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Early termination of Fulbright study grant – what do I do??


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Hi, everyone. So, pretty much what the title says – I'm a current grad student in Taiwan on a Fulbright grant, and I have been absolutely miserable here basically since I arrived last August. The thought of leaving has always been on my mind, but with Taiwan's recent (and first) Covid lockdown starting, my depression has gotten way worse, and I don't know how seriously I should consider going back home, if at all. I have existing mental health concerns and can definitely tell when I'm going down a dark path. I've started therapy, but I don't think it'll be enough to truly help me get back on track since I've felt like this for so long.

A bit of background. I completed undergrad last summer and came pretty much straight here. My bachelor's degrees are in journalism and international studies, and I'm getting an MA in international communications now. I really thought this experience would be my "academic awakening" where I discover my true passion and throw myself entirely into academia, which is really something I've always wanted. Instead, my program is full of busywork and seemingly pointless term paper assignments. Also, I'm not sure if this is normal for an MA program, but most of our time is spent making PPT presentations on assigned readings to teach the rest of the class. The professors hardly do any actual lecturing, and it's the same thing every week for almost every one of my courses.  

All in all, I'm just miserable here academically, socially, and personally. Sadly, though, I don't have much of an opportunity waiting for me back home because I have nowhere to live and no job lined up. I have a support network, but I'd definitely have to take out loans and take on a much more unstable lifestyle until I get things in order. I have good connections too, so I'd like to think getting some sort of job wouldn't be too difficult if I do commit. I'm 23 and realize that holding out one more year to finish this degree is the logical thing to do, but I'm finding it harder to justify every week. 

Has anyone been in a similar situation? I've looked around and haven't found many posts about dropping a study grant, so I'd love any advice because I really am spiraling and sitting down to weigh the pros and cons just isn't helping anymore. Thank you!

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Academia is never worth jeopardizing your mental health, despite what people might tell you. There's no shame in prioritizing your health. That said, I worry about whether or not you have a real back-up plan, or whether you'd be even worse off coming back to no job, no housing, etc.. If you had a stable place to go, I'd be 100% on board with you leaving, no questions asked, but you need to have a plan before coming back. I'd figure out the feasibility of getting things in order before making the decision — how much debt would you go into? What types of jobs would you potentially be able to apply for and get soon after coming back? Are there any financial implications for stopping the Fulbright early? Some fellowships have rules that require you to pay back some or all of your stipend if you terminate early, so look into whether or not you'd need a medical professional to vouch for you in order to not owe anyone your money back.

Fulbright is still a one year program, yes? If so, you come back in a couple months anyway, so staying might make the most financial sense if it won't endanger you mentally to do so. If it will endanger you, focus all your energy on sorting out living arrangements over the next couple weeks and come back. You'll need a place to go, a few months of living expenses (or somewhere to stay for free for a bit), and preferably an idea of the types of jobs you'll be applying for in whatever area you're relocating to.

I also recommend making this decision with your therapist, not based on anything I or anyone else on here says.

P.S. Academia is a lot of busywork, especially at the MA stage, so I think this (unfortunately) did give you a real look at academia. It's not for everyone, and can be very depressing and isolating at times. I've never found the coursework in grad school helpful — it's more a hurdle to get through.

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