Fulbright Origin Story: "I Know What I Know"

It all started way back in the misty past of the summer of 2020. I was discussing career goals and the desire to eventually relocate, with my dear cousin and Fulbright alumna Hannah. She listened patiently to me as I talked about wanting to travel and about liking the work I was doing at the Spanish immersion elementary school where I was working, but not being ready to commit to a masters in education yet. She suggested I apply for an English teaching assistantship (ETA) in Germany, like she had in Russia, through Fulbright. Given that I already spoke German, and there are more ETA positions available in Germany than in a lot of other countries, it seemed like it was worth a shot, even though the program is still incredibly competitive. It was the right idea at the right moment: the spark was ignited.

The initial application was due in October of 2020, and after many many drafts (edited by the amazing Fulbright team at Earlham) and generous recommendations submitted by my former boss and professors I turned it in on time. Thus began the first interminable waiting period—I wouldn't hear anything until January.

I was relieved to get the email on the very last business day of January, saying that I had been selected as a semi-finalist. Yay! But it meant the second interminable waiting period had begun. It was certainly good news, but I wasn't in yet. I was told I would get my next decision letter sometime between March and June—quite a wide range of time!

It was in mid-April that I found out that I had been wait-listed. Some more weird news: I was disappointed to not have been selected out right, but I still wasn't completely out of the running yet. I would hear back from Fulbright again only IF I was accepted, otherwise I should presumably move on with my life. In the meantime: more waiting.

It was during this period that I was listening to one of my favorite albums, Graceland by Paul Simon, and a line in the song "I Know What I Know" began to elicit a small growl from me every time I heard it:

Aren't you the woman who was recently given a Fulbright?

It was taunting me: I wasn't that woman. Ugg. As the weeks went on I lost more and more hope of getting the grant, and began applying for other jobs. I had been preparing for a change for so long that it seemed unbearable to settle back into my previous routine as if nothing had happened.

I had finished the school year in Indianapolis on a bittersweet note: not knowing if it would be my last day there or not. I hoped it would be while also knowing how much I would miss my wonderful coworkers and students if it were.

It wasn't until the last week of June, when I had already applied to several jobs and was getting annoyed at the seemingly endless waiting involved in THAT process that I heard from Fulbright. I had so completely accepted that I wouldn't be going to Germany that I just burst out laughing when I woke up to the email. I didn't even have to open it to know what it meant, I just had to begin mentally reshuffling what the next year would look like.

Instead of triggering yet more waiting, this news triggered a flurry of activity. There were flights and storage units and clothing sorting and furniture sales and Fulbright paperwork and TESOL courses to do. Not to mention all the things I had already planned before everything changed, and stressing over all the unknowns, like where exactly I would be placed, which I didn't find out until a few weeks later.

Long story short, it has taken me almost a year to get to this point: sitting in my living room in Gehlsdorf, a quiet residential neighborhood north of the Warnow River in Rostock Germany, still listening to Graceland. I still only know what I know. But it turns out I actually AM the woman who was recently given a Fulbright! I hope you enjoy reading (or skipping to the pictures, that's fine too!) as what I know encompasses more and more insights on living and working on the baltic coast of Germany.