Jessica Reilly in Honduras during her fellowship studying the effects of climate change along the coasts of Mexico and Central America (2015-2017)



What would you do with two years to study anything in the world?

The ultimate aim of the ICWA fellowship program is to cultivate deep expertise in foreign countries and cultures. We achieve that by supporting fellows over two-year periods during which they carry out immersive programs of self-designed, independent study abroad. An ICWA fellowship represents a generous investment in a fellow’s future. 

ICWA’s mission is to identify and cultivate rare potential, so we are looking for promise, curiosity and enthusiasm in our candidates. We consider whether a candidate is ready for the rapid personal growth the fellowship makes possible. Candidates with a passion for their project country and who are sufficiently prepared to take advantage of the opportunity we offer have the best chance of being awarded an ICWA fellowship. Extensive professional experience in the proposed area is not always necessary; fellowships are aimed at developing advanced knowledge and professional skills, not necessarily awarding research or reporting opportunities to those who already possess them.

Strong candidates generally propose compelling fellowship topics. Given our interest in achieving wide geographic distribution over time, we generally are less inclined to select projects in countries where we currently or very recently have had fellows. We are naturally drawn to areas of the world and topics that are less well understood and are relevant to the United States. Candidates are encouraged to browse ICWA’s archives to see the kind of projects that the institute has supported.


Language Skills

We expect candidates to have the necessary language skills to allow to them to carry out their proposed project. Candidates proposing to go to China, Russia, Indonesia, India or Brazil, for example, should have proficiency in Chinese, Russian, Bahasa, Hindi (or another relevant language) or Portuguese. It is too costly and time consuming to start from scratch, so we expect enough language proficiency for candidates to be able to function in the local language within a few months of arriving in the country. Exceptions have been made for unusual languages or situations, but they are rare.

Criteria for Consideration

Candidates must be under 36 years of age at the time of the due date for the initial letter of interest.

U.S. citizenship is not a requirement, but candidates must show strong and credible ties to U.S. society. A proposed fellowship must hold the promise of enriching public life in the United States by enhancing the understanding of foreign countries, cultures and trends. Public service, social activism or contribution to wider understanding in the United States is our ultimate purpose, from a belief that the public can benefit from the knowledge and wisdom our fellows acquire.


While we expect candidates to design projects of topical interest, fellowships are not aimed at covering news events. We do not send fellows into war zones, or places where intense security concerns prevent them from interacting with the local populace.

Fellowships are not scholarships. We do not support degree programs at universities, the writing of books or research projects aimed at answering specific questions in a particular academic discipline.

Applicants must have excellent written and spoken English-language skills and must have completed the current phase of their formal education. We do not accept applications from currently enrolled undergraduate students.


Fellows are required to write monthly newsletters made available through our website to institute members and other interested parties, including family, friends and professional associates of the fellows. While the institute has funded and will continue to fund artists, performers and others who find various ways to participate in the societies they study, the immediate fruits of fellows’ learning are communicated principally through writing. Fellows should be prepared to share their experience with a general, well-educated audience, and not only with specialists in their fields. Fellows work closely with the executive director, who serves as writing coach, editor and mentor.

While many fellows go on to pursue political or social causes at home and abroad, the purpose of a fellowship is to learn about other societies, not to change them. Fellows are not permitted to engage in overtly political activities during their fellowships. The institute does not accept any government funds. Fellows must preserve that independence in letter and in spirit.

Fellows should not expect to return to the United States during the two years of their fellowships. ICWA fellowships are immersive; a vital component of the fellowship experience is remaining, without interruption, in the area of study for the duration of a fellowship.


The institute provides full financial support for its fellows and their immediate, accompanying families. “Full financial support” does not mean that ICWA provides a salary or stipend to its fellows.  Rather, the institute provides them with sufficient funding to cover their expenses, enabling them to fulfill the purposes of the fellowship and allowing them and their families (if accompanying the fellowship) to live in good health and reasonable comfort.  “Full financial support” also does not mean unlimited financial support; fellows are expected to live and spend modestly.

Fellowship Opportunities

Donors’ Fellowship
The generous support received from contributors enables ICWA to periodically appoint a Donors’ Fellow every two years. Topics and areas of study are unrestricted.

Fellows with appropriate topics may receive support from specially endowed funds, including:

John Miller Musser Memorial Forest & Society Fellowships offer people with graduate degrees in forestry or forest-related specialities an opportunity to broaden their understanding of the relationship of forest-resource problems to humans, including policy-makers, environmentalists, farmers, scientists and forest-product industrialists.

John O. Crane Memorial Fellowships provide support for study in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.


Those interested in applying for an Institute of Current World Affairs Fellowship should send an initial Letter of Interest and a resume or CV in English to the institute via email. (Post is also accepted.)

In your letter of interest, tell us what you would do if you had a two-year, self-designed fellowship overseas and why you’re the right person to carry it out. There is no fixed length for the letter of interest. Take the space that you need to make a cogent case for yourself. Please indicate your age, as applicants must be under the age of 36 at the time that the letter of interest is due.

Selected fellows are expected to depart for their fellowships within six months of their selection.

This is a competitive process. The strongest applicants will be invited to submit a more detailed application.

The institute weighs all proposals with no restrictions on topics or regions. However, 2019 applicants are especially encouraged to propose examining any of the following topics:

Threats to peace and security

Rights and lives of marginalized people and societies

Environment, climate change, sustainability and conservation

Culture and society (literature, art, film, etc.)

Post-conflict societies

The effects of technology and innovation on society

Youth and activism


And the following regions and countries:

South America (especially Venezuela and Brazil)



Eurasia (especially Russia, Ukraine, Central Asia)

Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Eritrea)



Applications for December 2019 appointment are due June 15, 2019.

We are unable to respond to all applications, but will certainly answer those that fit our fellowship requirements.

For applications via post: 
Institute of Current World Affairs
1779 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Suite 605
Washington, DC 20036


How long should the letter of interest be and what should it include?

There is no fixed length for the letter of interest. Take the space that you need to make a cogent case for yourself. Tell us what you would do if you had a two-year, self-designed fellowship overseas and why you’re the right person to carry it out.

To whom should I address my letter of interest?

The Selection Committee.

May I propose study in more than one country?

A core ICWA value is deep immersion, so most ICWA fellows remain in one country for the duration of their fellowships. Applications for multiple countries can be considered; generally in such cases, fellows remain in one region, where the experience and culture transcend borders. If you are interested in being a fellow in more than one country, you should explain why that is essential to your project in your letter of interest.

What countries or topics is ICWA most interested in?

Our fellows and their interests drive our fellowships, so the best way to pique our interest in a topic or location is to share why it is of burning interest to you. We are interested in projects that are relevant for the United States today, and also in supporting research in areas that are underrepresented. While we will consider all possibilities, we prefer not to have fellows in locations where other ICWA fellows are currently working or have recently completed fellowships, please consult our current fellows and past fellows pages before proposing a fellowship.

When will I hear back about a decision regarding my letter of interest?

Shortly after the submission deadline. Letters of interest are considered following the application deadline.  Those selected will be asked to submit more detailed applications. Applications are not considered on a rolling basis.

When will I know if I am selected as an ICWA fellow?

The final decisions are made in early December for applicants who submitted letters of interest in June.

Would you prefer to receive the application as one PDF or with each piece as separate attachments?

We would prefer to receive applications as single PDF or Word documents.


I am 36 or older, will I still be considered for a fellowship if I apply?

ICWA fellowships are designed to support individuals early in their careers, hence the age limit of 35.  You will not be considered for a fellowship if you are 36 years old at the time of the letter of interest submission deadline.

I am not a US citizen, am I eligible to receive an ICWA fellowship?

Yes. ICWA fellowships are designed to have an impact on the future of the United States by supporting future leaders, but they are not restricted to US citizens or residents.  However, your country of study should be outside the United States.

Do you accept applications from current students?

We do not accept applications from current undergraduate students. Students completing post-graduate education are welcome to apply, provided that they will be finished with their degrees and able to begin their fellowships within six months of their selection.


If selected, how soon after my selection would I be expected to begin my fellowship?

Fellows are expected to start their fellowships within six months of being selected as an ICWA fellow. For the most part, fellows are encouraged to start their fellowships in fewer than six months, except for in extenuating circumstances.

Do I need to speak a foreign language?

We expect that our fellows will be able to communicate directly with their counterparts in the country and location of their fellowships, so speaking a foreign language is often a part of the necessary qualifications for an ICWA fellowship. Some exceptions may be made for particular projects or particularly obscure languages.

What is the final product of an ICWA fellowship?

An ICWA fellowship is not concerned with the production of a final product, but rather with the transformation that results from an immersive experience. Fellows are required to write monthly newsletters reflecting on their experiences and sharing their perspectives, but no other final product is requested.

Will I be able to return to the US during the two years of my fellowship?

ICWA fellows are not permitted to return to the United States at any point during the two years of their fellowships, as ICWA fellowships are meant to be completely immersive. Of course, exceptions will be made in extreme circumstances, but applicants should not plan on being able to return to the United States during a fellowship. Once the ICWA fellowship is complete, fellows are offered a residency at our Washington, DC offices for up to one month.

What is the amount of a fellowship award?

The amounts vary, and the institute does not guarantee it will fully fund any project. Working with a fixed annual budget, ICWA strives to allocate its funds as equitably as possible, taking into consideration the fellowship area, cost of living, purpose and scope of each fellowship.