“So what are you doing in Cairo?” asked the young man.
I explained about my PhD in belly dance, tourism, and globalization. (That’s not what it was about to start with, but that’s a whole other story…) Whereupon he said brightly, “Oh, I know somebody who’s doing a Fulbright about the same thing!”
I nearly throttled him right there. I applied for a Fulbright grant. I drooled over that Fulbright grant. I dreamt about it in the night. I really, really wanted it. And I didn’t get it.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Fulbright program, the one I applied for pays for American students to spend a significant amount of time abroad carrying out research “to increase the mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.” Yeah yeah, that’s all well and good but here’s the kicker: it’s extremely prestigious and it pays for EVERYTHING. Housing, food, tuition, medical insurance, a research stipend, special events for Fulbright scholars. I wanted this grant in the way that you want the big ice cream sundae when you’re six.
I was disappointed (to put it mildly) about not getting a Fulbright, but I consoled myself with the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of applicants each year (well, hundreds anyway) and when you get right down to it it’s a little like filling out an application for the lottery. They can’t fund EVERY project, even when the applications are really good. My project was at least unique so obviously it wasn’t that my application was lacking, they just didn’t have the funding for it.
But now I’ve discovered that this isn’t what happened. Instead and to my complete surprise, it turns out that not only are there two of us who doing exactly the same thing, but the Fulbright commision compared our applications and then they chose her over me! I feel like the girl who comes in second at the Miss America contest. She still has to smile but you know she just wants to tear out the throat of the winner.
What I mean is that in actual fact it should be very exciting that there is another person doing a PhD on the same subject because to my knowledge there are only three of us in the whole world currently doing graduate-level research on this. There are a few published academic anthologies and books on Middle Eastern dance, but for the most part it’s a very slim field. It’s not like I study Shakespeare or ancient Greek mythology or anything. (There is a lot of stuff published on belly dance generally, but most of it isn’t researched by genuine, certified academics.) The fact that somebody got a grant to study in this field at least means that the Fulbright commision is taking this research seriously which should be gratifying in a general we’re-all-winners sense.
But it isn’t gratifying! It should’ve been mine! That lady stole my Fulbright!
This is the part where I have to say that actually it’s better that I didn’t get a Fulbright because the pressure to succeed magnifies about a billion percent when you have those kinds of things. And more importantly, without it I had a pretty easy time changing my research plan because of illness. I’m not sure whether the Fulbright people would really believe that the only way I can stay in Cairo is if I’m allowed to lie on the couch all day in order not to strain my lungs (more on this in an upcoming entry about continuing asthma-related issues). We’re talking about a group of people who will automatically reject your application if you send it in on the wrong kind of paper.
Nevertheless I whinged mightily about how the Fulbright Commission had Done Me Wrong to my friend Allison and she said, “yes, but now this girl has had all these opportunities and privileges granted to her for her research. It’s almost like she’s had a red carpet rolled out for her so she can do it. And here you are doing the same thing, but you’re doing it without any of that!” This made me smile.
So now hear this, Fulbright Commission: I’m going to do some AMAZING research, and I’m going to make it my personal mission to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries, and I don’t need your stupid chocolate bonbon of a grant to do it! So there!