Preparing for a visiting fellowship abroad

     
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For emerging scholars who have worked in the university system for around 5-7 years, the option of applying for a visiting fellowship abroad can be particularly appealing.  It will enable you to immerse yourself in a new culture, while also being able to devote more time to your research.  The demands of an academic job mean that many scholars have to juggle the need to produce research with heavy administrative and teaching duties.  Since, for many scholars, our archival research is normally undertaken in the summer recess period, the opportunity to spend a sustained period of time purely undertaking archival research can provide the breathing space necessary to finish things that inevitably get put on the back-burner during term time.  For scholars whose primary archives in countries that are far away from where they reside, they rarely get the opportunity to undertake research every summer owing to the cost of travelling from their country of residence, and the associated accommodation charges.  Thus, a visiting fellowship would provide virtually uninterrupted access to archives on a regular basis, provide the chance to finish ongoing projects, and pursue publication options – all vital elements in the process of securing a promotion or an improvement to your status in the field.  If the chance to pursue a fellowship abroad presents itself, it could be an option worth considering for many reasons.  Before beginning the application process, there are issues that you need to consider, some of which are listed below.

Funding – how will you financially support yourself?

This is potentially one of the biggest issues you face when considering a fellowship overseas.  There are several options available in terms of applying for external funding.  It is worth remembering that the competition is extremely severe, and the success rate for applicants is notoriously low.  This is not a reflection on your ability or the quality of your research but is the reality of a market where there is a chronic lack of funds and too many applicants.  Based on this rather sad state of affairs, it might be advisable to plan for the possibility that you will not receive a prestigious research grant and explore whether you will be able to raise the funds from other sources to support yourself for the duration of your fellowship.  Your employer may be very supportive and offer you financial assistance.  Your sabbatical salary may be sufficient, or you may be able to get a series of smaller grants from organisations that will help defray the cost of things such as conference and workshop attendance.

Where will you go?

This is a very important decision when considering your application.  It is advisable to make your choice based on proximity to the archives you will be using, and also access to relevant expertise on the ground.  If there is a scholar working in your field who you could have contact with and discuss your research, this is particularly important.  They could provide some guidance during your period as a visiting fellow and give some suggestions on other collections cognate to your research that may be worth exploring.  They could also connect you with other scholars and local conferences or workshops, thus providing you with the chance to present your research more widely.  All these aspects would be very positive leads that need to be explored further. 

Are there specific visa requirements?

Even if you are not directly employed by your host university, the rules for staying in a country for a period longer than a traditional visit for tourism purposes are different.  Thus, you will need to check the rules carefully to obtain the relevant visa for your stay and gather the necessary materials in advance.  The rules for each country differ, but it would be a good idea to ensure that you have proof of sufficient finances (in the form of a bank statement or certificate) together with an invitation letter from your host institution stating the purpose of your visit.  It is likely that more materials would be necessary, so it is imperative that you begin the visa application process early so as to avoid any complications.  Furthermore, you may be required to obtain an official translation by a registered translator if you have official documents that are issued in a language that is different to the main language in the country that you will be visiting.  Make these enquiries in a timely manner, as the cost of this, together with the possibility that you will also need to obtain a private medical examination certificate as part of the visa process, is often time-consuming and costly.

Where will you live?

Accommodation is often a major concern for many scholars.  Some universities will offer a limited range of housing options for visiting fellows, with contracts provided that tailor to the length of the fellowship.  There are other options to rent in the private sector, including house shares or individual leasing.  Nevertheless, the cost of renting can vary according to the city or area that you are visiting, and the vast array of options available can be both confusing and daunting.  Online forums are often very helpful, and some exist for scholars who choose to rent their apartment, or a room in their apartment, for visiting scholars.  Most online forums strongly suggest not renting an apartment, house or room unless you have seen numerous photographs, and advise against sending large amounts of money electronically.  Thus, if you don’t manage to secure accommodation before you leave, it may be an idea to secure a temporary living arrangement, in the form of a budget bed and breakfast establishment if necessary, to ensure that you can view a property yourself, and make an informed choice before committing to any lease.

Finally…..

A visiting fellowship will provide you with many opportunities.  You can enhance your academic network through discussion with other colleagues, have sustained access to primary sources for a given period, and also experience a different culture.  In doing this, it will help to broaden your horizons and explore several different opportunities.  It can work to help you become not only a better and more-informed researcher, but also a teacher with a greater awareness of cultural diversity and ideas that you may not have previously considered.

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