In the summer of 2016, I took my family on a trip to explore French cities with strong academic medical centers. My goal was to convince my primary school age child and husband that we could move to France to live for 3 - 6 (in my dreams 12) months. As a young adult, I had always wanted to live in a foreign country. At the time, I worked for a large Fortune 500 company that made consumer products. I begged all of my supervisors to give me an overseas assignment. I had a couple of week long foreign assignments but never got the big year long gig I had been hoping to receive.
My desire to live in a foreign country never ebbed so as I found myself closer to tenure in my current job as a college professor, I started exploring options. France was my first choice because I had taken French in college and high school and really wanted the chance to use it. So we explored Montpellier, Paris, and Caen. My son and husband loved Montpellier for it's size. It didn't feel as daunting to them as Paris. So I began working to search out contacts at Montpellier in hopes of finding a temporary project with a university I could pursue that would provide us an opportunity to relocate there. I am a nutrition researcher and focus a good bit of my research around the role of diet in preventing stroke. Montpellier had a large neurology (the division of medicine that treats people with strokes) division so it seemed like a great fit.
Shortly after I began that process, I received an email from the Fulbright Commission, asking if I had any interest in pursuing a Fulbright Scholars, a program of the United States Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, grant. I began to do some research and was disappointed that there would not be opportunities to pursue funding to work in Montpellier. However, I found a program called the US Scholar Program in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of France. This is a region of France in the Southwest on the Atlantic Ocean. There were many universities in this region but one stood out to me for the high degree of research funding and similarity of research to my own. That one was the University of Bordeaux.
The University of Bordeaux has a research center called Bordeaux Population Health. And much to my excitement, they had a FANTASTIC website. I was able to find people within the center who do research in line with my own interests. The people at Bordeaux were very responsive to my emails and we began to develop some ideas for research. I submitted a draft of what I might want to study if I were to go to Bordeaux. They agreed that the plan looked solid and also to help me pursue Fulbright funding.
Then I began the process of submitting the Fulbright application. I didn't know any faculty members at my own institution who had submitted this type of application which was a little frustrating. That aside, the Fulbright website had great documentation so I was able to muddle through the application. I say muddle not because the process was challenging in and of it self, but because my own fears would at times seize me, making writing very difficult. I was so afraid I would fail. I had reached out to the people at Fulbright and the University of Bordeaux and I didn't want to disappoint them. In addition, I had told many people back at my home institution (the University of Alabama at Birmingham) that I was submitting the application. I was going to be so embarrassed if I didn't get it.
Fears aside, I was able to get it submitted in August of 2016, just months after I had visited France. After receiving word my application was received, I waited. Four months later, I received an email from the Europe/Eurasia Fulbright team in January of 2017 and my heart skipped a beat. I opened the attachment and my heart fell, I did not receive the award. The letter said that should additional funding become available, I might still have a chance a receiving funding. In other words, I was waitlisted. So I stood up tall, took a deep breath, and told my collaborators in Bordeaux and colleagues in Birmingham that I had not received the award. My greatest fear throughout this process had been realized, I wasn't funded. Turns out the actual rejection wasn't nearly as bad as I had feared. Good things actually came just from the process of submitting the application. The folks in Bordeaux expressed interest in still having me visit as a research scholar which helped make the sour taste of the rejection a little sweeter.
The winter passed and in April another email came from the Europe/Eurasia Fulbright team and this time I WAS FUNDED!!!!! I was so excited, I danced around the office (which is normal for me). I printed off the letter and raced home to my husband and literally threw the letter in his lap. He looked at me like I was a crazy person (which is also normal) and then read the letter. He too was excited for me in his own reserved, engineer way. He was smiling from ear to ear and asked how I would like to celebrate. This wasn't exactly like me dancing around my office or skipping to my car but, for him, it was pretty extravagant reaction just the same.
So now here I am. It is December 13, 2017 and I am really going to Bordeaux with my family in a couple of weeks. This blog will explore all of my adventures in learning a new research system and living in a new city. I can't wait to share with you all of my fun new adventures!