(Continued from Part 1 and Part 2 )
But which country of the 25 odd ones would I choose pursue?
Brazil stood out to me for several reasons: 1) The language requirement was "Proficient spoken and written Portuguese is required at the time of application. Consideration will be given to applicants with significant Spanish language skills who have begun study of Portuguese." Check! 2) I was already interested in Brazilian music and culture, 3) I have friends who are musicians in Brazil who I could ask if they have any personal contacts in any Brazilian El Sistema programs in order to help obtain letters of invitation from the programs, 4) The Brazilian El Sistema programs I found were in general older than the US El Sistema programs, with the oldest being 15 years old, so they have had more time to adjust and tweak their programs, and 5) Brazil is more similar to the US in some ways than most of the other countries with El Sistema programs, being a very large and populous country with a large economy.
Through some online research, I identified 6 El Sistema inspired programs in Brazil that I could potentially work with and study. I emailed my Brazilian music friends to see if any of them knew anyone involved with any of these programs. All 3 of them actually each knew one other person who was involved in one of the programs (and luckily they were involved in different programs of the 6). I followed each of these 3 leads for 3 of these 6 programs, through writing up emails in Portuguese, sending them to my Brazilian friends to proofread, and then emailing them to the contacts. I also sent emails in Portuguese "out of the blue," with no pre-established connection or contacts, to the other 3 programs.
After probably about 2 or 3 months, essentially the whole summer, of emailing and working (this by far was the most difficult and time consuming part of the whole process) I had obtained signed letters of invitation to come pursue this research via email from 2 of the programs! These official letters of invitation are very important in the application and if you can get one (or something similar) from a person or organization saying that they WANT you to come to their country and work with them, it makes your application immediately very strong. The first of the 2 programs that invited me, NEOJIBA (State Youth and Children's Orchestra Centers of Bahia) which is centered in Salvador, I had gotten in contact with through one of my Brazilian friends who has a friend who works with them. The other program, "Orquestrando a Vida" (Orchestrating Life), which is located in the smaller city of Campos dos Goytacazes in the state of Rio de Janiero, had simply responded to my "out of the blue" email and said they'd love to have me. Of the other 4 programs I pursued, 2 I had received initial responses from, yet never was able to secure a letter, while the other 2 never responded at all to my emails.
These letters were a huge step! I now knew that I was going to follow through and complete the whole Fulbright application process. However, all applicants to Brazil need to have an affiliation with an academic institution. I began looking at the Fulbright directory of past grantees and found a music professor and composer from Lake Forest College (near Chicago, IL) who had gone to Rio de Janiero and taught at the Federal University of the State of Rio de Janiero (UNIRIO) on a Fulbright (For U.S. citizens, there are two different kinds of Fulbright programs, one for students [which I applied to] and one for 'Scholars', which is what this professor had done). I emailed her about my project and how I was searching for an affiliation, and she replied that she knew the head of the graduate music department at UNIRIO well and gave me his email address. I emailed him, he was enthusiastic and wrote, signed, and emailed me a letter. That was pretty easy!
With these three letters and affiliations secured, it was time (this was about August now) to begin work on the actual Fulbright application, which was due in mid-October. Since I was not enrolled in a university at this time, having graduated from the University of Colorado (CU) in May, I could either apply as an "at large" candidate or through my alma mater if they would allow me to. I had already spoken to the Office of International Education at CU just after graduating before I had moved out of town to tell them of my interest in applying for the Fulbright, and they were happy to let me apply through them. The benefit of that was simply that I had them to ask questions of, to read over and give me feedback on my essays, and that they would do an on-campus screening round to help strengthen applications before sending them off to the national Fulbright program.
Most of the application was fairly simple, just like any scholarship or college application (achievements, personal information, education, etc.), but there are two every important essays: the "Statement of Grant Purpose" which is basically a project proposal, and the "Personal Statement". These essays took several weeks of refining, and I was lucky to have several copies of essays from successful applicants as models given to me by the Office of International Education at CU as well as the essays of the girl who went to Venezuela. These helped tremendously, plus I had no less than 8 people read and edit my essay drafts, including my Dad, girlfriend, the girl who went to Venezuela, the staff at the Office International Education, several professors, and another girl who I met at a Portuguese language meetup in Cambridge, MA who had done a Fulbright to Brazil already. Needless to say, I felt my essays were very strong by the time I had submitted them.
The only other big hurdle was getting my language skills evaluated.
(Cue dramatic music! DUN DUN DUN!!)
Part 4 (the final part) is coming soon!