Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Life is Full of Surprises

In 2012, I decided to apply for a 2014 Fulbright ETA Scholarship to Guatemala. I had just gotten married, was about to graduate, and I wanted to give back to the country that meant so much to me. After an October interview and months of waiting, I was offered the opportunity to concurrently apply to Brazil. In preparation for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, Brazil had decided to increase their number of ETA grants from 30 to 120. Since I was still awaiting a response from Guatemala, I decided there was no harm in writing a cover letter explaining my interest in going to Brazil. However, as June 2013 rolled around, I was named an alternate for both Brazil and Guatemala. Trying to get my life in order, I began to look for a big girl job. By chance, I was offered a job that was grant funded. Within two months, I was informed the grant no longer existed and began the job search again. For those who have gone through the tedious task of applying for jobs, I do not have to go into how irritated I was. As I previously stated, life is full of surprises.

On the morning of December 4, 2013, I was informed there was an opening for an ETA grant to Brazil and I was the next name on the alternate list. If I was interested, the position was mine. I responded immediately, then realized I should talk to my husband about the opportunity. Of course he told me to accept the position and we would figure out the logistics as we went. Let's just say, the following month was a roller coaster of events.

Excited, I began to make lists of everything that needed to be done. Number 1 was to get a new passport. After getting married in 2012, I never applied for a name change renewal passport. However, the next day, my husband's birthday, we found out my grandma was very ill. On top of the stress of having just over two months to prepare for a nine month placement on the opposite side of the equator and not receiving any other information on the grant, the next two weeks were spent figuring out what was going on and getting my siblings to Michigan. (All three of them go to school out of state.)

After the memorial service, I was like a ping pong ball bouncing back and forth between everything that had to be done. I had accidentally sent a notarized copy of my marriage certificate to the passport agency and they only accepted the original document. Therefore, I had to overnight my marriage certificate to New Hampshire. Since my husband went back to school in January, right after Christmas was the only time we would be able to drive over three hours to Chicago to apply for our visas, wait three business days and pick them up before heading back home. (The consulate only accepts applications Monday thru Friday from 9am to 11am, and they can only be picked up from 12pm to 1pm.) In addition, I realized I should start studying Portuguese when my in-laws gave me several Portuguese language learning books for Christmas. It didn't help my confidence in learning Portuguese in time when a Brazilian friend listed of words/phrases and I thought  "oi" was day. ("hoy" is Spanish for day, and pronounced almost the same).

The day after Christmas my passport came and we were ready to drive to Chicago, only to realize I didn't have my Terms of Award. Since the program grew so quickly, the Commissioner was working quickly, but with an understaffed team. So, he asked me to call him. He explained that my placement was switched from the northern coast of Brazil to the southern most tip of Brazil. He was very helpful and informed me he was very impressed by my host professor. In addition, I received my Terms of Award. (Yet, now I will have to switch my plane ticket home.) So, at 5pm we had everything we needed for our visas except my husband's plane tickets, which we bought late that night.

The next morning was hectic. With little sleep, we drove to a metra train station to take a train into downtown Chicago. We decided to walk the mile or so from Union Station to the consulate in the cold (thankfully before the terrible winter storm that came two weeks later), only to be told the consulate does not accept bank money orders. Since my husband is not a Fulbright Student, we had to rush six or so blocks to find a nearby post office to get a USPS money order and make it back before 11am. We had less than an hour. Finally, a week later (due to New Years) we had our visas.

Now all that is left is to pack up our apartment and our bags...


Lastly, I would like to thank the other ETA's who helped me during December by forwarding me all of the documents/emails that contained Fulbright information and my co-ETA for taking the time to plan teaching ideas with me. Also, I would like to thank several friends who are from Brazil and have enlightened me with jokes about chocolate covered cockroaches and helpful tips about weather and things to do and see.

(My alma mater ran a short article about the award! See it here:

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