I didn’t hear about the Fulbright program until the Fall of my senior year, when discussing scholarships with my University’s Global Initiatives Advisor. I looked further into the program and was in awe of its prestige. I thought it would be good for my career to apply. I wanted to work with a brilliant professor studying mental health and suicidality in the Christian and Yoruba community. At the end of my study, I wanted to develop a culturally sensitive risk assessment designed to be used in the church and other predominantly Christian communities.

So, I applied a first time- and was rejected.

However, I didn’t give up, I had a passion for why I study suicide, and didn’t want to give up on my dream of working abroad. I emphasized the importance of conveying my passion for my research in my proposal, and had my letter writers emphasize it in their recommendations.

So, I applied a second time--and I was rejected.

I was stumped. I had the passion and intellect down, but I was clearly missing something. I carefully pondered the true reasons why I wanted to research abroad, and compared it to the Fulbright mission.

I wanted to be able to serve my new community by using my talents to bring awareness of mental health to Nigeria. I wanted to be able to work and volunteer in a land different from my own as a US cultural ambassador. I wanted to be able to learn, grow, and enhance my communication skills with those from all over the world.

I made sure to center that in my application. I talked to several individuals from Nigeria, the host country I applied to, and made sure my project lined up with their culture. I discussed the various ways in which I can contribute to the community with my talents and intellect, and most importantly, discussed ways in which I can have fun with other Nigerians while abroad.

I made sure to have the insight I learned reflect in my application, and I once again had my letter writers emphasize this in their recommendations.

So, I applied a third time--and was named a finalist.

My essays and project evolved as I applied over the years, which no doubt helped my application. As I grew more mature, I realized what was feasible and what wasn’t, and was more readily able to take the advice of those senior to me.

However, I think I won on the third time around because I was finally able to communicate the value and life lessons the Fulbright will bring to myself and my new community.

You see, I applied three times for the opportunity to sing and dance with those both similar and different than me. I applied three times to practice being inclusive and tolerant, and form a stronger sense of identity. I applied three times for the chance to grow and develop as a person, and enhance my communication skills in the process.

While applying to the Fulbright over the years, I realized that I not only wanted to carry out my project I’m so passionate about. I wanted to serve, grow, and represent my country in a way few people could.

That’s how I finally #WonAFulbright.

Kala is a Fulbright US Student to Nigeria for the 2018-2019 school year. She hopes to become a leading researcher in the field of suicidality and a university president one day. When she is not conducting research, she enjoys writing reading, and running. You can find her at whereintheworldiskala.com