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Q & A with a Fulbrighter

Michael Engle, Fulbright recipient Michael Engle graduated from Seaver in 2006 with a double major in Psychology and Philosophy.  He received a Fulbright grant to travel to Nepal to pursue original research on how Tibetan monks train attention in young children. Engle plans to continue to explore how meditation and Eastern practices related to the life of the mind may shed light on attention disorders of youth in the U.S.  Upon his return he plans to pursue graduate study. He also shared some of his impressions of the Fulbright program with us.

Q. Have you found the experience to be rewarding, beneficial and relevant or have you found that it has not been what you would have hoped?

A. The whole experience here has been amazing. One thing that I think made it so good is that I wasn't coming here just to do the Fulbright. If I was doing that, it might have been a little less fulfilling. I've been wanting to come to Nepal for some time because of the large Tibetan Buddhist community here. I've been able to dig into some relationships with many people from the community and that in itself has been rewarding. I'm learning Tibetan, and I'll be able to talk to a lot of my teachers without a translator soon. That is rewarding.

Q. Tell us about your research.

A. The research is one aspect that makes this a great experience. It's been very nice to design a project like this, and then actually carry it out. Carrying it out includes a lot of adjustments and time spent redesigning, especially in a place like Nepal where things move a lot slower and people don't really keep their appointments. You have to learn to be flexible and go with the flow. I've learned a lot about the Tibetan monastic tradition and education within the monasteries, and really made a lot of progress on answering my initial research question. Of course, the research is preliminary. I think all people need to keep that in mind before they do a Fulbright grant. Unless you're an expert on the subject before hand, there is a lot of time spent getting into the swing of things. You are more or less learning from the ground up. I think this happens when you begin to go in depth in any area of knowledge. You begin thinking that you know something, but the more you start to dig, the deeper you realize it goes. I know one of my friends whose research was translating Tibetan Buddhist philosophical texts felt the same way. He had studied them at his university back at home, but there is such a wealth in the tradition, that when he left after translating for 10 months straight he felt like he was just scratching the surface. To you and me he would seem like an expert, but there is still a lot of information that he could learn. So in a sense I feel like the research is very preliminary. For me it has been as much of a learning experience about doing research as it has been about learning what I hoped to learn. If that makes any sense.

Q. Has your research followed the outline in your proposal or did you need to alter what you were doing based on what you found in Nepal?

A. My research is very different from the proposal I wrote. I was overzealous in my proposal. I said I would do a lot of things that I haven't gotten near to doing. I know that one of the main jobs of the director of the program is to review the applications and decide whether they are plausible or not, but I don't know if an overzealous proposal is frowned upon.

Q. There are two required presentations.  What will the final presentation include?

A. The final presentation is a requirement of the grant. It's about 30 to 40 minutes long. Fulbright board members, the director of Fulbright Nepal, as well as Fulbright staff and anyone else who wants to come is there.

Q. What is your housing like and how was that arranged?

A. As far as housing, you can figure it out yourself or the Fulbright office will help you. They can really set you up with most anything when you get here, and are a very helpful resource.

Q. What does it mean to be Fulbrighter?

A. That's a funny question. I'm not sure what it means, or how to answer it. Probably something along the lines of international exchange for mutual understanding of different cultures. I think it says something like that in the mission statement. I think the grants at my level are given more to grow people than to make experts in a field. Fulbright also gives grants to professors and PhD level applicants, but for the students with just a BA, the purpose is not to do a "class A" research project that is published in a journal and changes the world. I think they realize that this is, for most of us, the first time doing any thing like this, and although we learn a lot about the field, I don't think that we are at the top of the field by any means.

Q. What advice do you have for Fulbright applicants?

A. Maybe some good advice for a potential candidate is to choose a place as well as a project, and don't focus only on the project. I chose Nepal then thought of a project I would like to do here. It might be a good idea to think of what it's really going to be like living in the place you choose for 10 months and thinking about what you could do besides your research. Of course, the research can and will be the main focus of your time and energy, but if there is nothing else to do or you don't like the place, then unless you really, really like the research, you'll probably get burnt out. It's good to have some balance in life, and try to think of that when you apply for your research