Tag: Fulbright

So You’re An Artist Who Wants to Apply to Fulbright

In the past few weeks, several artists have reached out to me looking for advice on the Fulbright application process. It can be daunting. As I am a huge advocate for the program, I thought maybe sharing my tips more broadly may support more people who are on the edge of applying. These come from friends, colleagues and personal experience.

So, if you are interested in applying as an artist, here are ten steps…



STEP ONE: Decide Your Program

For U.S. Citizens: University Faculty, Staff, Researchers, Artists – ideally with a graduate degree (awards include lecturing grants, research grants, combination lecturing/research, and arts training grants with stipends for tuition or classes)
U.S. Fulbright Scholar – Core Program (2-12 months) *This is the program I did, and with which I have the most information and experience.
Deadline: Monday, August 1, 2016


For U.S. Citizens: Recent graduates, Masters or PhD candidates, Young professionals with <5 yrs experience
U.S. Fulbright Student Program (grant lengths vary, often more than 12 months)
Deadline: Monday, October 11, 2016


For U.S. Citizens: University Faculty, Staff, Researchers, Artists – ideally with a graduate degree
U.S. Fulbright Specialist Program (2-6 weeks)
Rolling Deadline: March 4, May 6, July 8, September 9, or November 4


For Non-U.S. Citizens: Students pursuing Masters degree, research, or professional training (varies per country)
Fulbright Foreign Student Program (grant lengths vary)
Deadline: varies per home country

*P.S. There are more programs to check out, but these are the standards.

In general, know your strengths and unique points as an artist. What do you offer? And what do you want?


STEP TWO: Make a Short List of Countries

If you are not a citizen of the United States, your list is simple: you are headed to the USA.

If you are a U.S. citizen, this step can be overwhelming. This is what I suggest. First, think of places where you have some sort of connection but not much experience. Then list what those places offer, either historically or contemporary (what you could learn from them) as well as what their current needs are.

Narrow down to 5-6 countries and then search for those countries in the Fulbright catalogue of awards to see what affiliations are available in your discipline. Read the news from the countries listed. Talk to people there.

After doing those activities, your first-second-third choices should be revealed, as well as initial project ideas.

Remember that if you want to do any sort of research, you usually need at least three years of study in that language. I wasn’t fluent in Arabic, so I had to switch to a lecturing grant and cut all the formal research parts of my proposal.



STEP THREE: Design Your Project

Go to the country’s Fulbright page and see if you can locate the list of former grantees. Investigate what Fulbrighters have already done (or are currently doing) there.

Go to the university affiliation’s page and see what faculty and curriculum are already in motion there. What gaps or challenges can you gather? What are the strengths of what already exists there? Do they have American guests regularly in your discipline?

The design-thinking process can be your friend here.

Remember, Fulbright loves weird. Be specific and bold.

Think through how your project will have ripple effects back home. How many people will be impacted and in what ways? Describe what you hope to contribute and what you hope to learn from the place you are going. Be clear and enthusiastic about your top choice country. Get advice from current and alumni Fulbrighters. Most cities have a group page on Facebook, Eventbrite or MeetUp.


STEP FOUR: Reach Out to Potential Affiliations

Several grants and countries require formal letters of invitation as part of the application package. For those that do not, it is always a good idea to learn from a few contacts there. Introduce yourself and your project proposal.

Also, reach out to the Fulbright staff and current grantees of the country for where you are applying. Their insights could be golden. Ask about security status for the country and how that affects the number of grantees, as well as any lessons learned. Know if the three countries you selected are “Commission Countries” or not. Find out if Fulbright programs are administered by a Binational Fulbright Commission, U.S. Embassy, or another organization such as IIE, World Learning, AMIDEAST, etc.



STEP FIVE: Tell People. Get Help.

Let someone at Fulbright (usually the regional director for your program) know that you are planning on applying. Send them a draft and let them know how excited you are or if you have had any major struggles or questions. I was mighty happy I did this during my application period, because the program director reached out to me, encouraging me to continue when I had nearly given up. He also let me know that the invitation letter requirement had been waived for Egypt.

Lastly, tell your friends, family and colleagues that you plan to apply. Most Fulbright application packages take 3-6 months to pull together successfully. Make sure you have a support network. If you have only a small pool of proofreaders, consider using a service such as Fiverr.



Leverage all the thinking and investigating you have done up until this point. Remember that your application package should be complete, clearcohesive and comprehensive. Avoid duplication of information and listing assets without context. Market your strengths and who else will benefit beyond yourself. Address any red flags. Check and double check the instructions. Apply a week or so before the deadline.


STEP SEVEN: Be Prepared to Wait

It is a long process. I applied in July 2011. Then on December 28, 2011, I was given the following Christmas present….

“Dear Ms. Lent, It is a pleasure to inform you that the peer review process organized by the Council for International Exchange of Scholars (CIES) has been completed and that you are among those recommended for a Fulbright Lecturing award in Egypt for the 2012-2013 academic year. Please know that this constitutes only the first phase… Your papers have been forwarded to the Fulbright Commission in Cairo…”

In May 2012, I got the letter of congratulations that I had passed the Egyptian panel and signed my contract.  I had just a few months to get my flights in order, insurance papers, notify my U.S. employer, etc. Pre-departure orientation was in late June  and I left for Cairo in late August 2012.






STEP NINE: Apply to Everything Else

No matter the outcome, putting together a Fulbright application is a worthwhile endeavor. Utilize this fine application package you have put together to apply for other exchange programs, awards, grants, networks, residencies, degree programs, volunteer and professional development opportunities. Apply to at least one thing per week. Here are a few of the sites that I check regularly…

U.S. Department of State – Exchange Programs

On the Move

Mladi Info

Alliance of Artists Communities

Peace & Collaborative Development Network

United Nations Alliance of Civilizations

British Council, UN Women, UNHCR, Idealist, Jerome Foundation, A Blade of Grass…

One of my previous blog posts also listed programs and opportunities…


STEP TEN: Thank Everyone You Can Think Of

Gratitude is great for business, but more importantly, it is great for your own health (I checked WebMD) as well as for the wellbeing of others and your relationship with them. Make gratitude an integrated part of your practice. Celebrate with your supporters and champions. Do something that they need help with. Listen to them. Be there for them.



If these ten steps help you in any way, please consider sharing this post.

A Dancer, Two Hostage Governments, and a Pizza Place

So thanks to the Binational Fulbright Commission in Egypt, this week I am attending the 36th Annual Fulbright Conference in Washington D.C. The conference is taking place near Capitol Hill. And the government is shut down. Not a lapse of appropriations, but an actual government shutdown. Only other time that happened was 1995. And this is the first time it is happening by a refusal to fund passed legislation.

With The Sequester, Benghazi, plus The Shutdown, the US has closed 19 diplomatic posts in the Middle East and South Asia. Fulbright program has been cut by 1/4th. United States Institute for Peace (USIP) and Wilson Center have been zeroed out.

Heart. Sink.

Public employees and civic heroes across the land are working for no money. Places and services severely hindered or completely unavailable. No museums or parks. But the DC Jumbo Slice experience is hot and ready 24 hours.

In today’s opening session at the conference, Congressman Jim Moran (VA) spoke generously, and then he rushed back to the irrational Hill. He started out by apologizing for the government and said that what was happening was inexcusable. As he was speaking and I was taking notes, the lines between Egypt and America started to blur in my mind. I knew he was talking about one country, but his ideas could easily be describing the other.

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  • Our government has ground to a halt on the basis of ideological fundamentalism.
  • Should we make the Presidential election the referendum?
  • A conservative fraction that is inexperienced politically
  • They cannot be challenged electorally. They represent an ideological point of view and the more extreme you get, the safer you are.
  • Taking the government hostage
  • Isolationist and anti-government
  • The military industrial complex
  • How to appropriate the funds from the spoils of war
  • Military funding strong but diplomatic efforts stripped
  • [Speaking to the Liberals, Artists and International Scholars] “Thank you for being who you are.” “You got to engage! Get out of your comfort zone. You are more numerous than you think. We need you. desperately. now.”

Now you might ask what a dancer is doing writing about governments or politics. You will understand in a minute. Keep reading.

At the conference, we are talking about Education. Brandon Busteed of Gallop explained that the top two reasons people say a post-secondary degree is important are…

1. To get a good job (however you define “good job”)

2. Make more money

*Note that in the mid-1960s, the top answer was “to develop a meaningful philosophy of life.”

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There are many ways to define a “good job.” Dr. Angel Cabrera, President of George Mason University, told us he defines a good job as one you would want your children to have. I thought of my parents. They would probably at-first say they want me to have a good paying job, financial security, health insurance. I am currently uninsured and was for years earlier in my career. Luckily, I live in Egypt and have access to affordable care.

Beyond the salary, my parents they would probably add something about a job that makes me happy, puts my talents to use in the world, offers opportunities they never had, keeps me dancing, and keeps me physically safe. And to be on that road to a good job, I had to go to college. I was the first person on either side of my family (and remain the only one) to attend a 4-year university. The only one to graduate. The only one two live abroad. Twice. The only one with a Masters degree. I am the only one in the arts. My family contributes so much to this world and their paths are all different (community leadership, nursing, technical training, sports, retail, faith, parenting), but Academia and the Arts Academy haven’t been a part of their lives.

I am not here as a representative of Academia or the Arts Academy. And I am not talking about the arts conservatory model. That’s not my interest. I’m not talking about e-learning, or blended learning. Or a form of education delivery that can often morph into something elitist, expensive, pretty, insular, history-focused, antiquated, and disengaged from the real world. I’m not talking about what Dr. Cabrera referred to as our “romanticized” ideas of the liberal arts classroom. Because many of our classrooms and conservatories have little to no quality human interaction in actuality.

I am responding to Congressman Moran’s call for agency. “Thank you for being who you are.” “You got to engage! Get out of your comfort zone. You are more numerous than you think. We need you. desperately. now.”

And the idea I am speaking about is  redefining a “good job” both in Egypt and the US. Helping families and students define it for themselves. Help governments, investors, entrepreneurs, educators, and funding bodies create “good jobs” and “good education” to match. Appropriations and programs to match. Especially in the arts, in dance.

I am saying that if we focus on Dance History , we also need to offer Dance Present and Dance Future, Dance Diplomacy and Dance Civics.

Someone needs to start fixing what’s broken in our two countries. It might as well be dancers.



P.S. Getting a replacement camera next week. Next blog post will have pictures.




My Baby Blanket Was My Prayer Beads

My father is a hilarious and generous guy. Custodian at the school, basketball coach for the girls’ team. My mom is always giving of herself. Has been working at an eyewear business for as long as I have known her. Neither of them ever taking a single sip of alcohol or puff from a cigarette. Both with a cancer story of their own. I’m their only kid, mostly due to complications surrounding the birth defect Craniosynostosis; and the joke is that they got it right the first time and didn’t need any other kids. They gave me the courage to push through fears, help other people, and go for it. I’m the only person on either side of the family to attend a four-year university and graduate. Only one to live abroad. Mostly thanks to the greatest parents out there.

They recently celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary.

February 17, 1973

February 17, 1973

As a kid and as an adult, I have had this thing with baby blankets. I choose one and keep it for 15-20 years before replacing it. Had one in college and it traveled with me when I lived in London. I like them cold. My parents used to keep them in the freezer. And I like to knead these blankets, like how people run their fingers through prayer beads. This was my comfort. My ritual. My prayer.

I grew up in a pretty small town in Michigan. We didn’t speak about religion much at all. My family was loosely Lutheran and I knew a couple Catholics, Presbyterians and Baptists. Didn’t have any real idea about Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, or Agnosticism until 9/11.

Speaking of prayer beads. I went to a concert on Friday night here in Chicago. A friend I had met in Cairo returned to the States to arrange a tour of the legendary Hamid Al-Saadi and Iraqi maqam during the 10-year anniversary of the Iraq war. Mr. Al-Saadi’s voice is richer than flourless chocolate cake. As he sang, he remained seated and constantly ran his fingers through his prayer beads. In his motions, I recognized the same sort of pattern I do with my baby blankets. And I realized just how far this life journey has brought me. Lucky, lucky gal.

At Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, with the legendary Hamid Al-Saaqi and my friend, musician Amir ElSaffar.

At Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, with the legendary Hamid Al-Saaqi and my friend, musician Amir ElSaffar.

This Fulbright grant in Cairo was short. Barely one semester. Too short to accomplish all that I had set out to do in my heart. Just over four months in length. So tomorrow, I am headed back. Not sure how long I’ll be there. Thinking 6-9 months; maybe more but coming back for holidays.

Yet I cannot say that nothing has happened during that Fulbright semester. This is Egypt. Where massive changes can spring up and shift the country from one day to the next. Ever expecting the unexpected. Since my first week here, I have had the honor of witnessing history and joining my friends (safely) in Tahrir Square. I have taken Arabic classes and I’ve learned to play towla in the cafes. I have added many of the local dishes to my daily diet and I dressed as a notorious Alexandrian killer for Halloween, with authentic costume and makeup.

As Sakina

As Sakina

I have visited historic mosques, churches, and one synagogue. I have seen the Sufi dance performance, taught Modern Jazz dance, and began a dance program for 57357 Children’s Cancer Hospital.

Dancing at 57357. (Photo by Mohamed Radwan)

Dancing at 57357. (Photo by Mohamed Radwan)

During our Fulbright Orientation here in Cairo, Marc J, Sievers, Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy Cairo called on us to “clear up this fog of fear and hostility that ways us down on both sides.” SInce hearing those words, I have made that my mission. And there is more to do.


Foyer of the Academy of the Arts’ High Institute of Ballet in Cairo, Egypt

In the Dean’s office at the High Institute of Ballet today. I am there to get acquainted with this academy where I have been placed to lecture. My proposal, which won me this Fulbright, was for a project I titled “Artist as Catalyst.” But I soon realize no one is familiar with my proposal or my CV. They think I teach at Columbia University.

I know pretty much nothing of this academy. The website has been under construction all year and I have received little to no response from my e-mail communication. I don’t speak enough Arabic, and the Dean is uncomfortable with English. Turns out he is gracious, productive and joyous.

The office, which had been abuzz with activity of both female and male faculty rushing around negotiating student files, now becomes unusually still and quiet as the Director of Cairo Opera Ballet enters. He is a bit of an aloof and cultured character. I cannot figure him out just yet but am impressed just by the aura. He wears a brown vest and light wash jeans, is gallant yet slim, and when introduced to me, says nothing, kisses the back of my hand, slowly and certainly.

Prestigious. A long tradition of it.

Both the Opera Director and Institute Dean are men in their late 50s. But I’m bad at guessing ages.

I feel awkward and nod my thanks to the hand kiss, whispering some mumbled combination of Assalaam, marhaba, and So happy to meet you meet you. But no one notices my blunder because I have somehow managed to pull it off with a little luck and Chicago charm. Then this man leaves the office with many of the faculty following him.

The Dean and I are now alone in his office and he asks me to sit. He is more relaxed and asks for his colleague, who speaks English, to join us. He asks that someone bring me tea. And when we move from one office to another, someone is asked to carry my tea for me.


One of the many dance studios inside the Institute. A sense of pride and no acknowledgment of the need for repairs. Rumor is a whole new building will be erected in the future.


I learn that the students here at the High Institute of Ballet (in the Cairo suburb of Giza) must pass a difficult exam in order to enroll. The faculty audition 7-year-old children from around the city and country, looking for technical capacity, body shape, and musicality. Students all pay a reasonable tuition; no scholarships or work-study programs exist. Males and females equally eager to enroll.

All students must take 9 years of intense study of classical ballet (Russian method), modern dance (mix of methods), ballet partnering/lifting, music theory, piano, folkloric and historical dances, and dance appreciation, focusing on story ballets. These students are in the dance studio 3 hours a day and then take their academic classes in another part of the building. During my meeting, there was a reference to boys and girls being in separate classes, but I don’t know if I heard wrong.


High Institute of Ballet

At age 15-16, after 9 years of training, some students continue on to undergraduate level (either the choreography track or the more conservative, pure-lecture track in teaching). A select few dancers become graduate students with research and choreographic projects, and perform with the Cairo Opera Ballet or major dance companies across the world.

The students, parents and faculty here are some of the most liberal-dressing and socially open Egyptians I’ve run into so far. There is laughter. The genders mingle in equality and everyone seems to have a bounce in their step.

Except the custodial/janitorial staff. They don’t have the same bounce.

Hallways inside the High Institute of Ballet

When I asked about students cleaning their own studios, the response was pretty much a spit-take. My assumption is that the students think it is someone else’s job and they are used to just waiting for renovation, maybe it’s a class/privilege thing, about liabilities, or maybe there is too much red tape in such a traditional, large, and selective institution.

I got the same sort of spit-take when I asked about bringing non-students from the community here for classes or a community-dance project. Looked to the custodians right away, thinking they should be honored and dancing. But I had the feeling my idea was not ready to be introduced.

I asked about outreach projects and was told their idea of outreach is putting audition notices in the newspaper.

At the end of the day, it sounds like I will be teaching modern for the teens. Then starting in October, offering workshops about whatever community arts theories I want. But those workshops can be no longer than 2 hours. I said I might invite some undergraduate students to volunteer with me in the children’s cancer hospital and alternative venues in the city. That was promising and exciting.

As a community-dance practitioner, I have to find a way not to be intimidated in an environment like this. Not to shrink from their technical prowess and knowledge. Remember that I am a good teacher and have merits. I have to find a fine balance between learning the Egyptian way and challenging their thinking.

Dance can revolutionize public education, youth development, community development, healthcare, cross-cultural and inter-religious understanding, conflict prevention and resolution…

Teaching dance in a Northwest Bosnian village in 2011

Dance can revolutionize. That’s what I know.

Semester starts September 22nd.



***The views and information presented in my blog are my own and do not represent the U.S. Department of State or the Fulbright Scholar Program.

Alumna receives Fulbright Scholar grant

As published in The Saginaw News: 31 July 2012

SAGINAW, MI— Stores are already beginning to roll out their back-to-school advertising and students, but Shawn Lent’s back-to-school shopping list this year includes a suitcase instead of a backpack.

The Thomas Township native, who works with an arts integration program implementing arts programs in public middle schools through Columbia College in Chicago, is packing her bags for a semester lecturing at the Academy of Arts’ High Institute of Ballet in Cairo, Egypt.

Lent, 34, has won a one-semester Fulbright Scholar grant for the trip, where she will teach dance classes and lecture on community arts theory and the role of artists in civil society and education.

“I hope to make some change in how dance is taught and [in] education in general,” she said.

Lent grew up in Thomas Township and graduated from Hemlock High School and Saginaw Arts & Sciences Academy in 1996.

Lent said her interest in Egypt and the surrounding region began when she traveled to Morocco, Egypt and Qatar in 2010 with a group from the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.

“I did this tour and got a lot of contacts in the region, several in Cairo,” she said. “Then suddenly, my new friends were busy starting a revolution. I thought it would be a really great opportunity to research the role of artists in a revolution and in rebuilding a society.”

To apply for the Fulbright grant, Lent returned to Egypt to get an invitation from an institution there. She returned to the U.S. empty-handed. After her return, the U.S. State Department announced that because of the recent revolutions and unrest in Libya and Egypt, applicants hoping to travel to those countries would not need to include an invitation from a host institution in their application packets.

Lent assembled the other 12 to 14 aspects of the application and sent it in. Then the waiting started.

“It’s a whole year process, waiting to find out [if you got the grant],” Lent said.

The application was due last August and finalists were notified between October and January. The final announcement of recipients was made in April or May this year.

Dance has always been one of her passions, Lent said. She studied ballet and jazz at Bohaty’s School of Dance in Thomas Township and began studying contemporary dance in college. She earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts in theater and dance from Milikin University in Decatur, Ohio. She did some post-graduate work in London and earned a master’s degree in arts management with a focus in arts for youth and community development from Columbia.

While she has not danced professionally “for a while,” Lent said, she continues to learn new forms of dance.

“I’ve been learning a lot more folkloric dances lately,” she said. She teaches many orthodox Jewish students, who have taught her their traditional dances.

Lent’s grant is for one semester, but she said she hopes to extend it for the entire academic year. If she does not get the extension, she will continue teaching dance as a volunteer in either Palestine or Bosnia.

“Both are options right now,” she said. “I would like to volunteer at a dance school in Palestine.”

“I taught [in Bosnia] last spring as part of a youth festival in an area that hasn’t been rebuilt [after Bosnian War],” she said. “They were looking for arts teachers as volunteers.”

One of the biggest challenges facing Lent will be the language barrier. She will teach her classes at the Academy of the Arts in English, but her limited knowledge of Arabic will make daily tasks difficult.

“I’m trying to study as much as I can,” she said. “When I was [in Cairo] the first two times, I could get by. I’ll just do the best I can. As long as I can make the hour-long commute to work and back, I’ll be fine.”

Another worry for Lent is safety in the country still plagued by unrest and fear of foreigners.

“A couple of weeks ago, state TV put out a number of (public service announcements with the) message ‘Don’t trust foreigners, they’re all spies,’” she said. “(The anti-foreigner sentiment) was strong when I was there last summer, but even more so after the ads. I just hope that I’ll be welcomed and accepted.”

Foreigners, especially foreign women, need to be especially vigilant and aware of their surroundings, she said.

“I met with the Egyptian consulate here in Chicago, and they gave me a list of information on how not to get kidnapped,” she said. “There’s a couple of figures on sexual harassment. [Cairo] is worse than any other city in the Middle East.”

Lent said that close to 98 percent of foreign women visiting Cairo report experiencing some form of sexual harassment while in the city.

“But I have friends there,” Lent said. “I know they’ll have my back.”

Lent said her parents, Jim and Kaye Lent of Thomas Township, are “still reacting” to her decision to travel to Egypt.

“They’re nervous because I’m an only child,” she said. “They just kept saying, ‘Mixed feelings. We have mixed feelings.’”

Lately, however, she said her mother has been “constantly posting about it” on Facebook.

“She must have accepted it if she’s telling people about it,” Lent said.

The Fulbright Scholarship program is sponsored but the U.S. Department of State and funds scholarships for U.S. faculty and professionals to travel and teach abroad.

Lent is one of 1,100 Fulbright grant recipients for the 2012-13 academic year.

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