“What surprised me most was how transformative the application process can be with every revision,” Lihan Yao recounts of his time applying for the Fulbright scholarship this past year. “With each new draft,” Lihan elaborates, “I developed a deeper understanding of what I intended to accomplish with my project.” Lihan was awarded the Fulbright Research Fellowship to study math at the Renyi Institute in Hungary for the 2015-2016 academic year.

But living in Hungary isn’t going to be an entirely new experience for Lihan, who studied math in Budapest during the summer of 2014 with the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics, a prestigious international program for American undergraduates.

To get ready for his travels to Hungary this time around, Lihan is dedicating this summer to improving his Hungarian language skills and ironing out some last-minute logistics. His experience living abroad, however, has shown him that one can’t prepare for everything. Lihan points out that “the intrinsic challenge to living abroad is precisely its unpredictability.” It’s important to stay flexible as new situations arise.

Lihan takes his role as a cultural ambassador for the United States seriously, and looks forward to strolling around Buda (the west side of Budapest) on sunny days, making meaningful connections with his European colleagues but also people outside of work, and expects to travel Europe during breaks.

When asked what advice he would offer students interested in applying for a Fulbright, Lihan recommended the following:

  1. Get as much advice as possible. The application process is an arduous one, so talk to your professors, get advice from Rebecca Stark-Gendrano (at the Office for Prestigious Awards and Fellowships), and rely on your friends. Everyone will have something new and valuable to offer an applicant.
  2. Maintain a strong voice throughout your Personal Statement and Statement of Grant Purpose so that the application committee gets a sense of your personality.
  3. Make even the smallest improvements you can on your essays and applications. Even minor mistakes can work against you when the competition is so steep.

As a mathematician interested in pursuing a doctorate degree, Lihan is excited to learn from his Hungarian teachers about important mathematical techniques and hopes to carry the unique problem solving styles wherever he goes in the future. Upon his return, Lihan wants to “give something back to the Fordham math department, since the faculty there first showed me the tremendous opportunities within the mathematical world.”