The Fulbright Program

by G. Michael Schneider / Apr 18, 2012 / 0 comments

It is not easy becoming a world record holder. Seven billion people inhabit the planet so trying to be number one in anything runs against very long odds.  However, I am proud to say I am a record holder:  I have received more Fulbright Grants than anyone else on Earth – four: two Fulbright Scholar awards to Mauritius and Malaysia and two Senior Specialist grants to Nepal and Mongolia.  Best of all, I know this record will never be broken as the Fulbright Foundation, in an attempt to spread its largesse, now limits to two the number of grants to any individual.  In this and upcoming posts I will share some of the knowledge I have gained from these overseas experiences, and how often do you get to learn from a world record holder!


In earlier posts I have argued, rather vociferously, for working vacations — short-term overseas postings in which you 1) earn enough to cover your travel expenses, and 2) you do not have to give up your teaching job to have this transformative cultural, intellectual, and professional experience.  Well, the Fulbright Foundation is the single largest source of working vacations in the world.  Each year they have more than 1,200 grants, ranging from six weeks to one year, in 140 countries.   Grants are offered in 45 subjects, from agriculture to zoology.  While they include all the “usual suspects” such as business, medicine, engineering, and economics, there are numerous offerings in more “specialized areas” such as dance, film studies, linguistics, and religion. 


There are many misconceptions about the Fulbright program, such as: 1) You must be a tenured academic.  No.  Both non-tenured faculty and non-academic professionals are encouraged to apply.  2) You must be the equivalent of a Nobel or Pulitzer Prize winner to even be considered.  No, and I am a living, breathing counter-example.  I am a good, but not nationally famous, teacher at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN — a superb undergraduate liberal arts college but not a school that will ever be confused with Harvard, Stanford, or MIT.  3) You must commit to a year overseas, a time span that many academics cannot get.  No.  Scholar grants can be as short as four months, while Senior Specialist grants can run for as little as three weeks, a time span that fits easily into a summer vacation or sabbatical break. 


After talking to numerous academic colleagues I realize that the greatest limitation to getting a Fulbright is not the thickness of one's resume but a failure to even apply because of misconceptions about what is required of grantees.  That is sad because Fulbright is the very essence of what is so great about working vacations:  You have an amazing cultural experience, become part of an overseas community, and, best of all, do not have to quit your job, sell your home, and kiss friends and family good-bye.  They are all there waiting for your return.


In the coming weeks and months I will describe a few “tricks of the trade” in applying for a Fulbright Grant — I am batting .800 (four out of five).  However, if you do not want to wait that long, just read Chapter 8 of On The Other Guy’s Dime: A Professional’s Guide To Traveling Without Paying, entitled The Man From Arkansas – in honor of J. William Fulbright, Senator from Arkansas, who founded the program in 1946.




Michael Schneider is the Academic Travel Editor for Wandering Educators. You can read more of his work at, and learn more about his new book, entitled On the Other Guy's Dime: A Professional's Guide to Traveling without Paying.