By the means of a feminist autoethnographic method, this material is based on the written reflections of a Ph.D. candidate, beneficiary of a Fulbright research grant. Manifold tensions are toured, in search of the student’s own feminist identity and life purpose, negotiating her relationship with research, embracing mentorship, and the role of Fulbright in her personal and professional becoming.
Situating myself among the 2016-2017 Fulbright Award beneficiaries
As a Ph.D. candidate in search of her academic voice, I found myself in the position of a wishful traveler. I knew where I was going, I was aware of the available means to take me there, I had already embarked, but I lacked the resources to actually build a meaningful journey. I consistently felt misplaced, adrift, overwhelmed, and underwhelmed, until one forwarded e-mail presenting the Fulbright opportunity gave me a déjà vu. A couple of years before, one of my best friends, who saw my untapped potential, told me I was “Fulbright material,” but I steadily dismissed her quixotic comment about the Holy Grail of academic achievements. After seeing the e-mail, I negotiated with myself, and decided that an additional disappointment would not strongly shake my universe, so I applied. One year later, I was looking for flights and accommodation in Athens, Georgia. Just like Sheryl Sandberg argues in Lean In (2013), as the typical woman that I am, I do not attribute this accomplishment to myself, but to hard work, to people who have supported me, and to the usual suspect – chance.
The hypothesis to be validated through this experience was that Fulbright would be a life-changing experience for me — you must be wondering where the element of originality stands within this objective. To comprehend this, you must understand how timely this opportunity emerged: I was researching women’s political representation and discourse, and about to do so in the United States, during the 2016 elections, when Hillary Clinton made an unprecedented presidential bid. This would not only change her, but unequivocally, it would change me, as well.
Finding myself in this new, unexpected position, within a global elite, all sharing this prestigious opportunity, I set myself to capitalize and document specific links within this network, to orchestrate interactions with academics, and manage my readings in the most efficient way, as I now had access to a colossal amount of materials relevant to my research. I planned to engage a reasonable sample of these brilliant people in order to enrich my cultural knowledge, and gain insight into their view of my research topic; all these while continuously reflecting on myself. Clearly, I would fit all unpredicted factors/opportunities into the process of self-reflection.
A feminist Fulbrighter, or a Fulbright feminist? Nurturing my identity
I will admit to having to tackle this tension between my identity as a Fulbrighter and my identity as a feminist. Even though the two are not conflicting features of who I am, this tension surfaced on occasions when I had to prioritize (i.e. Women’s March on Washington would have been a unique opportunity to engage in the most extensive women’s movement, rather than analyze it from afar, if it had not been for the concern to get in trouble and jeopardize my visa status). I was a feminist before being a Fulbrighter, yet feminism was more like a mantra than an actual identity component before this experience. Fulbright has given me the structure, the fuel, the support, and the resources to embrace my feminism, and translate it into a thesis that will further my professional development, and into a state of being and of mind that governs my life.
From a research standpoint, being absorbed into all the available literature on Hillary Clinton and systematically observing her pioneering candidate persona involved relentless negotiations with myself, in terms of distance. I read positive literature with a critical eye, while I thoroughly scrutinized negative literature. I managed to cope with the election results by sending her letters. I aimed to meet her in person at the Women in the World Summit, but the Fulbright card failed me, for once. I would have had a greater chance to meet her if she were in the White House.
Fulbright, however, brought me close to like-minded people who have enriched my life, it has given me access to vast and pivotal resources, and it has helped me find my calling. The people I have met through Fulbright are my global wealth. Despite our different fields of expertise, we are striving toward making the world a better place, we share a set of fundamental values, and hold the same level of sophistication in understanding the world. My academic adviser, a Fulbright alumnus, has embraced the role of a mentor, and helped potentiate my voice. Boarding the plane as an introvert whose definition of making the most of the Fulbright experience meant spending most of the time at the library, I now feel empowered, prepared, and eager to share the know-how and start bringing my contribution to my country. Romania has yet to reach parity in the legislative and executive venues of power, and I plan to help.
As a Fulbright grantee, I am not simply adding a few rows to my resume; I add meaning to who I am, to my knowledge and skills, and I take responsibility for advocating for a better world along with the Fulbright family, as a commitment to honoring Senator Fulbright’s legacy.
Fulbright Research Grantee