Dear Friends, Fulbrighters and those interested in studying in the USA!
It’s been a while since I blogged. My Fulbright experience came to an end last May 2014, I had to say goodbye to the wonderful Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University and Peabody! With a sad heart I had to leave the new formed friendships, but my USA adventure did not come to an end at all! To answer the request of the Belgian Fulbright Program, I want to share with you how I managed to continue my academical career in the USA.
Beginning in 2014, after talks with a couple of professors at Johns Hopkins, I started to realize that my research project had the potential to be acknowledged by researchers at certain universities in the US. My year at Hopkins also taught me about the American grad-school model and I felt it suited me a lot, both intellectually and personally. What I appreciate most are the seminar system and the interdisciplinary approach. For all these reasons I decided that I wanted to make a shot at staying longer in the USA. The only way to achieve this goal was to apply for a PhD program. This was not an easy task. Applications for Grad Schools ask a lot of preparation, testing and networking. For every application I had to provide a “Statement of Purpose”, a text which describes my personal and intellectual background and the first outlines of a research project. Besides that, I had to provide 3 to 4 reference letters from professors who knew my work. I was very fortunate that my professors from the KU Leuven and Hopkins where willing to help me with these letters. On top of that I had to provide most of my applications with test scores for an English proficiency test (TOEFL) and the GRE-exam. A time and money consuming pain, but necessary.
In March the rejection and acceptance letters started to come in, and in May I decided to say “yes” to the PhD program in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Emory University. One of the oldest Women’s Studies doctoral programs in the world (http://wgss.emory.edu/home/index.html)! A PhD in the USA is very different from a PhD in Belgium. First of all, it will take me op to 5 or 6 years to complete the program. The first 2 years I’ll have to go back to class, take exams and write papers. I will also be expected to be a research assistant for one of the professors of my program. By my third year, I will start teaching as a teaching assistant. That year, I will also have to do my ‘comprehensive exams’. This means that I will have to read 2 lists of about 30 books, and I will get one week to fill in a written exam about these books. The fourth year I will defend my prospectives or research project. The last 2 to 3 years I will work on my dissertation.
It is Winter break now, and my first semester is behind me. It was a hell of a ride. And I’m happy to be home with my family in Belgium to recharge. Reading complicated philosophical texts, and writing on a Grad Student level in a language that is not your own, is definitely a challenge. Sometimes I’m shy during the seminar discussions, but that is starting to go away. It is not easy and I know that I’m making a lot of sacrifices, but I keep reminding myself why I’m doing this. I believe in my project, I believe in the added value of a PhD degree. And in difficult or lonely days, I remind myself how lucky I am. This is an expensive school, we have a huge library and lot’s of resources and I got the opportunity to get paid to study about the topics that fascinate me!
If you are somebody who wants to study in the USA, go for your dream! It is possible, if you show that you have a lot of willpower and creativity. If any of you have questions about Fulbright or doing a PhD in the USA, please feel free to contact me!
Best wishes and a Happy 2015!