Sunday, June 24, 2012


The next hurdle for this whole adventure is looming: medical clearance. I know that I can handle Latvia health-wise and I'm sure my doctor thinks so, too, but I always worry about what people think of my cancer history. After med clearance comes through, I’ll be set with Fulbright.

For those of you who don’t know, I had thyroid cancer five years ago. It was fairly easy to treat. I had two surgeries. My thyroid was completely removed. I didn’t have to go through radiation or chemo. I take a little pill everyday and call it good.

Still, even though I know that I’m good to go, I worry that someone at Fulbright will see the cancer history and make assumptions. They probably won’t and I’m sure I’m not the first cancer survivor to apply and be accepted, but this is how my worrisome brain works. I’m also worried about the tight turn around time. Usually, people have more time to get this medical thing sorted. The paperwork says that the IIE (Institute of International Education) can ask for more tests to clarify things on the medical forms. That’s all well and good when someone is informed in March or April of their grantee status. When you’re informed late June, there is an added pressure.

Also, I keep expecting someone to call up and go “Uh, just joking. We really don’t want you.” I worry that if something happens and this falls through, everyone I’ve told will be disappointed. I qualify explanations with “Well, if I pass medical clearance, I’ll be going to Latvia.” People tell me what an accomplishment this is and I don’t really believe them.

It’s funny. I’m normally a fairly confident person. I know that I’m capable and personable. This whole process has shaken me, though. Maybe it was the initial alternate status. I don’t know. Grad school did the same thing. Up until the point I started at KU, I kept expecting someone to tell me that they’d changed their minds and had given funding to someone else. I had dreams about arriving in Lawrence for the orientation and my name not being on the list. Or showing up for classes and being told to leave.

The stress of this whole process cannot be explained. The waiting period is very long. I feel like my life has been in limbo while waiting for this to come through. It’s affected my friendships and other relationships.

I fully expect time abroad to be trying. Acclimating to a new continent, new country, new city, new job, new language, and new people is going to be very difficult. Waiting, though, is hell.

I didn’t write this to fish for compliments. Or really to seek reassurance. I guess I just wanted to be honest. It’s hard, sometimes, to go through this sort of process (be it Fulbright or a job hunt or graduate school) and it’s especially hard because we’re all very good at pretending we’re more confident than we really are.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Commence Preparation

My family and friends are pretty damn awesome. In the week since I learned that I had been awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) grant to Latvia, I’ve been in turns elated, terrified, and stressed beyond belief – and this is only the beginning. My mom talked me off a ledge last night via phone. I freaked out about getting my cat to Texas. And about what I’d do with my beloved bed. My mind, when stressed, latches on to seemingly small problems and blows them up because it doesn’t want to deal with the big issue. In this case, the big issue is the complete uprooting of my life for 10 months.

A lot of Fulbright blogs begin with the grantee arriving in their new country. I thought maybe that was because nobody wants to read about the time between learning of the grant and arriving in the destination country. No. I’m pretty sure it’s because there is so much preparation to do in so little time and nobody has a chance to write about it!

My case is a little special. I applied for an ETA to Ukraine. I studied Ukrainian as a graduate student at University of Kansas and traveled to Ukraine briefly. I wanted to return, but not as a tourist. I wanted to become a part of a Ukrainian community. I decided the best way to do this was through Fulbright. Since I don’t really plan on returning to school for my Ph.D. (though one never knows, I suppose), I decided that the ETA would be ideal. I also volunteer as an ESL teaching assistant for Plymouth Language Program in Lawrence and love it. The Fulbright application process is rather daunting. I began to get my application together in May 2011. I tracked down references, wrote my essays, attended KU Fulbright functions, talked with a committee, and then waited. And waited. In late April, I found out I was named alternate.

Alternate is limbo. It was hard. Everyone kept asking “Did you hear? When do you leave?” I had to explain that I was an alternate and that while my chances of going to Ukraine weren’t gone, it was unlikely. I mentally prepared myself to not be overseas. I got used to the idea. In mid-June, I finally put a deposit down on a cute studio apartment near downtown Lawrence. I was staying in Kansas.

Two hours after putting the deposit down, I got a call from Fulbright.

They decided to send some ETAs (2, I think), to Latvia. Since the country was not open for competition before, they looked at alternates from other countries in the region. Since I have a background in Russian and some volunteer experience in adult ESL, it was decided that I was a fit for eastern Latvia. I needed to re-tool my statement of purpose and resubmit. I asked specifically, “What are my chances? Should I get my hopes up for this or am I likely to be disappointed again?” It wasn’t a competition. There was a chance that it would fall through, but this wasn’t the same sort of thing as last time.

I got the email of confirmation on Wednesday, June 20. Pending medical evaluation, I am going to Latvia. I apologize in advance to my parents, boyfriend, and friends for the inevitable stress-induced meltdowns.

Commence preparation. Commence stress.