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U.S. Fulbright Unknown

The Mothers of Mount Esja, By Jessica Langley, 2008-2009, Iceland

March 23, 2010

I went to Iceland on my Fulbright grant to study the contemporary concept of landscape and how it is used in both industry and art. What I quickly discovered is that the landscape is a thread that runs through every fiber of Iceland’s being. Evidence of this was made clear upon first hearing a translation of the very well known Icelandic lullaby, Sofðu Unga Ástin Mín (Sleep My Young Love) by Jóhann Sigurjónsson (1880-1919). Another very apparent fact in Iceland is the landscape’s powerful presence. Mount Esja is a range that looms over Reykjavik and is also popular for day hikes. I hiked this mountain and saw views that look out over the vast sea in one direction, and back into the interior (a treacherous area, with very limited access) in another. Both dwarfed the city in size and power.

In collaboration with artist Benjamin Kinsley, my Fulbright project titled The Mothers of Mount Esja, involved working with six new Icelandic mothers singing Sofðu Unga Ástin Mín to their babies by the sea at the base of Mount Esja. When this haunting and highly descriptive lullaby is sung by the six mothers, the effect is both chilling and calming. Because the lullaby’s subject matter deals with the tragic decision to expose a newborn child to the harsh elements indigenous to the Icelandic landscape, we wanted to create a contemporary situation with these mothers in which safety and protection played against the tragic outcome described in the lyrics. Upon first arriving in Iceland, we noticed two striking things: there are a lot of young mothers, and babies are often left outside in the cold to sleep in their prams. These two cultural phenomena were part of the impetus behind this project.

In preparation for this project, we sought out moms who were willing to work with us under such harsh conditions as filming outside in the cold for several hours. We posted fliers and solicited help via the “Craigslist” of Iceland (, translation: babyland!). We received more volunteers than we expected and a lot of curious emails.

The mothers who worked with us were (below, from left to right): Brynja Guðmundsdóttír, Magnea Brynja Magnúsdóttir, Sif Heiða Guðmundsdóttír, Hlín Pálsdóttir, Thórunn Sóley Björnsdóttir, and Sigríður Kristinsdóttír.

These women not only provided their amateur, yet beautiful voices for the video (and patiently endured the cold), they also provided us with much insight into the two cultural phenomena we were chronicling. For starters, the babies slept peacefully throughout the entire filming. This was in part due to being sung to constantly for several hours, but they were also very warm inside their prams as we were later informed. They were covered head-to-toe in the softest lamb’s wool sleeping bags, tucked cozily inside layer upon layer of woolen blankets. The outside layer of the pram protects babies from the wind and rain.

Mothers of Mt. Esja from Ben Kinsley on Vimeo

“Why are there so many young Icelandic mothers?” we wondered. There is not a simple answer, and it may have a lot to do with the support and encouragement families receive from the government to pass on their genes. Because Iceland’s population is so small, every new Icelander counts!

The Mothers of Mount Esja, or the Mommies Project, as I fondly refer to it, was an experience that went beyond the final outcome of the video. Everything the project entailed, from the research, to soliciting volunteers, to the video’s production, was a cultural learning experience. Meeting and working with the mothers provided a platform to share experiences. The lullaby served as a comfort and a warning during the year as well. Its soft, soothing sound balanced out the hiss of the harsh winds common in Iceland. The lyrics framed how I would view the landscape for the coming months; listening for the “fissures that groan in darkness” as I visited the glacier during the long, dark winter, or noticing the black sand that “scorches” the green landscape. As lonely and isolating as the lullaby (and landscape, for that matter) can seem, one does not have to search long to discover the warmth and sense of community that Icelanders share.

My Advice for Fulbright Applicants in the Arts:

The most important things to keep in mind while preparing and presenting representations of your work is that your slides should be clear, consistent, and professional. This ensures that anyone viewing your slides will fully understand what it is that they’re looking at. Bad slides, whether they are blown-out or too dark will make or break an application. Take the time to prepare good slides. It’s worth it.

How to Prepare Clear Slides:

  • Avoid including unnecessary information (this is especially true for installations and sculpture – take a look at the room where the pieces are showcased and find what is extraneous).
  • Clearly and evenly light each piece (no glaring spotlights). Use a minimum of two lights pointed at 45 degree angles to each piece, parallel to the face of the camera.
  • Make sure the camera is in focus.
  • Use a tripod.

How to Prepare Consistent Slides:

  • Make sure the (color) temperature of the lights used to illuminate the works is the same for all pieces.
  • Check your slides on a well-calibrated computer screen (the color on laptop screens is incredibly unreliable).
  • Make sure the maximum pixel dimension is the same for all of your slides.

How to Prepare Professional Slides:

  • Set up a designated slide shooting area (either a blank, well-lit wall, or a large empty room).
  • Rent or borrow professional tungsten lights from a photo shop or studio.
  • Rent or borrow a professional SLR camera to take your slides. The photos will contain more information and allow you to obtain very nice high resolution images if you ever want or need to print them. Starting with high resolution images, and then reducing the size of the file later, will assure that you maintain high quality images.
  • Bracket your photos to assure the best exposure. There is nothing worse than whites that are blown-out, or shadows that show pixels.
  • There is always the option of hiring a professional photographer, but make sure they have experience shooting art works. They will know the process, but you must be there to manage all the details and to make sure that the work is handled carefully.
  • Always look at your work either on a projector or another computer. This will give you the opportunity to make corrections, if needed.

I hope this advice helps. Always remember to back up your work! If you keep one giant file containing your Fulbright project on your desktop, it will inevitably be deleted. Burn a disc or back up your work on an external hard drive periodically. Good luck!

Top photo: Jessica Langley, 2008-2009, Iceland (right, in red hat) with artist Benjamin Kinsley (left, in brown and green sweater), working with Icelandic mothers on The Mothers of Mount Esja project


Unveiling a Vibrant Culture in Spain’s Historic Villages, By Dave Daversa, 2008-2009, Spain

February 22, 2010

My recent Fulbright experience led me to Spain for very scientific objectives. I went to research a disease known as Chytridiomycosis, which has proven to be a major threat to amphibian species around the world. Before my Fulbright grant, my long term study of alpine amphibian populations infected by this rapidly-spreading disease offered me important new insights into the disease’s ecological dynamics. Some of the most valuable and unexpected discoveries I made during my Fulbright experience, however, were not scientific nor were they found at my field sites. My most profound experiences came from close contact with Spanish culture in small towns that see few foreign visitors.

Spain abounds with historic villages in all of its regions: from the sunny and warm coasts of Andalusia to the mist-covered mountains of the Pyrenees. Each village has a distinct character, history and atmosphere. After moving from the urbanity of Madrid to these rural regions, I became hooked on everything “de pueblo” (from the village). This single Spanish phrase, though seemingly short and insignificant, denotes a myriad of qualities and characteristics about a region, its people and its landscape. For me, the descriptor always conveyed something positive. Romantic, pastoral landscapes boasting herds of sheep and long rows of grapevines serve as a quintessential “de pueblo” scene. Long, unhurried Sunday afternoon lunches in the company of close friends and family undoubtedly exemplify a typical “de pueblo” activity. A corner bar hosting a native clientele who hovers over wooden bar tops while snacking on cured ham and sipping a small glass of beer embodies the epitome a “de pueblo” atmosphere. Eating chorizo and cheese at ten o’clock in the morning is very “de pueblo.” My friend’s white-walled farmhouse in Andalusia’s olive country could be considered “de pueblo.” The narrow, winding cobblestone avenues enclosed by tile roofed and stone walled buildings in Segovia’s Jewish sector paint a scene that is definitely “de pueblo.” The cranky bartender at a rustic restaurant in an Asturian Mountain village who hesitatingly served me and a research colleague drinks was undeniably “de pueblo.” At once, this commonly used phrase suggests simplicity, authenticity, antiquity, family and a lifestyle not found in the city.

The most profound aspect of “de pueblo” life is undoubtedly the people. The closest friendships I made during my Fulbright grant were with people from small villages. These friends and their families often hosted fabulous meals in their homes. Over elaborate meals, I learned about Basque culture’s history, the increasing political and cultural divide between Catalonia and other areas of the country and many other interesting aspects of Spain’s rich cultural and political history. Simply stated, my most genuine and valuable education about Spain was instilled in a village setting. This unlikely cultural education embodies the Fulbright Program’s goals of promoting mutual understanding between nations and cross-cultural immersion. Learning does not only occur in an academic setting, but also in the world’s vast unknown regions possessing a diversity of cultures, each containing history and traditions not always found in a library. As I prepare to return to this lovely country after my Fulbright grant for further academic pursuits, one is likely to find me in a tiny, historic village enjoying a fruitful life that is “de pueblo.”

Photo: Dave Daversa, 2008-2009, Spain, and his co-researcher Saioa Beaskoetxea at one of their field sites in Penalara Natural Park located in the Sierra de Guadarrama Mountains outside of Madrid.

U.S. Fulbright

Reflections on the Earthquake from a Fulbright Alumna to Haiti , By Leara Rhodes, Ph.D., 1990-1991, Haiti

February 15, 2010

During my first visit in 1988, Haiti was brimming with expectation. Though Michèle and Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier stripped the country of its museum quality art, depleted all of its financial resources and left the people to fend for themselves with no government programs or working institutions, there was a feeling of hope. Inspired by that feeling of hope, I completed my doctoral work at Temple University focusing on the three dominant Haitian newspapers in the United States, applied for a Fulbright and was off to Haiti in 1990.

Haiti was wonderful. I walked freely about, toured the countryside, interviewed journalists and discussed the free press on radio shows. I met up with two friends at the Hotel Oloffson and took a weekend jaunt down to Jacmel on the southern coast. We climbed up to Bassin-Bleu to swim in the waterfall. We hiked down to find two flat tires. The guide and I volunteered to roll the tires into town while my two friends kept watch over the car. We found a limb to hold the tires up on our shoulders and to help us when we had to forge a river. Finally, we tucked in for the night at the famous La Jacmelienne Hotel. On Sunday during our return to Port-au-Prince, we stopped for soursop. I asked Hotel Oloffson’s bartender to make it into juice for us. It was late, so rather than return to Hospice St. Joseph, where I was renting a room, I stayed in the Hotel Oloffson’s maternity wing when it was still a military hospital. That night, Haiti changed.

In the middle of the night, there was shouting and I smelled smoke. Stepping out onto the breezeway from my room, I could see smoke. I stumbled into the hotel lobby where the guard flew by me shouting, “Coo, coo!” In a few quick minutes, I learned that there had been a coup d’état. Jean-Bertrande Aristide had been elected that fall but one of the prospective hopefuls, Dr. Roger Lafontant, who once led the Tonton Macoutes under Duvalier, wanted the presidency.

Five days later, after mobs had stormed the hotel and camped out on the lawn, the U.S. Embassy sent an armored car at the request of Representative Floyd Spence of South Carolina. I was taken to the Embassy, processed and then escorted to the airport. When the airplane took off, I saw Port-au-Prince burning and cried. Dirty, covered in soot, hungry and exhausted, I made my way back home.

That was 20 years ago. I continue to return to Haiti every year. Some friends have suggested that I should not return to Haiti. I have not listened. Some of my work has extended outside of Port-au-Prince in the Fondwa and Deslandes rural areas. I continue to go to interview journalists, to conduct journalism training workshops, write, and have a glass of soursop juice. My work and Haitian friends have made Haiti a part of me.

I am not alone. Many others feel a part of Haiti. I believe that with the Haitians’ ability to persevere and outside community support, Haiti will rebuild itself emotionally, financially and spiritually. Earthquakes may shake buildings, kill many, damage much, but Haiti’s spirit will live on and on.

Photo: Dr. Leara Rhodes, 1990-1991, Haiti.

U.S. Fulbright

The Fulbright/mtvU Award Competition Has Been Reopened

January 4, 2010

Those who applied in October 2009 for a traditional Fulbright study, research or English Teaching Assistant (ETA) award may not reapply for Fulbright/mtvU.

Please review the information on the Fulbright U.S. Student Program website in the Program Overview and Types of Grants sections describing the Fulbright/mtvU award and also be familiar with the requirements of the country to which you wish to apply in the Country Summaries section on the website. Applicants should be mindful of the goals of the Fulbright/mtvU award when developing their study or research projects.

Applicants will apply using the Embark Online Application. Applications are submitted both electronically and in hard copy.

Complete information on filing the electronic and hard copy application can be found in the Apply Now section on the website. Additional instructions can be found in the Embark Online Application.

In addition to the Fulbright application, Fulbright/mtvU applicants must also submit the “Documentation and Outreach Plan.” The Documentation and Outreach Plan can be found in the Fulbright/mtvU award program information in Types of Grants and is only submitted in hard copy.

*Electronic submission: By 5:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Monday, March 1, 2010

*Hard Copy Submission: By 5:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Tuesday, March 2, 2010