The Fulbright Program is at a standstill

Fulbright is a student program that offers grants and research to the university. Photo Submitted by Fullbright

Every year, graduates apply to the Fulbright Student Program hoping to get a chance to conduct research, study and teach abroad; however due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many may not get the chance.

According to its website, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program “provides grants for individually designed study [and] research projects or for English Teaching Assistant Programs.”

The program is the “largest U.S. exchange program” that allows students the opportunity for international research. But COVID-19 has stifled that. 

“As the primary sponsor of the Fulbright Program, the United States Department of State’s highest priority is the health and safety of all participants,” William Westerman of the Fulbright Student Program said. 

Georgia State’s Fulbright Program is communicating with different chapters and partners for guidance on how to efficiently operate during the pandemic. 

“We are working closely with partner governments, Fulbright Commissions, U.S. Embassies, Fulbright cooperating agencies and U.S. and foreign host institutions to provide guidance and information to our exchange participants,” Westerman said. 

Though seeking advice, the program remains forced to halt for a while.

“The U.S. Department of State issued a global Level 4 Travel Advisory on March 19, which advised U.S. citizens to avoid international travel,” Westerman said. “Therefore, several components of the 2020-2021 Fulbright U.S. Student Program [are] delayed until after January 1, 2021,” Westerman said. 

Despite the setbacks, Westerman said there is a proposal to allow for new awards for students enrolled in a degree program at a foreign university.

The program currently awards approximately 2,000 grants annually in all fields of study and operates in more than 140 countries worldwide,” the website states. 

To maintain social distancing, Fulbright staff is working remotely and continue to work full-time, proceeding with normal business operations.

“Pre-Departure Orientations (PDOs), a robust set of meetings and workshops on the program for finalist grantees, are being held virtually for foreign and U.S. participants of the Fulbright Program this summer and fall,” Westerman said.

The Fulbright Program plans to resume operations on a country-by-country basis, only reopening plans with a specific country once the health warnings permit exchange.

“Under these conditions, U.S. Fulbrighters may be able to begin their exchanges after January 1, 2021, with exact start and end dates to be agreed in advance with the Fulbright Commission or U.S. Embassy Public Affairs Section in the host country,” Westerman said. 

Fulbright is taking new approaches, given the restrictions caused by the pandemic.

“The program’s approach also includes new online flexibilities for both U.S. and visiting Fulbright participants, and reflects spring 2020 developments on U.S. and other campuses,”  Westerman said. “More specific information on a country-by-country basis can be found from binational Fulbright Commissions or U.S. Embassies.”

While the Fulbright Program faces restrictions as a by-product of the COVID-19 pandemic, it will continue to accept applications until the Oct. 13 national deadline. However, when asked how many applications they have been receiving during the pandemic, Westerman gave no comment.