t leave things for the last minute - save yourself some nerves and avoid stress by starting early. 

The writing 

First, identify what you will have to write and how long the writing has to be. I will be using the word essay in this article to refer to personal statements or similar types of writing. For example, I wrote three essays for my Fulbright FLTA application: 

  • Objectives and motivations (1274 words);
  • Sharing your culture (924 words);
  • Teaching language of nomination (463 words).

Based on this copious amount of writing, I have several writing recommendations: 

1. Start brainstorming and writing your first draft as soon as possible. Writing meaningful, potentially life-changing essays might take up to a month. If you write them in a last-minute one-day sprint, they will be a mess. These essays are your foot in the door, so they should really make a good impression.

2. Write personal and unique essays. Don't Google what other people wrote or what to write. The decision makers read hundreds of applications. It will play in your favor to stand out. 

3. Don't lie. Write what you genuinely believe or want to share. First, if your lies are spotted (which lies have a tendency to do), forget about the grant. Second, if you write something that is not true and get selected based on that, you will end up in a program that isn’t a fit for you. You’ll be miserable. It's not worth it. 

4. Address the topic directly and organize your ideas logically. Unfortunately, most people see all essay topic instructions as "write something." But essay topics have more specific instructions (usually including ‘why’ or ‘how’), which shouldn't be ignored. If you don't answer the question clearly, you don't demonstrate that you are a good fit and are therefore less likely to be selected. 

I've seen a lot of essays that were just a hodgepodge of disconnected ideas. By organizing your ideas logically and coherently, you are helping the readers understand what you are trying to communicate. Keeping in mind that yours might be the 100th essay they read, isn't it in your own interests to make sure they can do it effortlessly?

The interview 

This is an extremely stressful but also extremely important stage. You need to make a great impression. Here is how:

You are highly likely to be asked questions related to your application, job/studies, program participation, and future plans. Brainstorm or google possible questions and practise with a friend. 

During the interview, smile and make eye contact. Since smiling is not inherent to Russians, not only will you make a great impression, you will also stand out among other candidates. 

When you answer the questions, demonstrate leadership potential, by which I mean the ability to inspire, trigger action, come up with ideas, participate and contribute. This is vital because this is what you will need to do both during and after the program. 

More things to demonstrate: your interest in and knowledge of the program; the ability to apply what you learned back home and make good use of it; the desire to spread and share your experience. 

I was interviewed by four people simultaneously. The whole interview is a bit of a blur now, but I remember being asked about students’ motivation and my plans for the future (so nothing particularly extraordinary).

Takeaway

Start early.

Think not what the program can do for you, but you what you can do for the program. 

Don't hide your oddities trying to meet the standard. Shine on you crazy diamond.


Irina Lutsenko

Fullbright FLTA program participant 

Blog

07/18/19
© Irina Lutsenko