I’m sitting on my bed in Barranquilla all jittery, not knowing how to contain the excitement within me. I have been promoted from alternate and selected for a 2015-2016 Fulbright U.S. Student Award to Brazil. Well, that’s what the email said. What I said was much different with much fewer words: I was speechless. Just seeing an email with the subject line ‘Update Fulbright Application Status’ had me hyperventilating and weak in the knees. So weak, in fact, that your girl straight dropped to the floor. Between tears welling up in my eyes and gasping for breaths of air, I managed to quite literally freak out — in the best way, of course. C’mon y’all, they were the happiest tears. Okay, there were some bittersweet ones, too, but I can’t pinpoint how many emotions I let fall from my eyes.
Bittersweet tears, you say. Yes. Arousing pleasure tinged with sadness or pain. You see, Fulbright is something I hold very dear to me. I have poured my heart into applying for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) to Brazil for two years. Just ask my college roommates how many emotions were shed in the process of writing my Personal Statement and Statement of Grant Purpose essays, yikes.
One of the things I spoke to my dad about before he died was Fulbright. I told him I wanted to apply. I was thinking about applying as early as my flight home from Madrid in May 2013. I was planning on speaking with Pat Taylor, Marist’s Graduate School and Fellowship Advisor, — or as I would say, Marist’s go-to human to inspire passion, motivation, direction and the all-too-necessary confidence boost for all things future related — on Friday, June 7th, 2013. Our scheduled phone call didn’t happen that day because my dad unexpectedly passed away that morning. As I endured my family changing in an instant, I felt this fire within me grow. I had to apply. I had to go. It is what I believe I was meant to do.
Sitting in that hospital waiting room, staring blankly into my unforeseen situation, I could only think of what my dad would have said to me. It’s the same thing he said to me when he and my mom dropped me off at the airport for my flight to Madrid a year earlier: “You’re not coming back, are you?” Maybe…maybe not, I’d say with a smirk.
This other completely unforeseen moment that is happening right now has never felt more carefully planned. I applied for a Fulbright ETA to Brazil for a second time last October. In January, I advanced to the final round, again. In April, I received word that I was an Alternate, again. So there I was in Palomino, Colombia during Semana Santa suddenly meditating, crying and listening to music on a beautiful beach in the Caribbean. I was lucky enough to have two solid dudes there for support. They further strengthened my love for fresh, positive perspectives from recent, yet deep friendships made during TEFL training and orientation in Bogotá. Travelers, man. I ended that trip with loads of gratitude for the opportunity to be living, teaching and traveling in Colombia until December 2015.
I set it up that way. Colombia until December with hopes for Brazil the following February. I continued hoping for a month after receiving my Alternate-status email. Grantees have a month to accept or decline, leaving Alternates in limbo for the time being. I had been in this same position a year prior, when I was about to graduate from Marist College and had accepted a temporary contract with Academic Programs International (API) as a Campus Relations Representative in the Northeast until just about the time Fulbright could have started if I received the grant last year. Here we are now: I’m a freaking Fulbrighter to Brazil. I’m going to Brazil in February. And I’ll be working with university students in programs to graduate as English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teachers.
Like, what! Is this real?
It must be because the timing of it is impeccable. Seriously impeccable. I’ve been hanging out Colombian-time style for the past two weeks. My two-week vacation turned into four waiting for my new teaching schedule at SENA to present itself. And it just so happens that I received that email at the same time as the Fulbright one today.
When I piece together all of the signs, as they say, I can string several together: A few weeks ago, I brought back my Portuguese workbook from my intensive language course at Vassar thinking I should brush up on it. I was just talking to my friend about what an honor Fulbright could be. Maybe I’ll apply again in the future, I thought. Just yesterday, I started applying to English teaching companies in São Paolo. Today, I crossed the street to the bilingual library singing Shimbalaiê by Maria Gadú, an artist I heard in Portuguese class senior year that inspired my love for the sultry sounds of Música Popular Brasileira (MPB).
Like, what! Is this real?
Yes, yes it is. I write that for you, dear reader, and for myself. It is in these unpredictable moments that I feel I must convince myself that this, indeed, is happening, and it is, in fact, very, very real. For the yoga and RumbiaTerapia classes tonight, and for the two ice creams that followed, I am, like, really grateful. For the always-inspiring, absolutely-endless support from the humans I cherish, I am so very grateful. For the bittersweet, happy tears that fall for you daddy, I’m still, and forever will be, grateful. In happy moments and in sad moments, I still find myself completely stunned at how this life has shown its blessings in some sort of magically-timed manner. For that, I am beyond grateful.