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Looking back at why it took me ten years to apply to Fulbright

By: Magaly Preciado Reyes – a Fulbright COMEXUS scholar from Mexico and a Master’s degree candidate in International Development and Social Change at Clark University.

I was once in South Korea for ten days on a trip for work, and I missed the Mexican corn tortillas. Years later, I moved to Mexico City, again because of work, and I got used to missing my family and the place that was most familiar to me: the beautiful Tijuana. Situated in the northern border of Mexico (south of California, USA), Tijuana is the place where I was born and raised.

With scholarships, I pursued both high school and undergraduate studies at Centro de Enseñanza Técnica y Superior (CETYS), a university located in Baja California (Mexico). For more than seven years of my academic experience at CETYS, my studies were fully supported. My family and I could not be more grateful as this financial support enabled me to pursue studies that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. Naturally, when I realized it was time to continue my academic pursuits the first thing that came to mind was to look for a scholarship.

I learned about the Fulbright program back when I was studying at CETYS, and I remember thinking about how rewarding it would be to reach a point in my academic and professional life where I felt ready to submit an application, and also how implausible it would be to get awarded such a prestigious scholarship. The years passed while I was advancing in my professional experience and continuing my academic training with courses, diplomas and extracurricular activities. While there was always an immediate and tangible reason for every professional decision I made, somewhere in my head I pondered whether taking the next step would bring me closer to that point where I felt ready to submit a Fulbright application, because this was the long-term goal. I wanted to have international academic experience, increase my multicultural understanding, immerse myself into classrooms that would allow me to reflect on my practice, and have discussions with like-minded people.

Nevertheless, when that moment came and I felt I was academically and professionally ready to apply, I decided not to because of a barrier I hadn’t anticipated: the fear of not getting the scholarship. I was left pondering “What would I do if I am not selected? What would that say about me?” I could not continue my academic studies without financial support, and I had no plan B. So, the years passed, and I avoided applying to Fulbright because I was afraid that I wouldn’t be awarded the scholarship; most importantly, I wanted to avoid the painful exposure to the message that begins, "We regret to inform you…"

Now, just a few months away from graduating with a master's degree at Clark University, I look back at why it took me all these years to apply to Fulbright and still think of the fortune and privilege, as well as the implausibility, of being granted this scholarship. I am grateful for what I have accomplished in my professional pursuits so far, but also in my personal accomplishments for overcoming my own fears, especially my fear of failure.

During my first week of arrival in the United States for the Fulbright Gateway Orientation at Northern Illinois University, I had the privilege to meet students from over forty countries. Amidst all the excitement about beginning our studies in different U.S. higher education institutions, it was clear that we all shared stories of persistence and ambition toward becoming a Fulbrighter. In one way or another, regardless of our cultural differences, all of us went through competitive selection process, but also had to overcome personal battles with our own fears.

My message to those who are still undecided about whether to apply to Fulbright or any other scholarship program is that it is worthwhile.

It is worthwhile to go through the long application process; it is worthwhile to overcome your own personal battles. At the end of the day, it was just as feasible for me to receive a decision letter saying, “We regret to inform you…” In fact, the day I understood that such an adverse outcome was valid and acceptable, and that I shouldn’t be afraid or regret trying, was the same day I decided to apply.

Fortunately, I am now at Clark University and missing everything that is familiar to me, just like that time in South Korea when I missed freshly made Mexican corn tortillas!

Disclaimer: This blog is not an official Fulbright Program site. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of the author and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.

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