Monday, 31 July 2017

Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Timeline: Before Your Scholarship



As you now know, we will be going to the USA for 5 months through the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching programme in August 2017 - we're in fact leaving in exactly one week! However, before the actual exchange programme, there is a lot to be done - from applying for the exchange in the first place to waiting for final results from the USA to paperwork, paperwork and more paperwork. We are talking about a time period starting in October and ending in June, and that is if you're lucky. Altogether, the whole process takes almost 8 months! Now, I'm someone who gets really stressed out about things like this, so something that really would've helped me during these long months of insecurity and waiting is a proper timeline for when to expect things to happen. This is why I've decided to create just that - a timeline listing everything that happens before your scholarship. I hope this post will be of help for anyone who's thinking of applying for the FDAT scholarship or who's in need of a concrete timeline covering absolutely everything that will happen before your actual departure to America. Hopefully it'll be an interesting read to someone else as well - maybe it will help my real life acquaintances to understand why I've been so anxious for the past few months!

So, here we go!


October 14th 2016 - Application Deadline
The application process itself was quite lengthy to say the least. To be able to start filling in your application form, you first need to email the Fulbright Center in Finland to get a password to access the form. The form itself has all kinds of questions on your education and work history, your experiences abroad (professional and personal), and you need to have a topic for your inquiry project as well as reasons why it would be a good topic to look into. Also, you'll need to provide a preliminary bibliography for your project.

In addition, you will need to have three professional references, one of whom needs to be the headmaster of your school. All of these people will get access to a form they need to fill in via email, and once they've filled it in, you'll be notified. You don't need to fill in your application form in one sitting, so it's a good idea to give it some time.

November 3rd 2016 - Invitation to the Interview
I got an email from the Fulbright Center in Finland that I'm invited to an interview in Helsinki. I was given a specific time when I needed to be there.

November 5th 2016 - TOEFL iBT
On November 5th, I had my compulsory TOEFL iBT language exam in Helsinki. The results of this can be sent to the Fulbright Center even a little bit after the application deadline as it's sometimes difficult to find an available exam date. This is also the first thing that cost quite a lot of money - 250€ to be exact. You'll get your results in approximately 10 days online and a bit later via snail mail (it's the exact same paper, though). To qualify, you need a score of at least 75 out of 120.

November 11th 2016 - My Interview in Helsinki
My interview was casual and light-hearted - more like a conversation. I was interviewed by four people all in all, if I remember right - two Finnish Fulbright alumni, one American grantee who was in Finland at the time, and one person from the Fulbright Center. The interview was quite a nice experience, so no need to panic beforehand! I needed to take an unpaid day off work for the interview day.

December 8th 2016 - Preliminary Information about the Selection
This is the day when I got the official email from the Finnish Fulbright Center to let me know that I've been chosen to be recommended for the US Board. Prior to this, though, maybe a week before, I got a phone call from the Fulbright Center, letting me know that I'm their first choice for the scholarship.

April 12th 2017 - Final Selection
This wait was the excruciating one as it takes quite a long time for the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board in the USA to make the final decision. I got an email about the final selection through the Finnish Fulbright Center, and then started receiving stuff via email from the IIE as well. IIE stands for the Institute of International Education, and they take care of all practicalities regarding the exchange in the US end.

April 25th 2017 - Selection Packet 
A few weeks after I'd been notified about being selected, I received the so called Selection Packet via email from the IIE. This is essentially a pile of paperwork that you need to do, and I got 9 days to do it all. Most of it is easy to do - signing papers regarding accepting the scholarship, accepting the terms and conditions of the programme etc.

The ones that take more time are the medical form for which you'll need to make an appointment with a doctor and have a TB test done, and the insurance certificates for you and any dependents (family members = your spouse or your children) for the duration of your stay. Also, for your medical form, you'll need to provide the information for all the vaccinations you've ever got, which might take some time and which I suggest you take care of well before the selection packet even arrives since this information will be needed no matter what. I didn't have any papers regarding my vaccinations so I needed to order everything from the archives of my hometown (you get them for free in Finland). Also, my tetanus vaccination had expired so I had to have that done (thank God for a nice school nurse who's willing to do it!).

As for the costs, my appointment with the doctor (I went to see a private doctor with the medical form from the selection packet, and the doctor ticked the boxes and filled in necessary information) was 65,90€ and the TB test (done at Fimlab) was 73€, so nothing cheap as it's not a test they need to do every day. It's also good to know that you'll need to book the TB test in advance as they don't do it every day (it needs special tubes). It can only be done before 2 pm and at least here only between Monday and Thursday. It takes two weeks to get the results and you'll get them by mail. The test is B-TbIFNg if anyone is interested and it's a blood test. Also, you get more time to take care of your medical check and the TB test, but just know that the IIE won't proceed with your paperwork until you've sent them everything.

As for our travel insurance, we got the first 45 days through our trade union (OAJ) for free with Turva, and the rest up until January 7th comes from IF - 330,90€ each, so 661,80€ altogether for me and my spouse. You'll need insurance certificates in English, and both companies provide them for free.

May 3rd 2017 - Sent All the Forms to the IIE
This means all the selection packet forms minus the medical form.

May 15th 2017 - Got the TB Result and Sent the Medical Form
Nothing to add here.

May 17th 2017 - Finnish Orientation
The Finnish Orientation was organised for all the people going to the USA on any scholarship in the academic year 2017-2018. The orientation took all day and consisted of introductions, greetings from Fulbright alumni, instructions on how to connect with people, meeting the US Embassy visa officers for any questions, specific sessions for people going to the USA on different scholarships...In the afternoon, everyone was taken to the Helsinki City Hall by bus for an official Award Ceremony where group pictures were taken and where we had an official reception with speeches from people from the Department for Communications and Culture and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Julcsi came to the evening ceremony as well. I had an unpaid day off  from work again to be able to attend.

June 5th 2017 - DS-2019 Form Arrived at the Fulbright Center in Finland and Was Sent to Me via Mail
To be able to apply for a visa, you need to first get a DS-2019 form from the IIE. This is a form that is also known as the Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status. The grantee will apply for a J1 visa while the spouse or any other dependent will apply for a J2 visa. The forms are always sent to the Fulbright Center and then sent on from there as registered letters as well as scanned copies via email to the grantees and their dependents. To be able to fill in your visa application form online, you'll need to have a specific number from the DS-2019 form, but since Fulbright Finland will email you the scanned copy before sending the actual paper version to you via mail, you're able to fill in your visa application even before you actually have the DS-2019 in your hand.

June 6th 2017 - Sent the Online Visa (J1 + J2) Applications
The visa application is easy to fill in, but it needs an American standard passport picture, which is 5cm x 5cm in size. We went to a photographer for the pictures and paid 29€ for two pictures + a digital version, which was sent to us via email. So, all in all, 58€ for the two of us. Also, if you've been to the US before, you'll need to provide the exact dates in your application.

June 7th 2017 - Received the DS-2019 forms from Fulbright Finland and Booked the Visa Interviews
Booking the visa interviews at the US Embassy in Finland was easy as we only needed to email the embassy and say we're going through Fulbright. We got the response in five minutes and our appointments for the following day. You need to go together with your dependents but say that you want to book separate appointments for everyone.

June 8th 2017 - Visa Interview 
No need to panic about this one, either! We arrived at the Embassy in the morning, showed our ID, were taken in one by one, were inspected with a metal detector, and went to the waiting room for the interviews. I thought it would be a personal interview, but it wasn't - everything functions with a number system. You take a number with your dependent and wait for your turn three times as there are three separate counters all for a different purpose.

1 is for giving your documents. What they wanted was the passports, the DS-2019 forms, the DS160 confirmation pages (which is what you get once you've filled out your visa application online - it needs to be in colour), if you're married and bringing your spouse, you'll need to bring an extract from the Population Information System to prove it (marriage is accepted but registered partnership isn't), a copy of my grant authorization form, and a self-addressed and paid envelope for mailing the documents as a registered letter.

2 is for taking your fingerprints. The people behind counters 1 and 2 were Finnish.

3 is for your interview, and the person behind the counter was American. Julcsi wasn't asked anything and I was asked only two questions: why I'm going to the USA and what university I'm going to. That's it, we could then go home.

Oh, and you don't need to pay for the visas - finally something that you get for free because of the scholarship!

June 8th 2017 - Got a Message from the IIE with Information about Making the Travel Arrangements
This was a message to let us know how to proceed regarding booking the flights. To be able to start the process, you'll need to have your visa, though.

June 12th 2017 - Got the Visas & Passports & the DS-2019 Forms Back as a Registered Letter
That was quick!
      
June 13th 2017 - Contacted the IIE for Our Plane Tickets
We immediately informed the IIE about wanting to book our flights and sent them and the travel agency they use a form stating on which days we'd like to fly. The grantee's flights are paid for but you need to pay for your dependents' flights yourself. Because you're a grantee in a US programme, you'll need to fly with American airlines (AA, Delta, United) or any airline that they collaborate with, and they'll book you the most inexpensive flights they can find. If you want to ensure you're on the same flight with your dependents, you'll need to provide the travel agency the IIE use with your credit card details and pay a fee for using their services as well, which is what we did.

June 14th 2017 - International Flights Booked
This was very quick! We're flying with Icelandair via Reykjavik to Washington DC on August 7th and coming back with them from New York via Reykjavik to Helsinki on January 6th 2018. Julcsi's flights ended up costing 727,77€ for the flight + 60,37€ for the travel agency fee = 788,14€. 

June 28th 2017 - Domestic Flights Booked for the Dependent
Since the US experience begins with an orientation in Washington DC, we'll also need to fly from Washington DC to Indianapolis on August 12th. These flights were booked for the whole group and everyone's dependents in one go, so it was booked separately from the international flights. For these flights, the same travel agency was used, and Julcsi's flight was 152,54€ + 36,74€ = 189,28€.

July 7th to July 21st 2017 - Online Orientation
This is a compulsory two-week orientation module you need to take part in through Canvas, which is a learning platform online. To be able to take part, you'll need to have your Indiana University student number and other things such as a username and a password to access the system - you'll be getting all of this through email, or at least instructions to set it up. The online orientation consists of introductions, learning more about the education system in the US, your host university, the town where you'll be staying...stuff like that. You have several days to complete every unit (there were four). This wasn't too tough, nor was it supposed to be.

So yeah, this is pretty much all, plus a couple of pre-departure surveys you needed to fill in online. So far, it's cost us more than 2000€ to be ready to go. Now it's time to do laundry, pack, meet everyone and prepare for everything mentally. I'm quite stressed out at the moment, and will most likely have quite a rough beginning, as I usually do abroad, but hopefully it'll get easier and we'll have a nice experience :).

Sunday, 16 July 2017

One Day in Cardiff, Wales

When we were booking our 2015 Christmas break trip to London, we suddenly got this brilliant idea to start the holiday off in Cardiff, Wales instead. After all, there's Megabus for cheap tickets, cheaper accommodation than in London, and a new city/country for Julcsi to collect (I'd been to Cardiff once before, back in 2010 when I didn't have this blog yet). So, we flew to London, found our way to Victoria Coach Station, caught our Megabus, and were on our way for our one full day and two nights in Wales.


Once we finally made it to Cardiff, it was quite late and the only thing we wanted to do was find our hostel, YHA Cardiff Central. Though what the word 'Central' is doing in the hostel's name I shall never know - that place is nowhere near the city centre! We wandered around God knows where (I certainly don't) until we finally found the place, after what felt like at least ten kilometres of aimless dragging of our feet and suitcase around Cardiff. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating slightly, but just know that this place is far away from the Megabus drop off point downtown. If you have a car, you'll be fine, and quite a few people did. The hostel at least back then was in a residential area around a construction site so you won't have a fabulous view from your window or anything like that. However, the hostel itself is really nice, kind of like the one we stayed at in Belfast in that it's more like a hotel. There's also a lovely restaurant/café/pub downstairs, and everything is quite affordable. On our first evening, we only went downstairs for some fish and chips before going to bed as we were quite knackered from all the travelling.

Anyway, so it was December when we went to Cardiff and the weather was quite horrible. It was raining non-stop on our one and only full day, and since I hate carrying any extra stuff with me, I obviously didn't have an umbrella, either. Good thinking, as always. (No but really, WHO wants to carry an umbrella around?! It's nothing but trouble! Plus if you have one, it never rains anyway. Rain NEVER happens when you have an umbrella  - this is a fact of life.) Despite the weather, we were determined to do some sights, and headed to Cardiff Castle. In the rain. Yes we did. (And we eventually also bought a fabulous umbrella, which lasted for maybe an hour and is the star of all of our pictures from Cardiff until its untimely death.)

We had a guided tour of the castle, and the tour happened indoors - yay! I can only recommend visiting the castle - it's one of the best I've seen anyway! Here's a sneak peek!








The Clock Tower.
We then had some coffee before venturing out into the rain again properly and climbing up the Norman Keep, which is completely outside.


It's very good to have an umbrella!


Julcsi with the Norman Keep in the background.




The Roman Wall.
Umbrella fun!

A view from the Norman Keep.
Wartime shelters.


We then went to the souvenir shop across the road and bought an insane pile of stuff. Since both of us are English teachers, we go positively nuts for anything we can bring to the classroom from our trips to English-speaking countries. What we love the most about all things Welsh is lovespoons. Traditionally, these wooden spoons were offered as gifts to express romantic interest - and yes, we do have our own lovespoon as well, only we presented it to ourselves in the name of equality and picked it out together :D.





Then, we went back outside (oh noes, totally wet boots!) to have a look at the completely gorgeous Animal Wall depicting 12 different animals.



Julcsi with animals of all kinds!







The lens was getting blurrier and blurrier...
By this point, being outside had turned completely impossible as my socks and shoes were thoroughly soaked! Therefore, we headed to the shops, mainly Primark for new socks and shoes! Since it was December, Queen Street was nicely lit up with Christmas lights, which brightened up the otherwise very cloudy afternoon. Christmas is here!!




Aaaand, whoever wants to see what we bought...


Oh yes. Don't ever let us near souvenir shops...:D

On our second and final day, we packed our bags and took everything with us downtown where we went to the Natural History museum while waiting for our bus to London. They have space to store even a bigger suitcase so it was quite a good idea to go there right before catching the bus. I loved the museum - finally got to see some dinosaurs!

Better weather - just as we were leaving! Figures!


A T-Rex head!

A mammoth.
So yeah, this was our mini little Cardiff excursion. There's a lot more to see there than this, but I honestly don't recommend for example Mermaid Quay for a rainy day. It's always good to leave something for the next time, though, so until then, Cardiff!


Aaaand, the next post will be about London, once again, so stay tuned :)!