Category Archives: U.S. Fulbright

A Poem for Umm Kulthum

By Corinne Stokes, 2014-2015, Fulbright-mtvU Fellow to the United Arab Emirates

Working on a Fulbright-mtvU application for the upcoming February 27 deadline? Attend this week’s webinar on General Q&A this Thursday, January 15, at 2:00 p.m. EST!

In early November, I went to an open mic for local poets at an Abu Dhabi venue called The Space. It was the fourth event in a new Rooftop Rhythms series for Arabic poetry, organized by Rooftops founder Dorian “Paul D” Rogers. The event featured about fifteen poets, who combined elements of Arabic poetry with spoken word. They were multilingual UAE residents from a variety of Arab backgrounds—Palestinian, Lebanese, Emirati, and Sudanese. Many were regulars at Rooftop events but usually performed in English. They reminded the audience of this since the connotations of writing poetry differ from one language to another. Arabic poetry is associated with mastery of Classical Arabic and a deep knowledge of the Arabic literary heritage, while spoken word favors poetic prowess that is grounded in lived experience. But the audience was open-minded, receptive to hearing Arabic poetry in a variety of dialects, registers, and styles. The evening had a warm, familial vibe, with listeners snapping fingers supportively from their bean bag chairs.

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Poets and friends at The Space in Abu Dhabi (Photo courtesy of Farah Bushnaq)

I chose a poem to feature here that fits neatly into the themes of this blog. It’s by Dubai-based poet Zeina Hashem Beck, written in appreciation of the performative style of Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum (d. 1975). Umm Kulthum is one of the most beloved figures of the Arab world, and the lyrics to her songs are among the most widely memorized of Arabic poems. Zeina’s poem is called “Umm Kulthum or Al-Intithar [Waiting],” (a title that brought to my mind Umm Kulthum’s famous song, “Ana fi Intizarak” [I’m waiting for you]). Zeina is from Tripoli, Lebanon, and studied English Literature at the American University in Beirut. She is an English-language poet, with her work published and forthcoming in over a dozen literary journals, but considers herself a newcomer to Arabic poetry. Her debut poetry collection, To Live in Autumn (The Backwaters Press, 2014), won the 2013 Backwaters Prize and has been recently released. The poems of this collection describe Beirut as she sees it; a city that resembles autumn in its uncertainties and the conflicted feelings it inspires.

Fulbright Holiday Celebrations Around the World

The Fulbright community shares moments from their celebrations

The “Gentle Art” of Cultural Immersion

By Aaron Owen, 2012-2013, El Salvador

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Aaron Owen, 2012-2013, El Salvador (back row, fourth from left), with his jiu-jitsu teammates in El Salvador

Jiu-jitsu comes from the Japanese expression meaning the “art of being gentle, yielding, or giving way.” I began training Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) in Milwaukee, and at the time wouldn’t have imagined how it would come to shape my philosophy of cultural immersion during my Fulbright grant in El Salvador.

So how does “the gentle art” come into play in your Fulbright project? In BJJ, the idea is that instead of meeting force with force and quickly becoming exhausted, you leverage your opponent’s energy to your advantage “Cultural jiu-jitsu” is the act of giving way to the new experience. This means recognizing that you are becoming overwhelmed, accepting it, and finding ways to redirect that stimulus overload into something positive. In my case, when I realized I was becoming overwhelmed with the unfamiliar, I found a gym in El Salvador to start training BJJ again.

If immersing myself within another culture wasn’t enough, I also realized I was becoming overwhelmed by my project. I was attempting to interview hundreds of locals to study how modernization impacted their dietary habits. I had worked with my affiliates for months to craft a strong interview script, and I had even done a pilot study. The pilot interviews were successful, but highlighted the logistical and cultural difficulties I would have trying to expand to a larger sample. Logistically, I wouldn’t have the time to interview as many people as I wanted or the language skills to effectively communicate with the diverse population I was targeting. Culturally, my blunt way of inquiring about people’s dietary habits was sometimes considered intrusive. I had the choice to either callously plow through these barriers, or to look for a more creative solution.

Calling All Fulbrighters: Embrace Social-Entrepreneurship and Reach for the Stars

By Brinkley Warren, 2012-2013, New Zealand

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Brinkley Warren, 2012-2013, New Zealand, pitching his creative startup to the largest gathering of angel investors in New Zealand history on stage at Te Papa Tongarewa (the Museum of New Zealand)

A Fulbright grant is an opportunity-accelerator. Forbes Magazine recently ranked New Zealand as the #1 best place in the world to start a new venture, and I suppose it is fitting that my 2012 Fulbright art project transformed – most serendipitously – into a social-tech startup.

My MFA exegesis explored the notion of entrepreneurship as art form and art as entrepreneurship, and I wanted to challenge the notion of being an artist in the digital age. As founding CEO of the venture, I attracted and led a team of Kiwis (native New Zealanders) into what became New Zealand’s first technology accelerator. We built an innovative product, and I pitched it on Demo Day in front of the largest gathering of “angel” investors in New Zealand history. We raised a seed round of investment, and in three months we attracted over 10,000 users from 82 countries and launched the world’s first crowd-produced public media platform. It was a thrilling experience to launch such an impactful creative venture during my Fulbright, and it has proven to be a foundational experience. In the years since, I had my first successful “exit” after selling my startup to a larger firm and I’m already working on my next ventures. I love tech entrepreneurship because it’s the best way to make bold creative ideas come to life that positively impact the future of humanity. My Fulbright experience helped to galvanize my role as a startup artist.

Learning to “Roll with It”: Working Through the Unpredictability of Research in a Another Country

Mitali Thakore, 2013-2014, India

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Mitali Thakore, 2013-2014, India, taking in the sunset over the Rann of Kutch

As a Fulbright Study/Research grantee in public health in India, you are in one of the world’s largest public health labs. Of course, you will face challenges you never expected. But the opportunities are just as plentiful as the challenges, if you can learn to identify them.

About 25-50 percent of polio affected people are expected to experience Post Polio Syndrome (PPS), characterized by muscular weakness, atrophy, pain, and fatigue. Based in Gujarat, I aimed to understand the experiences of individuals with polio, to assess the medical and nonprofessional perception of PPS management, to evaluate social support for people with polio, and to increase awareness of PPS. This was a qualitative study in which I conducted semi-structured interviews with individuals with polio, medical practitioners, and lay people to assess their perceptions of disability, polio, and PPS.