Friday, April 13, 2012
Fulbright ao Brasil! Part 4
(Continued from Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3)
The only other big hurdle was getting my language skills evaluated.
If I was still in Colorado at this point, I would have been able to have them evaluated by a CU language professor through arrangements by the Office of International Education. However, it was now August and I had already moved back to Massachusetts, so I had to convince a local professor that I didn't know, or most likely two people, to take time out of their day and evaluate my Spanish and Portuguese skills (because the Brazil language requirements were "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" and I had skills in both). Just like with acquiring the letters of invitation, I was able to secure one through a contact (however weak it may have been) and another "out of the blue".
This language requirement was really worrying me though. "Proficiency," according to Fulbright, is two years of college-level study of the language, or equivalent experience (such as living in a country that speaks the language, or growing up learning it, etc.) I had been intensely studying both over the summer on my own once I knew that I was truly going to complete the application, using CD's, books [AP Spanish prep] and 'Rosetta stone'. Because the languages are quite similar, this was definitely quite a headache! I knew that I definitely did not have proficiency in Portuguese yet, having only studied it on my own for about a year and a half off and on (after I had completed the Pimsleur Brazilian Portuguese CD course during my first year of graduate school, I spent the second year learning some French before I decided to apply to Brazil), and at best this was equivalent to a year of college Portuguese. And my Spanish skills were probably not equivalent to two years of college either, as I'd taken it for 5 years in middle school and high school which didn't include AP Spanish. I thought, if anything, this would be my downfall and the reason why I would not be offered a grant.
In the interest of time, I decided to find someone to do the Portuguese evaluation first, which would be harder because there are less Portuguese departments around than Spanish ones. Plus, I could then intently study Portuguese, and temporarily forget Spanish and confusing the two, until the evaluation. Then I could forget Portuguese and intently study Spanish for the Spanish evaluation. Luckily, living in New England, there are many universities around to try. I found a couple with Portuguese departments and the only one I received a response from was Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, and my guess is because I mentioned that my father had received his MBA from there in the 80's. The Portuguese professor there was out of town and couldn't do it, but he said that I should contact his friend who teaches Portuguese at Harvard. Using his name, I emailed her, and she agreed to do it.
The actual evaluation was a story in itself. I trekked into Cambridge to meet with her, feeling a little bit like an impostor walking into an academic building at Harvard during a day with classes going on, and found her office. I was a bit early, so I waited in a chair in the hallway. I waited, and waited, and waited. Meanwhile, I was already incredibly nervous because of my paltry Portuguese skills and being at Harvard, but the waiting made it only worse. After speaking with a student helper of her's who assured me that she would eventually show up, she finally did...about 4 hours after our meeting time. Luckily, I was planning to stay in Cambridge till the evening anyways to go practice my Portuguese at a meetup group there, so I had the time. She had had some sort of emergency, but was super nice and felt really bad about being late, even if I felt bad because I couldn't understand most of her Portuguese through her soft-spoken Brazilian accent. I explained her my Fulbright project in Portuguese, and she really thought it was worthwhile and a great thing to do. She assured me that, while my language skills were not up to par yet, that she would do whatever she could to help me through writing up the evaluation, especially because of the fact that I would still have a year to continue my Portuguese study after hearing notification about the grant but before I would leave for Brazil. Additionally, she felt so bad about being late that she gave me a copy for free of her Portuguese textbook that she co-wrote, plus the accompanying CDs, straight off the shelf of her office! (which is otherwise around $150!) This will definitely help me improve my Portuguese now before leaving for Brazil!
Afterwards, I started back on my Spanish studying and emailed every Spanish department nearby. I didn't receive responses from most of them, but casting a large net did catch one fish, and I was able to get an evaluation of my Spanish from a professor at Assumption College in Worcester. My application was finally completed, yet I still was unsure if my language skills would be my downfall or not.
I submitted the application to the Office of International Education around mid-September for the campus-wide deadline, which was a big relief! Then, after an interview with them about a week later to strengthen my application, I made a few minor changes and submitted it online around the end of September, several weeks before the mid-October national deadline. Then the long wait began, and I tried to forget about it!
Luckily, all that waiting is now over. I still have one year to wait before I go, but at least I can rest assured that I am headed to Brazil for 9 months next year to have an incredible experience studying the El Sistema programs of Brazil, and it will all be paid for!