The road to the Fulbright-mtvU Fellowship

“Life is winding; enjoy the scenic route.”

The road to the Fulbright-mtvU Fellowship, like most things in life, is winding. It is an unconventional path for the unconventional scholar or social entrepreneur who is deeply interested in the intersection of music and social change.

In this blog post, I will offer critical tips on how to embark on such a journey successfully, but before we get into it, let’s be straight up about the things we don’t normally highlight: you’ll be living on a student budget; the days can be extremely long and tiring; projects can hit huge obstacles that seem unsolvable; if you get the grant, you’d be walking away from an old life that you’ve spent a lot of time fostering; there are a lot of unknowns.

If you still want to do it despite knowing all of that, then you’re likely in it for the right reasons. I want to help you have the best chance of getting a fellowship, because if you’re here reading this, then you’re also likely determined enough to thrive.

Before you start reading the rest of this post, grab a notebook and a pen.

I want you to first start by closing your eyes and visualizing your intentions. Ask yourself, why are you interested in the Fulbright-mtvU Fellowship? What are the deep and true reasons for your interest?

Give yourself a few minutes—relaxing your breath—and then write down in the notebook the thoughts that came to you. Write them all down and don’t be judgmental about your reasons.

This fellowship is for a specific kind of person who is purpose-driven. This type of work requires connecting with people (in your selected country) at a rapid pace while still being authentic. The only way really to do this kind of accelerated relationship building in a meaningful way is to be driven by purpose. People will really feel that you are passionate about what you’re doing, and they’re going to want to support you. People support dream-seekers.

Once you have the purpose locked down, actively reflect on your own personal experiences. If it helps, map out your work and school experience visually. I drew a huge line and marked one end as “beginning of college” and the end point was “present day.” Scattered across the line were moments related to music, social change or both: (1) putting on a multi-band concert at my university, (2) writing about music at The Washington Post after graduation, (3) volunteering and collaborating with small and large festivals across the United States…

Having everything written out in front of me helped me visualize the interesting directions I could take my project. Though, the most important part of this ideation process is being willing to “pivot.” This requires flexibility and your active involvement in progressing the project idea into a concrete vision.

You’ll need to talk to multiple people—both people you’ve worked with and those you don’t know but with whom you might want to collaborate—and tell them about where your thoughts are. Ask them for their opinions. Write everything down. Make sure you are discussing your ideas and thoughts with a diverse group, as the goal is to create a large, open network of collaborators.

Through your own personal and professional experience, discussions with collaborators and a lot of reflection, you should have a pretty good idea of what your project idea is and where it would likely take place.

When I originally started my Fulbright-mtvU Fellowship application, I thought I was going to be working on music in Kenya. But after reflecting on my time in Jordan, where I had an incredible experience in the desert freestyle rapping with Bedouin men, I decided to “pivot” to a project in Iceland. My conversations with people through Twitter, Skype and Google Hangouts evolved the idea into what it is now: a full-on music and arts festival focused on transformation, social change and sustainability. You can read more about my journey in an article I published on Medium.

Next you’ll want to decide who your affiliation partner will be. For me, this took a lot of digging, and I ended up discussing my project with multiple organizations in the country. The most receptive and aligned to my belief was the Iceland Arts Academy, specifically the master’s program in New Audiences and Innovative Practices. There, through the leadership of my Fulbright advisor Siggi Halldórsson, they conduct research on how to bring new audiences into arts and music experiences. It´s all about creating experiences that move people and communities. Since I initially reached out, we have had an amazing rapport and it has been a perfect fit. Siggi seemed interested in me personally as well as in my project, and I felt very comfortable in my decision to ask him to affiliate—which he accepted.

If you have made it this far, you should be able to do the following:

  • Sum up your project idea in 1-2 sentences
  • Have a general idea of where you’d like to launch this kind of project or research
  • Have an affiliation partner that has agreed to your project
  • Have lots of written notes from research and conversations with friends, colleagues, peers, mentors and future collaborators

After you do all of this, crafting the research proposal will be easy. You can even use your map you drew earlier (about your experiences related to music and social change) for your personal statement as well. The most important part of this step though is to have plenty of time to send it to others to review. I probably sent my personal statement and research proposal to 10 very different people. I personally re-edited my paper (including completely deleting it and starting from scratch again twice) probably a total of two dozen times.

It may seem illogical to put this much work in it at first, but it’s not just for your successful Fulbright-mtvU Fellowship project. This is an amazing reflective process to go through so that you can best set yourself up for success in case you do get the fellowship. I was going to embark on this project regardless, so this was an important step in ideation to ensure there were as few holes as possible. I continued to talk to as many people as possible to constantly re-iterate. Make sure you’re in this for the right reason, be driven by purpose, talk to as many people as possible (including those you don’t know), be able to explain your project both concisely and deeply, and give yourself enough time to pivot.

Click here to find out more about the Fulbright-mtvU application process.

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