A Fulbright experience has livelong personal and professional implications. Though your actual experience is limited to a few weeks, several months, or a year, its long-lasting effects continue and can lead to new ways of thinking and experiencing the world.
“Identity” is a notion that has commonplace as well as more theoretical and research based meanings. We are living in an era of identity politics, often associated with social and political polarization. But identity can be considered in an everyday way: our identity is who we are, and can inform our relationship to each other and our community. As a Fulbrighter, you likely view yourself as having a “global” identity. You will follow foreign events and issues, and support international concerns and causes. This affinity comes in part from living overseas as well as from the affection and attachment to the country where you spent your experience.
When you spend time in another country you acquire cultural knowledge and an appreciation of and understanding of its people. You learn about the country’s history, the social and economic forces at play, its national traumas, and the aspirations of its people. During your experience there, the people you come in contact with learn about you and your country’s values. You can play a significant role in helping change others’ misconceptions about your home country. You in turn, develop new ways of thinking informed by living in another country.
Your new identity and awareness can be important advantages in your exploration of career opportunities. When something happens in the part of the world where you experienced your Fulbright, you will take notice. You might even be approached about your experiences and asked your opinion on what is taking place. There are no precise qualifications for being an expert, but a Fulbright provides you a level of credibility. As time separates you from your Fulbright experience, you might not feel as connected and be reluctant to speak about the country where you spent time. But by continuing to maintain connection to the country through contacts with your friends and colleagues there and following issues in the media, you might still be comfortable in offering insights when asked.
In a situation where you might share about your career plans, suggesting your continued interest in the country where you spent your Fulbright is valuable in demonstrating deep knowledge and unique insight that could impress a potential employer. When an employer asks about your Fulbright experience, it is important to express your continued interest in the country where you spent your time and the people living there. In that way, you show your interest in global issues and events, and demonstrate the enduring impact of your Fulbright experience.
—David J. Smith
David J. Smith (Fulbright Scholar, Estonia 2003-2004) is a career coach and the author of Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (Information Age Publishing 2016). He is on the career advisory board of the Peace and Collaborative Development Network. David writes regularly on career issues at davidjsmithconsulting.com. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Image Credit: Aotearoa, UN Members Flags, CC BY-SA 3.0.