John Fahey

NISO: What is your path to a Fulbright Grant?

JF: I have had a somewhat unusual trip to the Fulbright.  I decided to study the Austro-Hungarian Empire when I was an undergraduate and later focused in on how the Austro-Hungarian military interacted with the civilian population.  While preparing for my prelims at Purdue, I received notification that I would deploy to Kandahar, Afghanistan in August 2012.  I was a member of the Indiana National Guard at the time, so it's not that weird. 

During my deployment, I became very interested in how military bases interact with the surrounding urban areas and civilian population.  Kandahar Air Field is a huge base, and many of the Afghans who live by it make their livings working for, supplying, supporting, securing, or attacking it.  I wanted to study a similar kind of situation in Austro-Hungarian history, and while I was still in Afghanistan I found Przemysl, an Austro-Hungarian fortress complex near what was then the Austro-Russian border.  Przemysl was the largest Austro-Hungarian fortified area from the 1880s until 1915.  This was a perfect test case to look at how military spending influences urban development.  Now I just had to get to Poland. 

NISO: What did you do when you returned to Purdue from Afghanistan? 

JF: I wrote my prospectus and did some teaching, but had one major hurdle to getting to Poland - I didn't speak Polish.  So, I spent the summer in an intensive Polish language course at ASU.  I then moved to Krakow, Poland,   to study Polish at Jagiellonian University for the next academic year. While my focus was on learning the difficult, but interesting and beautiful Polish language, I also did some initial research, including a week at archives in Budapest and wrote a research paper, which will be one of my dissertation chapters. 

NISO: You’re still not on the Fulbright grant in your story, right?

JF: Right. I prepared my application during the that time and received the Fulbright grant in the spring of 2015. I’ve had a research interlude that took place after I won the Fulbright, but before it started. I went to Vienna, Austria thanks to Purdue's Global Synergy Grant, to study the Imperial perspective - records from the Austro-Hungarian military, and central administration.  I've been going through Austro-Hungarian army records, orders, and reports on civilian activity in Przemysl. 

And to answer your question - the Fulbright will kick in in September.  It will enable me to go to Przemysl and live there about nine months while I hit up the local perspective - city records, local newspapers, diaries, memoirs, local historians, etc.  This fusion of local and imperial perspectives is the heart of my project. 

NISO: How did you make your affiliation?

JF: Well, I was initially interested in just the archive, so I e-mailed the State Archives in Przemysl.  It turns out they can't host, so the archive director pointed me to the local college - the East European State Higher School (Państwowa Wyższa Szkoła Wschodnioeuropejska w Przemyslu, PWSW for short).  I just e-mailed their history department, which got back to me shortly with a letter of invitation. They should be quite helpful. Their history department has a couple of people who work on local or regional history.

I will also do a fair bit of English teaching and cultural outreach. PWSW asked me to teach an English speaking class, so that will take a few hours a week. This is not standard for a Fulbright. In return, they'll tutor me with Polish and give me assistance with translation as well.  I think it's a good deal that will help me integrate into the local academic community.

NISO: What is your plan for your Fulbright research in Poland?

JF: Hit the archives as much as I can. Przemysl features a branch of the Polish National Archives and also resources in museums - one of which has a newspaper archive.  Finally, there are a number of local history and reenactment groups that I hope to get involved with. 

NISO: Please send us pictures of the reenactments! 

JF: I’ll be sure to.  I’ll have to see if I can talk myself into buying a uniform and heading out into the woods with those guys.  

NISO: You’re married and your family is with you. What is the plan? 

JF: We have three small boys (ages 4, 2, and 9 months).  They're all tagging along.  My wife was a high school physics teacher and loves teaching - we'll do conversation tables and similar outreach while we're in Przemysl. 

Finally, when I'm not teaching, researching, or being a dad, I'll be plenty busy writing. I've got to chip away at my dissertation, and already have been accepted to four academic conferences.  

NISO: What is one thing a faculty member did for you that helped you with this application? 

JF: My advisers here at Purdue have been great - lots of encouragement, prompt submissions of letters, and such.  In addition, Dr. Steven Batayden who directed ASU's Critical Language Institute offered to read, review, and discuss my applications for the Fulbright and Boren Awards.  That summer I spent around four hours discussing my applications and academic interests and goals with him.  He gave me extremely useful feedback, and really improved my application, as well as helped me to articulate what my intellectual goals and strengths are.    

NISO: What is one thing NISO did with you that helped you with this application? 

JF: NISO was helpful through the whole process – I have lost count of how many times they worked with me while I was writing the application – but I think they really excelled in putting together a practice interview for me.  We did the interview via Skype a couple of days before I interviewed as a finalist with the Polish Fulbright committee.  NISO's questions were great – tough and interesting.  As it turned out, NISO's interview was way harder than the Fulbright committee's.  

NISO: Do you have any tips for applicants? 

JF:  I'll hit a minor point first - if you want to get a Fulbright (or Boren or other national award), consider your odds.  England, France, and Japan have hundreds of applicants for a dozen or so slots.  By way of contrast, countries like Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, or Nigeria have only twenty or thirty applicants for a dozen or so slots.  Be creative and see if you fit a lesser known country into your research plan.  With any luck, you can get in on an academic growth field. 

That said, I think the main thing is to keep in mind that there is no “typical” Fulbright applicant.  I'm from rural Utah, have had good but never fantastic grades, have only taken a year of Polish, am married and have three children, and took a year off from PhD work to go to Afghanistan. I still received a Fulbright.  I am extremely grateful to the Fulbright commission.  Also, I'm extremely grateful to my wife, who for some reason is okay with moving to the Polish-Ukrainian border with three kids.  She's the real hero here.  Apply, apply creatively, and if you're married, make sure your spouse is good with the plan first.  

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