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  • Writer's picturePaulina Burnside

Application Anticipation: Natalie Suh on Successfully Receiving a Fulbright Grant

Fulbright is a word that fits into academic jargon almost as often as “book,” “assignment” and their dreaded cousin “course evaluations.” Maybe you have heard about a friend of a friend that applied for a Fulbright or even someone who successfully received a grant. As a prestigious organization with a mysterious selection process, it's difficult to grasp the clear details of what it takes for Fulbright to greenlight an application.

Natalie Suh is a recipient of Fulbright’s English Teaching Assistant (ETA) grant and is, quite possibly, that friend of a friend.

Suh was raised in Troy, Michigan and spent all of her life in the state, excluding two years of middle school that she spent in South Korea. She recently moved to Salt Lake to live with her sister and enjoy a new landscape. The winter here was tough on her, but Suh has found deeper connection and appreciation for the city during the greener months. For anyone wondering how a Utah transplant might fail to love the snowy winters, Suh says, “No, I do not know how to ski!”

In August, Suh will leave the snow behind and fly to Indonesia where she will complete her grant in an English classroom.

As a student who was never able to study abroad due to the COVID-19 pandemic interrupting her college experience, Suh knew that she wanted her next step after college to take place internationally. While at the University of Michigan, Suh used campus resources on fellowships and international education to learn about Fulbright, Truman and Bonderman scholarships. After a discouraging meeting with a faculty member over the Bonderman Fellowship, Suh was unsure of how to fit her plans of going abroad with one of the fellowships. Her answer would come to her while visiting a museum in Amsterdam.

“Me and my friend were in the National History Museum of the Netherlands. They had a really cool exhibit on [the] Indonesian Revolution, and I accidentally spent all my time in there. I didn't even really get to see anything else,” Suh says. “It was definitely a sign. I had studied Asian-American studies in college and I was like, ‘Well, what are the odds that I see something about the Asian diaspora in an exhibit in the Netherlands?’ I realized I could apply to do a Fulbright ETA in Indonesia.”

“They had a really cool exhibit on [the] Indonesian Revolution, and I accidentally spent all my time in there [...] It was definitely a sign.”

With support from professors with whom she had worked closely during her undergraduate studies, Suh brought together a strong pool of recommendation letters and essays. Her Personal Statement and Statement of Grant Purpose were edited by these formative professors as well as by friends and faculty members in the fellowships office. Even after submitting her application, however, Suh was in for a few more months of anticipation and confusion. A rollercoaster of timelines established by the Fulbright committee would come to be a stressful factor in the waiting process.

“This is my pet-peeve about Fulbright: I waited so long,” says Suh. “I submitted all my materials in October; I heard that I was a semi-finalist in January.” She had originally been informed that the Fulbright ETA for Indonesia was to start that April, meaning that she could potentially be asked to move to the country in only a couple of months. As the calendar pages flew, it was suddenly March, and Suh was still waiting on a final decision—still under the impression that if she were to be accepted, she would have to arrange hasty travel plans for the following month. Right before March turned to April, Suh was finally informed that the grant was rescheduled and would, in fact, begin in August.

“This is my pet-peeve about Fulbright: I waited so long.”

Suh received news of her official selection as a Fulbright ETA recipient only a few weeks after being informed of the rescheduled grant. “I was super giddy about it but also surprised because I had no idea when it was gonna come,” she says. “It was nice to tell all the people that I had been talking about it with because they had also been on the journey with me over months of waiting.”

Looking ahead, Suh is excited to travel to Indonesia in August to teach English. Among anxieties about getting sick abroad and overcoming a language barrier, she is mainly eager to join a community abroad. “I feel like it’ll be nice to have my schemas of how the world is, or how things work, to be shaken up and to experience a really different way of living,” says Suh.

Applying for a Fulbright can certainly be its own journey of anticipation. For Suh, the next journey begins the moment she steps off of the plane.

For more information on Fulbright fellowships, go to us.fulbrightonline.org.

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