Kevin Blankinship, PhD Student | Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations

Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellow

What drew you to the Fulbright-Hays DDRA program? What about it seemed like a good fit for you and your work at the time that you were applying?

I applied to the Fulbright-Hays program for two reasons, one pragmatic and the other idealistic. On the pragmatic side, I was narrowing down a list of year-long funding sources to continue doctoral research, and Fulbright-Hays presented no major obstacles in terms of eligibility or program focus. On the idealistic side, several sources from my ongoing dissertation research pointed toward another big project waiting to be tackled in Moroccan libraries and archives. The fact that I was looking for a funding award as well as a way to get to Morocco made the Fulbright-Hays program a great fit for me.

As the fellowship period draws to a close, is there a particular experience that has been memorable or that stands out to you (or that perhaps has even surprised you)?

The main purpose of all Fulbright grants is to foster cultural exchange. One example stands out in my memory. While traveling here in Morocco, I had a conversation in Arabic with a Moroccan store employee. He asked where I was from, and I told him that I’m American, which I like to do as often as possible so that people in the Middle East can see a personal example of an American who cares enough about the region to spend time learning about its languages and cultures.

But many Middle Eastern Arabs and Muslims still labor under negative impressions of westerners, and so I wasn’t surprised when he asked me defensively, “Do you believe everything they say about us on TV?” “Of course not,” I said. “I’m here, I can see it with my own eyes. I speak Arabic and I study Islam. I love Arabs and Arab culture, which is why I’m living in the Middle East. I want to learn more.” He paused, then relaxed a bit. “Go back and tell everyone in America that we’re not the way they show us on TV.” I nodded my head and promised him I would.

To me, this experience boils down the main goal of Fulbright-Hays into a single conversation. Research is important of course, but even more important is the chance to build relationships all over the world with people that would otherwise be nameless, faceless statistics. This will help even from a purely professional standpoint, since finding work depends greatly on personal connections, let alone from the perspective of making a positive impact at a time when it’s needed the most.

Fulbright-Hays is known to have a rigorous application and selection process. Is there any advice you would offer students who are thinking about applying?

In terms of contractual obligation, Fulbright-Hays is very open-ended. You set your own deadlines, the terms of your research, working relationships with colleagues, and so on. What that means from an application standpoint is, successful applicants are those that can prove that they will use free time and money wisely. Everything should follow from this general principle. The project proposal should demonstrate independent efforts already completed to lay the groundwork for research in the host country, while materials that speak to your background — including CV, transcripts, and recommendation letters — should prove your ability to initiate projects and see them through to completion. Also, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of relying on internal university grant coordinators and other staff whose job description is to track best practices for successful applications to Fulbright-Hays. They will be able to give you specific, actionable advice on how to play to your strengths and shore up your weaknesses to put together the best portfolio.

More about Kevin

Kevin is a doctoral candidate in the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Department. His research is about intellectual exchange networks in the medieval Arab-Islamic Mediterranean. He takes as a case study the Syrian poet and iconoclast Abu’l-`Ala al-Ma`arri (d. 1058), whose prolific writings were widely anthologized, imitated, and commented upon from Damascus all the way to Spain and North Africa. This process reveals how cultural products leave the nest and circulate across time, culture, and language as objects to be interpreted.

More about the Fulbright-Hays DDRA

These fellowships are for doctoral students conducting research a foreign country or countries (excluding Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand). Funding is provided from the U.S. Department of Education for 6-12 months of dissertation research.