Notes From Current and Recent Fulbright Grantees Abroad
An update from Krista Foltz, currently completing a Fulbright research grant in Santiago, Chile. July 2011
Saludos from Chile! It is hard to believe that at five months in, I’m already halfway done with my Fulbright Grant. Before I get into the details of my research, I feel like I should give a brief introduction. I’m currently located in Santiago, Chile’s capital city, where over seven million people reside. This was quite a shock for me after spending four years in McMinnville. Santiago, like most other large cities, has its advantages and disadvantages. The thing that I love is the diversity of activities and life happening all around me. I constantly feel like I’m discovering “new” places in the city even though I’ve been here for an extended period of time. The prominent disadvantage for me is the air pollution. This may seem silly, but as an avid runner it has been tough!
Aside from the physical aspects of the city, I have also been learning about Chilean culture. Chileans in general are warm, welcoming people who really enjoy having fun. They have experienced difficult times in their past—the dictatorship that started in 1973—and are now devoted to improving their society and making a happier life. I have the privilege of living with a Chilean professor and she has helped me understand even better the Chilean way of life.
The research that I’m conducting here is a qualitative study regarding gender stereotypes in mathematics classrooms and how they present themselves. Developing my research has been a bumpy road, for a variety of reasons, and I have not yet begun collecting data. The last few weeks I have been reworking pieces of my research plan with Linfield professor Gennie Harris and will begin data collection at the end of July. My investigation will look at standardized test scores, student attitude surveys, teacher interviews, and classroom observations. I’m taking an assets-approach to the project and will be focusing on the things that are going well in Chilean classrooms. I think that this will be more constructive and illicit a more positive response by Chilean teachers.
Because my research has not progressed as I initially hoped, I have taken the initiative to volunteer in the local schools. I was originally planning to aid in math classrooms, but was bombarded by requests to help with the English program. Since March I found myself coaching 5th graders for the English Spelling Bee, helping 7th graders prepare for their public speaking competition, and am now the debate team “coach.” This has been such a fun learning experience for me, because other than being a native English speaker, I really have no training in teaching English. The teachers have been appreciative of my help and it has been thrilling to be back in the classroom.
Overall this Fulbright experience has been very different than I expected, and I think part of that has to do with a few skewed expectations I developed before I left. The most substantial realization I’ve had is that conducting education research is not the same as teaching. This seems obvious, but I didn’t devote enough thought to this fact before. Being an observer in a classroom and not having the ability to actually teach a class is an incredibly painful thing! I miss interacting with “my” students on a daily basis, preparing lessons, and most importantly the physical act of teaching. The upside to all of this is that I am now 100% certain that I was born to be a teacher.
The first five months have been trying, exciting, and a time for personal growth. I’m incredibly thankful for my friends and family who have listened to my struggles and encouraged me to continue. And I’m now equally thankful for Professor Gennie Harris (and various other members of the Linfield community) for providing me with the academic support and direction that I was lacking. I can confidently say that I’m excited for the second half of my grant and am excited to see the results of my research!
An update from Lily Niland, currently completing a Fulbright research grant in Lima, Peru. November 2010
Just as a quick introduction, my name is Lily and I'm currently in Lima researching language usage in the Peruvian Japanese community. The actual historical background would take up quite a bit of space, but here is an extremely short version: during the early 1900s, thousands of Japanese moved to Perú in search of work; by the 1990s, many of their grandchildren moved back to Japan for the same reason, but by 2000, most of them returned once again to Perú. I'm looking at how this cyclical migration has affected language usage and attitudes about language usage: how the Peruvian Japanese mix Japanese words into their Spanish, what they think about the relative importance of Spanish, Japanese, and English in their children's education, etc. So far I have concentrated on the language usage itself, in daily conversation, nikkei publications, public events, and group interviews; next semester, I will look more at language attitudes via individual interviews.
While I am here, I am participating in a variety of aspects in the nikkei community ("nikkei" meaning "descendants of Japanese immigrants). I live with a nikkei family, I play baseball on a team with several nikkei players (apparently I am the first female to play adult baseball in Perú! It took about a month of deliberation for my paperwork to be accepted), I participate in the "Walking Club" geared toward adult members of the nikkei community mostly between 50 and 80 years of age, I volunteer as a coach for a youth baseball team with mostly nikkei players, I help plan and organize games for the monthly Japanese conversation groups for children and for young adults, and I generally try to attend as many of the widely varying public nikkei events as possible. The more I attend, the more people I meet, and the more the nikkei community in general gets used to seeing me around. Because I am not Japanese, Peruvian, or nikkei in any way, people are often a bit confused at first by my presence, but partly because I speak Spanish fluently and Japanese relatively well, and partly because it is a small community and nikkei friends and (host family) relatives have been so enthusiastic and generous about introducing me to other nikkei and inviting me to activities and events, I have had very few experiences of feeling excluded or mistrusted because of my background. As long as I am introduced to each new group by someone they know and trust, it seems that I am generally accepted. I'm also taking a sociolinguistics class at the Pontificia Universidad Católica to add some structure to my study; the class has helped make sure that I think out my methodology (which has turned out to be a combination of methods anyway, since I am studying language usage in such a variety of contexts), write up a literature review, etc.
As with any semester abroad, there have been some adjustments to make, especially to Lima itself. As a Seattle native, I am not used to living in a chaotic city of 8 million located in the middle of a desert! I miss rain, and clean fresh air, and orderly traffic... Also, in spite of their lowly socioeconomic origins as exploited immigrant workers in agriculture, the nikkei community is now remarkably well-off, which has been an oddly difficult adjustment for me to make after my years of experience with close Latin American friends who grew up fighting to put food on the table and who, in many cases, still don't have dependable running water, much less cars and cruises and wireless internet. Next semester, I am hoping to get out of the nikkei community a bit and see if I can volunteer in some of the less well-off neighborhoods, perhaps running sports workshops for kids who otherwise wouldn't have the necessary equipment; I miss feeling helpful, and so far it seems I have mostly been helping a population that really doesn't need the help.
On the bright side, though, I am living in one of the few places in the world where I can speak Spanish, speak Japanese, and play baseball every day. I'm learning so much that I never manage to write it all down, and I am learning to navigate my own classist prejudices as I am immersed in the well-off side of Latin America that I so stubbornly did my best to avoid during my semester in Ecuador. This year has been and will continue to be an amazing opportunity to learn and grow; I just hope that my research and my volunteer activities manage to express some of the gratitude I feel for the opportunity that so many people around the world have helped me receive.
An update from Marty Bode, completing a Fulbright research grant in physics in Stuttgart, Germany. May 2009
Life in Stuttgart
To start out, I would like to describe a little bit about Stuttgart. It is the capital of the Baden-Württemburg, the state in the south-western corner of Germany. It nestled in an extremely wooded valley so that it looks more like a forest interrupted by a city rather than the other way around despite its size (population of about 590,000). It also contains many beautiful parks and a very large zoo and botanical garden which prevent it from looking too much like an industrial city even though it is the home of Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Bosch, and many other companies. It is also home to the Universität Stuttgart which has about 20,000 students and many highly ranked engineering departments.
My time here has been very challenging, exciting, and rewarding. It has also gone by incredibly fast. June is right around the corner and all of a sudden that means I will be in my second to last month here. I feel like I have heard so many times that during a year abroad, you don't really get settled in and start to make really good friends until right near the end and then you leave, and I really thought that my year would different, but it is isn't. It was only last month that I felt that I truly belonged here and wasn't just visiting and literally yesterday that I first felt like I have a group of good friends in Stuttgart.
My biggest challenge for most of my time here has been trying to figure out what to say to people. Before I arrived in Stuttgart I could carry out basic conversations. I had only taken a year of German at Linfield and then a second year at OSU as a summer course, but an intensive language course was offered as part of my grant and that really got me to the point where I could actually communicate at a reasonable speed. I became pretty good at introductory conversations, but after that I ran out of ideas of what to say. People would start to feel awkward and wander away and one time I was even told that I was "just like a 60 year-old man".
I also think that most of the people I have met here are friendly, but reserved. Most of the people in my research group, with whom I go to lunch with almost every day, are still warming up to me. Part of it is that I still don't say a lot at lunch, but I still have a hard time in a large groups especially when the topic of conversation is often research I don't know a lot about. I am still trying to find places in the conversation where I can jump in without destroying it.
Fortunately, I have the doctoral student I work with for practice. We speak almost exclusively in German, which is challenging given that this is my first time working with laser induced flourescence. However, I have found that I am pretty much able to keep up and only have to ask for words once in a while. The research itself is progressing a little more slowly. Due to delays in getting all of the parts we need and how busy the doctoral student I work with is, we won't have our experimental setup completed until this week at earliest. However, if it is finished this week, we might be able to get some data this week too!
Another place that I am able to practice German quite a bit is with the big band I play with at the university. I am the only native English speaker and one of only two non-Germans there, the other being a French girl who speaks very good German, so German is spoken all the time. It has been very interesting learning music vocabulary in German. Obviously many words are the same because they are Italian, but other words are not as intuitive. For instance, they say "H" instead of "B" for the second note of the scale, because "B" means "flat". That provided some confusion for me at first.
The band has been one of the most rewarding experiences for me. They too were reserved at first and I was awkward, but they have become the best German friends I have. I just got back last Monday from a 10-day tour with them to a student band festival in Linköping, Sweden. We had a concert every day in a different city along the way with the last three days belonging to the festival where over 50 bands (mostly Swedish) were in attendance. Words don't really do the festival justice. All of the bands had some amount of zaniness to them with costumes, dance groups, and plain exhubrance for playing. Some of the bands' dance groups were semi-professional and one band had just about 50 people on stage playing at the same time. Needless to say, they were one of the zaniest.
After spending so much time together througout that ten days, I really became close with my bandmates. It became clear to me yesterday at rehearsal as soon as I arrived that it was different now. I was really a full-fledged member of the band now, indistinguishable from any of the others. I absolutely feel like even if no where else, with the band I have accomplished my goal of integrating myself into life in Stuttgart.
An Update from Ryan Jones, completing a research and teaching assistantship in Innsbruck, Austria. December 2007
Winter arrived in Innsbruck about a month ago and between the snow, Christmas markets, and ever-tempting Gluhwein stands lining the streets, there's been no way to forget it. It's so strange to think that I've been in Europe for more than three months now, and I wanted to get in touch and give you an update.
Austria is wonderful. My main goal for this experience was to immerse myself in the culture as deeply as possible, and I am definitely satisfied with how that's been going. Despite having the experience of a lifetime when I studied for the semester in Vienna, I was with my Linfield friends the majority of the time and didn't really make any lasting connections with "locals." I was determined to do it differently this time. I've been lucky to meet some great people- mostly through my dorm, classes at the university and singing in a choir. I've also gotten to know several other "international students" (it's weird to think of myself as one!) and hang out with them occasionally too. I couldn't have chosen a better city than Innsbruck. It's right in the middle of the Alps - completely surrounded by monstrous mountains - and that leads to endless hiking and skiing opportunities. I did a good amount of hiking when it was warmer, but now winter has officially come and I went skiing for the first time (here) last week.
Part of my scholarship includes working as an English TA in a high school and it gives me a new appreciation for all teachers I've ever had. Many of the English TAs here work in two or three schools, but I have only one. There are two English teachers and they have been awesome to work with. Their teaching styles are very different, so I've learned a lot from watching them and also from preparing the lessons they have me do. The students, who range in age from 13 to 21, are really nice and generally interested in learning English. I get a good deal because since I'm not the actual teacher and don't give grades, they can talk to me as just a friend, but that occasionally makes it difficult for me to be taken seriously when I want them to do "actual work." Lots of my job is just having conversations with them or doing some sort of activity where we speak English the whole time. Once I get a class to open up and start talking, they have endless questions about life in the US. About a third of the time, this turns into me doing damage control, trying to paint a better, more full, picture of America after they've seen another movie (i.e. Supersize Me, Fahrenheit 911, Boyz in da Hood) for class that gives them all the ammunition they think they need to believe the US is ridiculous.
I joined the university choir when I first got here with the intention of meeting Austrians (I was worried that I would fall into the habit of hanging out with other foreigners), and it's been really, really great. The people are nice and welcoming and more than willing to be patient with me as I practice my German. We practice once a week and after each rehearsal, the whole group goes to the pub across the street for beers. I am amazed by the stamina of these Austrians/Europeans. I usually bow out around midnight since I generally have to teach early the next morning. They, however, will often stay until 3 or 4 (so I've heard) and then get up early the next morning for their upper-level seminars in law, medicine, or something equally impressive. One of the highlights of this group is listening to the southern spirituals we sing. I thought it was a little funny when we sang them at Linfield just because we were a group of white kids from the Pacific Northwest, but that has been trumped by this group of white kids with Austrian accents. We had a rehearsal retreat in the nearby mountains a few weekends ago to prepare or upcoming concerts, the second of which was last night. We did Schumann's Das Paradies und die Peri with full orchestra, and the soloists they brought in were incredible. The concert was definitely one of the coolest I've ever been a part of.
Other than the choir, teaching, and the adventure of sharing a kitchen with 20 Austrians in my dorm, my excitement comes from the classes I'm taking at the university. My grant requires me to take at least one, and I chose two: Transatlantic and Pacific Security (auf Deutsch) and The UN in a Changing Security Environment (auf Englisch). These are serving as a sort of testing ground to see if international relations is what I want to study for my master's. I never had time to take a political science class at Linfield, but have become increasingly fascinated with the subject. There is quite a bit of homework and outside preparation for presentations and research papers, but I've enjoyed the readings, lectures and discussions so much that I wish we met more than once a week. The faculty in the department has been incredibly helpful to me and are really good about asking for my "American perspective" on the issues we discuss without making me feel singled out.
My mentor for my research project is in the political science department as well and he, too, is great. I met with him a few weeks after arriving and he helped me set up a plan of attack as to how I could begin my project and I'm going to be able to really get going on that once the rush of this semester ends in February and I have a month off before the next term. My original plan for research was to do a content analysis of different Austrian newspapers' coverage of Turkish immigrants in comparison to immigrants from other countries. I still plan to do that, but after discussing possibilities with my mentor, am considering a few more specific approaches ( i.e. how the different newspapers depicted Turkish immigrants and Muslims immediately after Sept. 11).
Being abroad gives you such a constantly evolving perspective of your own culture. Whether you like it or not, it's like serving as a constant ambassador for the US, and my ever-curious students and friends are always expecting me to know the most random things about America (and I, in turn, look to Wikipedia for the answers). There have been some days when I get absolutely exhausted from hearing how horrible America is and trying to give them a more realistic idea of life in the US by telling them about my experiences that often contrast their media-influenced opinions. By no means is it like that every day - these days of tension are few and far between - but that has been the biggest struggle, and biggest thought-provoking experience of my time here. It's interesting to learn more about Austrian culture (the things I see as good and bad), and when someone goes off on the "Great Satan of America," I'm sometimes tempted to say, "Well Austria's not perfect either!" and rattle off the crazy things about this place, but I hold back and just try to engage in interesting conversation. I learn so much - about myself and others - that way.
As of this summer, my plan was to do Austria for this year, a service year (i.e. Americorps) the next, and then start grad school in journalism or international relations the next fall. I've slowly been modifying that plan. I have the option to stay here a second year and I've been seriously considering it. I wouldn't have the Fulbright grant, but could continue my job as an English TA, which gives me most of the same benefits. I love it here. I've met some great people, made some good friends, my German is getting better all the time, I love learning about the culture, I'm finding teaching to be fun and interesting, and I LOVE the poli sci classes I'm taking at the university. And all of those things could be continued and enhanced by staying a second year. Americorps and grad schools will still be there in two years and the whole precise map I'd made of "what I'll be doing when" looks different to me now, and it doesn't seem to be quite as important that I follow it rigidly. We'll see.
I recently applied and was selected as one of two current grantees to represent the Austrian Fulbright Commission at a seminar sponsored by the Belgian Commission in March. We'll spend a week in Belgium and Luxembourg learning about the EU an NATO and visiting the key sites, and I think there will be about two Fulbright delegates from most of the European countries. I can't wait for that, as I haven't done much traveling outside of Austria this time. A Linfield friend of mine is going to be over here and we're meeting up to go to Berlin for Christmas, but that will be my first "big" trip. I'll be back in Innsbruck for New Year's, which is supposed to be spectacular with the fireworks reflecting off the snow-covered mountains that surround the city.