Tag Archives: lifehack

How to win a Fulbright Scholarship (A.K.A How to score a fully funded, employer approved adventure to study whatever you want where ever you choose.)

The world is your oyster

The world is your oyster

Most people think that you need to be a 4.0 student to get a Fulbright. Not true.  You don’t even have to be a student!  (I was neither.)  You just need to be passionate enough about 1) researching your cause and 2) being an ambassador for America to convince the Fulbright committee that 1) you are worth funding and 2) will make good use of your time abroad. In hopes of encouraging a more diverse group of people to apply, I offer up my top 10 tips for potential applicants. I only have a sample size of one, so take them with a grain of salt.

1) Pick a topic of great interest to both the US and Host governments.

-Grant writing 101: You are asking these governments for money. Pick something that they care about.

-I chose “The effect of Globalization on the Italian Textile and Fashion Industries.” Italy’s family textile businesses are getting decimated by low-cost, Asian imports. The Italian government wants to know how to make those businesses more competitive. Guess who else is worried about low-cost, Asian imports? You got it, Uncle Sam.

2) Pick a relevant and timely topic.

-It’s better work on something new and exciting than to pick a topic that’s been beaten to death.

-“Globalization” was about as hot as it gets in 2006. Another girl in my class studied “the Slow Food Movement.” The Italian Fulbright committee was basically asking for her autograph.

3) Pick a topic that is personally relevant.

-You need to convince the admissions committee that you are PASSIONATE about whatever it is you propose to study, be it textiles or sea snails. Since there are no deliverables attached to the funding, the committee needs to know that you are going to follow through on your work.

-I talked about seeing Italian textiles manufactured first hand by a family business while I studied abroad in Siena back in college. I also showed my commitment to the garment industry by working an internship at Dolce & Gabbana.

4) Pick a topic that leverages your unique skills.

-Are the skills you have particularly relevant for the task on which you propose to work? They should be.

-I studied industrial and competitive dynamics 80hrs a week for two years straight on Wall Street.

5) Bring skills that aren’t available in the host country.

-Similar to #4, except that not only are you qualified for the job at hand, no one else in the host country can tackle the problem.

-Italy doesn’t have a crazy culture of excessive work, so there are very few people there that have spent 80hrs a week trying to understand why some companies succeed and others fail.

6) Bring back unique skills that benefit the US.

-Uncle Sam is footing at least half the bill for you trip, so make sure he is getting something out of the deal (in addition to all of the good will you are going to create!)

-As mentioned in #1, I brought back a better understanding of how small and medium sized businesses can compete with low cost foreign competition. I’m putting it into practice right now by starting my own business.

7) Secure as many solid affiliations as possible.

-Nine months is NOT a lot of time to produce anything meaningful, especially when you are air dropped into a foreign culture/language you may know nothing about and may not function “efficiently” in the first place. Fulbright wants to know what you are going to hit the ground running. To do so you are going to need some support/infrastructure.

-Most people have some connections from their current university or with their professors from study abroad. I didn’t have either so I just cold emailed over 75 professors at business schools all over Italy. I included examples of my work and offered to work on their projects for free. I ended up with my own office (and wonderful secretary) in the best business school in the country.

8) Use every possible question, no matter how small, to convey the value you will bring. Every word counts.

-This is obvious.

-I think I wrote entire paragraphs in one line spaces.

9) Read everything on the website and talk to past grantees.

-You can learn a lot by looking at who has gotten grants for what in the past. Talking to past grantees will give you an idea of what to expect.

-I definitely got help from my buddy who was a Fulbright.

10) Stick it out.

-The application process can be boring and tedious and easy to blow off. Don’t blow it off. It’s worth it. You’ll thank me later. I promise.

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Lifehack: Free* Wireless at Starbucks

Starbucks logo
Image via Wikipedia

Given that times  are tough, I thought I might pass along a little lifehack I learned while working on my Fulbright project out of the cafe’s of NYC: How to get Free Wireless at Starbucks.

I put the Lifehack upfront for everyone’s benefit.  The story about Job and Identity in America and my regular interactions with people minutes after they’ve lost their jobs, the real point of this post, is below.

Lifehack:

1) Go to Starbucks and and put $10 on a Starbucks card.

2) Go online and register yourself with Starbucks and AT&T.

3) Spend a cent at least once a month to receive two consecutive hours of internet free every day*.

*I seem to have no limit on my wi-fi usage so this deal might be even better than advertised.  Here’s  eHow‘s instructions.

Story:

Having worked out of various NYC cafes for much of the past year, I have witnessed firsthand the impact of the recession on the city’s workforce.  When I came to NYC from Milano for a couple of weeks this fall, the nicest Manhattan cafes were nearly empty at 11am (Brooklyn cafes have quite a few stroller-bearing regulars).  Nowadays, it’s a melee for the seat sandwiched between the Starbucks bathroom and the homeless guy that lives across from it.  Don’t even think about going to the nice places anymore, any establishment with half a business person at the helm has long ago disabled wi-fi and put locks on the power outlets.

I have frequently been the first person that people talk to after they’ve been escorted  from their office.   I can pick ’em out from a block away through Starbuck’s big glass windows.   The progression of events looks something like this:

1) Armed with their 3 year old mac and wearing a pant suit for the last time for at least a few months, they stumble into their local Starbucks around 11am.

2) Shocked that the place is not empty, they get into line for their $5 latte.  By the time they reach the counter, they realize for the first time that the cafe  au lait is 60% cheaper.   They purchase the latter and meander into the center of the Bucks, pondering their new found frugality.

3) After being pushed to and fro by the steady flow of traffic emanating from the door, they move to my corner of the store in search of a safer vantage point from which to pick off a table.  I tell them that there is enough room for two at my table for six.  They smile sheepishly and thank me for my generosity.  They’ve never spoken to anyone besides their co-workers in a Starbucks.

4) They sit down, open up their mac, and ask me if i have wireless.  I explain the situation (instructions below*).  They frown, look down at their empty blackberry, and open up their resume.

Crazy.  Less than an hour before these people were walking out of HR shielding their eyes from the pity of remaining coworkers, sneaking back through the kitchen to their desk, futily trying to download their personal contacts, gathering their lucites, and sneaking back through the kitchen and out of the office where they spent the past four years doing whatever they did.

I applaud the go get ’em-ness of going straight into the job search, but man, did anyone ever consider that it might be nice, healthy even, to take a few minutes just to think? To take a walk by the water.  To call your mom.  To sit in the park on this sunny day.  Wow.

This post was not meant to poke fun at or ridicule people affected by the downturn, only to tell their story.  The difference between Job and Identity in America is virtually indistinguishable and recent events have a lot of people soul searching.  If you see someone that fits the bill that I just described, give them a pat on the back and tell them it’s going to be OK.  It will be.

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Be Accessible (Plus 4 other lessons learned from successful VCs and Entrepreneurs)

Over the past year of interviewing CEOs and venture capitalists, I noticed an interesting, potentially counter intuitive trend: some of the most successful people are also the most accessible.

It’s counter intuitive because one would think that as someone becomes more famous/important/successful, the importance and number of people calling on that person would rise, leaving no space for the “average” person in their busy lives.

My experience completely contradicts this.  Brad Feld sits on half a dozen boards, writes three blog posts a day and is always training for a marathon and yet he took the time to give me several interesting ideas for my Fulbright research.  Fred Wilson looks at between 5-10 bplans a day, blogs/microblogs/audioblogs incessantly, and seems to constantly be hanging out with his kids during any spare moment, and yet finds time to comment on my blog, circulation circa 60.  Peter Barris had to cancel our first meeting because he had to smooth talk some foreign diplomat into letting his company launch a satellite into space, but he made absolutely sure to follow up with me.  The list of amazing people i’m indebted to goes on and on.  Thank you so much.

Why do successful people make the time?  I think there are a couple of reasons:

1)  Successful people are open to opportunity. You never know where it is going to come from, so you’ve got to keep your ears open.  If you tune people out with a superficial filter-just because they aren’t already important, famous, or powerful- then you are never going to catch the superstars of tomorrow.

2) Successful people pay Karma forward. I’m not even being spiritual here.  If you give someone an opportunity, even if they don’t end up benefiting you immediately, they will remember that you helped them and will go out of their way to help you down the line.

3) Successful people are just plain efficient. Who in gods name is typing blog posts from the treadmill anyway?  Further support for the maxim “If you need something done, give it to the busiest person you know.”  Lord knows this has held true in my own life.

4) Successful people are nice. These people are people too.  If you are nice and are talking about something they are interested in, why wouldn’t they want to talk to you?

Note: I’m not saying that everyone should start harassing the most famous people they can think of, but I am saying that anyone can contribute to anyone else’s life.  There’s no reason to be afraid to approach someone if you have their best interests in mind.  It pays to be good.

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