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Becoming a Fulbright Scholar

What is the Fulbright Canada mission?

The overarching goal is to stimulate cultural exchange between the United States and Canada, and for that purpose, a board of directors was created that is composed of 10 members from Canada and 10 members from the USA.  

The several Fulbright programs and scholarships operate at several levels; there are college students who can apply for the Fulbright Scholarship to study in another country for a year, and there is a scholars program where we can support a professor in a particular subject – like a professor at the University of Toronto who wants to learn something that is well known at Berkeley or UCLA.   That person can go for a year and study that subject under the world leader in that space.

What do Fulbright Scholars do?

Fulbright Scholars are sent to other Universities to study a particular subject. The cultural exchange aspect of Fulbright is something we work to achieve both directly and indirectly. The direct method is to sponsor events that have people from the two countries working side by side on a common problem. For example, the Arctic Initiative.

The Fulbright Canada Foundation works indirectly by sponsoring the exchange of scholars and students in a way that immerses the student or scholar in the country. For example, when I was a Fulbright Scholar in Italy,  I was assigned to be a student at the University of Florence.

However, very little of my time was actually spent attending classes because my project was to translate Italian poetry. As a result, I probably spent more time at the Villa I Tatti (“The Touches”) just outside Florence – it was the estate of the famous art critic Bernard Berenson.

What are the requirements in order to qualify for consideration as a Fulbright Scholar?

There are basic formal requirements like a Bachelor’s degree or the equivalent.  But in my experience, the factors that determine whether you will receive a Fulbright Scholarship are different than the factors that affect whether you’d be accepted at Harvard or Yale.

The Fulbright Scholarship is not concerned about standardized test scores.   They’re more focused on one’s individual unique achievements and your contribution to diversity of the program and whether the student or scholar is pursuing an area that is viewed to be timely and of great value. For example, students and scholars today are very much favored in the areas of sustainability, environment, agriculture, technology and unique areas of knowledge that are currently emerging.

What would be your advice for someone applying to Fulbright Canada?

First of all, I would make an application that emphasizes the values I have just articulated. In addition, I would be very strategic about one’s choice of references. The references count for a lot.  For example, if you can find a reference from a former Fulbright Scholar who is known in the country you are going to, that’s the ideal situation.

That was my situation. In my case, the final decision on me was made by Cipriana Scelba, the Executive Director of the Fulbright Commission in Rome, who was the daughter of the Prime Minister of Italy who signed the Treaty of Rome creating the European Common Market.   And she was the first Executive Director of the Fulbright Commission in Rome. The first Fulbright Scholar in 1952 in Italy was John Freccero, who was the professor who recommended me for the Fulbright Scholarship, and that made a big difference.

I was lucky enough to have studied Dante’s poetry under Professor Freccero at Yale. He admired the fact that I’d never studied conversational Italian but had taught myself Medieval Italian from the 6 years of Latin I had studied.

How did you come to join the Fulbright Board?

There is no formal process for applying. It’s very similar to the Scholarship in that you end up being recommended by someone important who knows you well.  I did not even know that I was being considered.

I was recommended by David Fransen, who had a distinguished career in Canadian government, industry and academia and then became the Consul General of Canada for Los Angeles.  Today he’s the President of the University of Waterloo. And when he was Consul General he used to invite me to dinner parties of Canadian government ministers at his home, and after I gave a few after-dinner speeches, he recommended me.  I had no idea that he had anything to do with the process or even that I was being considered. I was “tapped ” as we say at Yale.


December 7, 2018

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