A Stroll Down the Yellow Brick Road: Starting Fulbrighters on the Path to Success

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Fulbright Program participants play basketball in Kansas.
Fulbright Program participants play basketball in Kansas. (State Department photo)

A Stroll Down the Yellow Brick Road: Starting Fulbrighters on the Path to Success

“Toto, I have a feeling we are not in Kansas anymore,” said Dorothy, the main character in the famous American story The Wizard of Oz after she found herself in a distant and unfamiliar land. 

In the summer of 2018, I represented a section of the U.S. Department of State, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), as I traveled across the United States to meet with Fulbright grantees from around the world while also connecting with and thanking our university partners who were hosting these foreign visitors. ECA is the worldwide sponsor of the Fulbright Program and a variety of other academic and professional exchange programs, sending more than 50,000 participants across the globe every year. In each of my trips, I witnessed first-hand ECA’s mission coming into fruition – the “increase of mutual understanding between the people of the U.S. and the peoples of other countries.” 

This summer was my first visit to Kansas, but instead of being met with scarecrows and tinmen, I was met by a group of international exchange students from 19 countries. I traveled to Kansas State University in August to take part in a Fulbright English for Graduate Studies Pre-Academic Program, one of a variety of orientation programs for the U.S. Department of State’s Fulbright Foreign Students. 

Wildcats and tigers and bears, oh my!

After their in-country orientations, Fulbright grantees travel to places like Manhattan, Kansas and Syracuse, New York where the good people of these universities and local communities guide grantees to the start of their yellow brick road. When obstacles appear, such as homesickness, tough professors, or flying monkeys, the grantees can pull from the resources we give them and the connections they develop to make it through to the Emerald City (or graduation).

ECA holds three main types of Fulbright orientations in the United States for our foreign participants that prepare them for the cultural adjustment of living, studying, and working in the United States. Our Foreign Language Teaching Assistants attend a four-day orientation that better prepares them for teaching foreign languages at U.S. universities.  Our Fulbright students have two types of orientations they can attend depending on the level of support and preparation they need. Gateways are four-day orientation programs that provide information to prepare students for their years of graduate study.  Pre-academic programs of three, four, or six weeks provide Fulbright grantees additional assistance in English needed for graduate study, research skills, and U.S. academic culture. Regardless of the type of orientation, they have one goal in common and that is to help the Fulbrighter develop personal connections with other Fulbright grantees and learn more about a different part of the United States from where they are studying.

Fulbright grantees from across the world smile as the sun sets over a baseball field in Kansas. (State Department photo)

I am excited to be a part of the Fulbright team that makes sure our grantees are ready to be successful in their studies and embark on some of the most exciting experiences of their lives. We at the U.S. Department of State are proud to be a part of thousands of exchange program participant’s experiences in the United States each year as they build cultural bridges to bring about greater peace and understanding. To find out more about their experiences visit https://blog.fulbrightonline.org/ and to have one of your own apply to Fulbright!

About the Author: Stephanie Reed serves as a Program Officer for South and Central Asia in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs' Office of Academic Exchange Programs.

Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.