Fulbright scholarships are named after former Senator J. William Fulbright. Fulbright studied as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University in England and believed more people should be able to study abroad. An opportunity presented itself after the Second World War when the US wanted to sell military equipment that it had deployed across the globe. Money raised from the sale of tanks and the like stayed in the country where the cash was raised and e.g. was used to send Belgian students to the US and American students to Belgium.
Today there are some 150 Fulbright Commissions around the globe. In most cases these are embassy-run programmes. In most European countries the commissions are run as independent not-for-profit organisations. Here in Belgium the commission that is housed in the Royal Library in Brussels is funded by the US and Belgian governments, but also relies heavily on private donations.
Erica Lutes, the Director of the Fulbright Commission for Belgium and Luxembourg: "We have a two-fold role: we provide scholarships for MA level studies and higher both for Americans wishing to study in Belgium and for Belgians wanting to study in the US. In addition my colleague Matt Weisbard is on hand to try and answer any questions you may have about all forms of schooling in the US."
You can reach Matt Weisbard on 02 519 57 72.
Erica Lutes: "Applying for a Fulbright scholarship is easy and can be done via the internet. You will have to complete a 15-page application with a project proposal and several recommendations."
In Belgium the Commission helps in providing funding for Belgians to study in the US. It doesn't help to get you into a particular school, but advice is available.
"Applicants should do their homework and find out which is the best school for their purpose. It is up to them to secure a place."
Belgians have been very successful in getting into top US universities: New York University, Stanford University, the University of Illinois, Columbia University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Erica believes Belgians are often held back by unneeded modesty and urges them to do a better job at selling themselves. Because of the difference in mentality talks she gives at Belgian universities often end in her handing out tips on how to make a better CV!
Erica also urges applicants to make sure they apply to the right university: "Everybody wants to go to Harvard, but this isn't necessarily the best place for everybody! Do your homework!"
Last academic year 1,297 Americans secured a Fulbright scholarship to study in Belgium. The number of Belgians studying in the US rose to 948, the highest level this century. The number of students took a nosedive after the 9/11 attacks, but has now rebounded. President Obama may not be popular at home; abroad he is still instrumental in encouraging people to travel to the US. The US is the 5th study abroad destination for Belgian students following France, the UK, the Netherlands and Germany. 42% of Belgian students are undergraduates; 31% are graduates.
Today the Fulbright Commission is also making a special effort to attract students from the ethnic minorities.
The average Fulbright scholarship for Belgians studying in the US is $15,000. Tuition fees in the US may be high and the scholarship probably won't cover the entire amount. Additional funding may be available from Rotary clubs and study loans are available from the Fernand Lazard Foundation.
Erica also points to an important difference between Europe and the US. In Europe people usually do all their studies in one go, while in the US Americans will often complete a BA and then work for a while before returning to school to complete their studies with an MA. Erica's advice is clear: "If you don't get the finances sorted at 22, don't worry. In the US it’s quite customary for people to work for a while and then return to school. It could be a solution for a lot of European students too!"