Friday, October 3, 2008

Representing yourself

Sorry for the long post, but the migraine medicine is keeping me up against my will tonight.

After a bit more angst, I completely rewrote my personal statement for the Fulbright, slightly revised a few parts of my proposal, and turned the whole thing in today - one day earlier than the if-at-all-possible deadline, and 11 days earlier than the absolutely-last-day-possible deadline.  I still have to translate both items into Spanish - and if at all possible I want to have those done by next Wednesday.  I hope to have it done by Monday night or Tuesday morning, get a few native speakers to read over them and make sure I'm saying what I think I'm saying, make revisions, and turn it in on Wednesday. 

I probably am most concerned about the personal statement.  To be blunt, I had no idea what I was doing with it.  Last year, I was told to explain why I study Spain, why I love it, how I got there.  So I traced my journey to studying Spain through high school, college, and graduate school.  The only response I got - show us more about you loving Spain.  

So this year I wrote a new personal statement and tried to show my passion for the people, place, and histories.  I spent much more time talking about my time in Madrid in 2006.  The response I got - it's too "intellectual" and we want more of your biography.  

So I went back to the drawing board.  I started getting frustrated because people kept talking about sharing your story of how you overcame things to get where you are.  But, really, I don't have a come-from-behind story.  I'm more the tortoise in the story - slow and steady, moving up little by little, keeping an eye on the goal.  I don't have a bad home life - my parents are still together after 35 years, my grandparents have been married for 65 years, and my other grandparents were married 52 years before my grandfather passed away.  I always was a good student, had no learning disabilities, didn't live in bad neighborhoods, etc.  

I talked with one of the only people in the office who had applied for this grant, and we talked about how they want a little bit of everything: your family background, interests, intellectual biography, career goals, how you'll be an ambassador, etc.  She said something that I think helped lead to a breakthrough: "Remember that you are writing for the National Committee and the nation's committee.  They don't have the benefit of meeting you in person, so you need to try to get across who you are, your personality."  

With that piece of advice in mind, I decided to just write a brand new statement.  I thought about who I am as a person - if someone hadn't met me, how could I try to help them see *me*?  I came up with a few things: my family, my faith, my travels, my studies, and teaching.  So this time, I started out talking about my parents - their dedication and hard work, my dad's love of history, our history-based vacations (of which there were *many,* trust me!), and my dad quizzing me before history tests (and telling me more stories to make things more exciting).  Then I talked about my parents' encouragement for my brother and me to explore the world and give back - primarily in the US through our church and through missions work abroad.  To try to get in some of my "outside interests," I talked about how my fascination with history began infiltrating everything - so much so that I was even slightly distracted by the living history around me while singing in St. Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh, or in the abbey on Iona, or at Stirling Castle - and so I chose to study history.  I actually only discussed why I study Spain in a few sentences, and then spoke about my goals as an educator, trying to explain why the Fulbright is vital for me as both a student and a teacher.  

I showed it to my advisor, who responded quite positively.  He thought that it did a good job of representing me as a person and not just a scholar.  Of course, I won't know until the last day in January if it gets me past the first round.  But I think my colleague's advice is the best I've ever received.  Hopefully it will serve me, and others, well. 

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