Yearly Archives:

2019

U.S. Fulbright

So Much Change: Telling Inclusive Stories Through Fulbright

September 6, 2019

Giraffe Drinking Water

Many Fulbrighters return home with fresh ideas for research projects and international collaborations. For Change Kwesele, it was no different. Her goal? Create a children’s book that would depict the beauty and culture of Sub-Saharan Africa for the world! Change leveraged her Zambian roots and the new connections she gained during her 2011 Fulbright Study/Research Award to Zambia for the project, and even learned something about herself in the process.

Born in Zambia and raised in Seattle, Washington, Change has always celebrated the languages and culture of her family. Currently a Ph.D. candidate in Social Work and Developmental Psychology at the University of Michigan, she spent her Fulbright in Zambia working to improve gender equality in education through community outreach and workshops. While working with students, Change was taken aback by the absence of diverse voices and subjects in children’s literature.

“I spent a lot of time around younger children and time in bookstores. I noticed that many of the books available focus on the Western world and lack local references. My Fulbright experience with the Forum of African Women Educationalists of Zambia (FAWEZA) organization empowered me to work on gaps and limitations that I see in communities that I care about,” Kwesele explained.

Part of that gap includes children’s literature. Z is for Zambia: An Alphabet Book introduces the sights and sounds of Zambia to children of all nationalities. The multilingual book is written in three languages commonly used in Zambia (English, Bemba, and Nyanja), and includes visuals and words relevant to Zambia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Instead of apples, bananas, and cats, kids will learn about Africa-related products and places, such as chitenge, a kind of African fabric, nsima, a Zambian staple food, and Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

The book is a uniquely international collaboration with two Zambian colleagues and friends: Bellah Zulu, a 2010 Fulbright Foreign Student, and Zanji Sinkala, an alumna of another U.S. Department of State-sponsored exchange program, the Study of the U.S. Institutes Women’s Leadership Program (SUSI-WL). Connecting through Zambia-based organizations and Instagram, the three international exchange alumni decided to use their love of Zambia to increase understanding of the country, even donating the book to Zambian organizations and schools.

Z is for Zambia “will offer children knowledge on other cultures and help [children] appreciate diversity. It will teach them to respect other traditions and ways of life that are very different from their own,” said Zanji, one of Change’s collaborators, speaking about the group’s hope for the book.

Bellah, who studied photography at the New York Film Academy during his Fulbright, provided photographs of Zambian vistas, animals, and clothing to the project. “I appreciate the fact that the Fulbright experience is all about cultural understanding and exchange. For me, collaborating with someone with Zambian roots yet fully American meant that we had an opportunity to influence and continue projecting a positive image of Zambia from inside,” he said.

What does an American-Zambian Fulbright team add up to? “So much change!” Change responded. The book, the collaboration, and her career post-Fulbright all go back to a question she first contemplated on grant: “Why not me?” In Zambia, the United States, or the world of children’s literature, Change will continue to pursue projects and initiatives that she wants to see in the world.

 

Z is For Zambia Cover

Foreign Fulbright

Museums Shaping Cultural Understanding: A Fulbrighter’s Perspective

August 26, 2019
By Angeliki Tsiotinou, Fulbright Foreign Student from Greece

In May I visited the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration in New York City. Dr George Tselos, the museum’s Supervisory Archivist, greatly endorsed my research project throughout the course of my fieldwork at the museum

When Fulbright brought me to the University of Illinois, Chicago in November 2017, I arrived ready to investigate the museum representations of North and Southeast European immigration to the United States with a particular– but not exclusive – focus on Greek immigration. Chicago was the ideal base for such research. The city is home to hundreds of distinct ethnic and cultural neighborhoods established during waves of migration to the city from all corners of the world that began as early as the mid-1800s.

As I pursued my research, I soon found myself reflecting on other, no less important topics, relating to the contemporary identity and role of museums. Museums today play a balancing act: answering community members’ diverse needs and backgrounds while continuously adapting to our dynamic, globalized and constantly changing society.

How can museums create a communal space in which to welcome this rich mix of sometimes-divergent perspectives and experiences, I wondered? And how can the study of museums itself help us question established notions of identity and develop innovative museum practices that address our emerging interethnic, inter-racial reality, globally characterized by increasingly complex patterns of human mobility, integration, and acculturation?

While I am still trying to find answers to these questions, my experience with Fulbright helped me realize the power that cultural practitioners have to shape people’s views of the world in a positive way.  As cultural institutions, museums have a distinct role to play in forming critical reflection and debate around ongoing societal shifts and in achieving reconciliation among diverse communities.

With my academic background in material culture and cultural representation theories, my research explored how objects associated with the immigrant past have been contextualized and interpreted in U.S. museum displays, as well as how these displays help articulate our shared interpretations of the immigrant past. My fieldwork took me to a range of ethnic, cultural and immigration museums across the United States, located in cities like Chicago, Detroit, Salt Lake City, Tarpon Springs, and New York City. The visits were complemented by interviews with museum staff and members of the represented community, particularly the Greek American one.

While in Chicago, I also volunteered for a non-profit organization called Chicago Cultural Alliance, a consortium of 40 Chicago-area cultural heritage museums and centers. Through this experience, I was lucky to meet inspiring people advocating passionately for a more inclusive, culturally diverse Chicago by bringing together museums and enhancing dialogue among their communities.

In Tarpon Springs, Florida, I met with Dr. Tina Bucuvalas who curated the ‘Greek Community of Tarpon Springs’ exhibit at the Tarpon Springs Heritage Museum. Tina’s long experience as a Curator of Arts & Historical Resources for the City of Tarpon Springs proved to be a valuable resource for me.

My Fulbright experience, also my first experience in the U.S., profoundly shaped my personal and my professional development in a variety of ways.

Researching a variety of museums and their day-to-day operations helped me see the tremendous resources that each institution devotes to achieve relevance and resonance with their community members. Speaking with community members of varying origins, ages and backgrounds, I realized that despite the differing ways in which they expressed their ethnic or cultural affiliation, they all shared a yearning for maintaining or regaining a connection to the culture of their ancestors.

My Fulbright experience empowered me. It made me realize that my voice matters and that my work is impactful.

Most importantly, it made me realize that in times of change, we – cultural practitioners and public humanities scholars – are more responsible than ever before to foster public dialogue on democracy, independence, and cultural diversity. By emphasizing what brings us all together rather than what pulls us apart, we can help shape a better future for the world that we all share.

Foreign Fulbright

Let’s See the Big Picture

August 15, 2019
By Jenny Melo, Fulbright Foreign Student from Colombia

With a learning and service journey to Williamson, West Virginia, I finished my first year as a grad student studying rural sociology & sustainability. I joined a group of 11 international Fulbrighters interested in first-hand community service experience to see how this rural Appalachian community has developed and changed throughout the years.

When I applied to the Fulbright Amizade program, my knowledge of Williamson was limited to information in the news. If you do a quick search, you will find mostly unflattering stories on the opioid and coal mining crises. There are fragments of reality in that, but I knew that was an incomplete story. I am Colombian, and I know from personal experience how the media can disseminate harmful stereotypes and create distorted and incomplete representations of particular communities, and even whole countries. Understanding communities is not monochromatic; it requires a complex and nuanced perspective. My experience in Williamson confirmed that for me, and I am grateful for it.

We spent a full week together in the town, visiting and volunteering at different health, well-being, farming, and education initiatives, and learning of community organizers’ unique perspectives on Williamson. I also spent an afternoon with a mother of three, talking about how the deterioration of the coal mining industry has negatively impacted her family. These conversations expanded my understanding of what systemic community interventions look like, and reinforced my belief in going beyond stereotypes and one-dimensional views in order to develop a multidimensional approach that includes political, economic, environmental and social dynamics.

One of the initiatives that impacted me the most was the Williamson Health and Wellness Center (WHWC), a project led by Dr. Christopher D. “Dino” Beckett. This initiative uses a holistic approach to community development and is a collective response to the crises that Williamson’s citizens face, including the downturn of the coal mining industry, unemployment, and the opioid crisis. Far from a simplistic approach focusing only on access to health care, the WHWC utilizes multidimensional practices, such as access to healthy food, parks and recreational activities, safe community spaces, education, transportation, housing, and economic diversification. With these resources, everyone has an opportunity available for them. The WHWC understands that a 360-degree problem requires a 360-degree solution.

The WHWC and Williamson face several challenges created from national and international dynamics. However, the community is doing its part to thrive despite difficulties, and is reclaiming the right to tell their own story. Williamson Forward is a local news initiative fighting against stereotypes by sharing other, positive sides of community life.

This journey was a genuinely compelling experience for me, a grad student working in rural areas, who believes in the need for community resistance and collective action. I hope to come back to this Appalachian beauty someday.

FLTA Foreign Fulbright

How to Foster a Global Mindset at Your Community College through the Fulbright Program

August 8, 2019

International students pose outside DCCC.

We spoke with Suzanne LaVenture, Director of International Education and Faculty at Davidson County Community College (DCCC) about how the Fulbright Program helped transform the semi-rural North Carolina community college, cultivating a global outlook on campus. 

Davidson County Community College (DCCC), situated among green rolling hills and forests an hour away from Charlotte, NC, is a standout among community colleges across the United States for its level of international engagement. Beginning with the college’s first engagement with the Fulbright Program, DCCC has benefited from a range of grants, institutional partnerships and global connections.

“Fulbright brings the world to DCCC,” says Suzanne LaVenture, Director of International Education & Faculty. “By having international students and Fulbright scholars on our campus, it gives all our students a chance to meet people from all over the world and learn about different cultures.”

To this day, the Fulbright Program remains a central pillar of DCCC’s international engagement activity. In August, two new Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistants (FLTAs) will arrive on campus, bringing the FLTA total to 14 over the past eight years. Lately, the institution sent three campus leaders abroad with the Fulbright International Administrators Seminar program, and between 2008-2010 DCCC welcomed three Fulbright Scholars in Residence, two from China and one from Macedonia.

Breaking New Ground

DCCC’s international engagement accelerated in 2010, when Suzanne’s role was created. The college now offers four to five study abroad trips each year, helping U.S. students experience new cultures and countries.

“I think many community colleges don’t know about the opportunities that the Fulbright Program offers, or think that the return on investment of putting all the time and effort of filling out the applications will not pay off for them,” Suzanne says. “However, I would encourage interested community colleges to be persistent and apply for available Fulbright opportunities.”

Furthering the reach and impact of the international exchange network, DCCC does not work in isolation, but rather engages with a range of partners to support study abroad.

“One of the primary challenges for community colleges in promoting study abroad opportunities has been getting enough students interested to make [a given program] financially viable,” Suzanne says. “That is one reason why we often work in consortia.”

As Suzanne explains, the college recognizes that DCCC students face barriers to participating in study abroad. Many students have families, jobs and other responsibilities that prevent them from going abroad, so the college does what it can to lessen the burden of costs and scheduling conflicts. Hosting visiting Fulbrighters at DCCC has brought the world to the campus, and also serves as a living advertisement for study abroad.

Fulbright: a Springboard for Other Opportunities

For the past six years, the college has worked with the Institute of Study Abroad Ireland to run a popular spring break trip to Ireland. More recently, DCCC received capacity-building grants from the State Department to develop study abroad programs in Guatemala and South Africa, first implementing a service-learning program in Guatemala targeted to nursing students in coordination with Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC).  While developing these programs, DCCC tailored these initiatives to be compatible with the Department of State’s  Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship program, to provide extra incentive for students to consider studying abroad. The Gilman Program provides scholarships to U.S. undergraduates with financial need for study abroad, including students from diverse backgrounds and students going to non-traditional study abroad destinations.

Recently, DCCC applied for the same capacity building grant to develop a study abroad program with Central Piedmont in South Africa. The program will offer service learning opportunities for nursing and allied health, and zoo and aquarium science students, and aim to recruit minority male students.

Along with Guilford Technical Community College and Forsyth Technical Community College, DCCC has also twice received a State-Department-managed 100,000 Strong in the Americas grant to develop a study abroad program in Argentina along with Universidad Nacional de Villa María. U.S. students have gone to Argentina for the past two years, and Argentinian students visited the DCCC campus in March.

To encourage more students to think internationally, DCCC launched the Scholars of Global Distinction program in fall 2013. To earn this distinction on their transcript, students must complete 15 credit hours of globalized courses, attend eight Passport events, and must have a global experience – either study abroad or a local-global experience. As of the past semester, 100 DCCC students completed all the requirements, becoming Scholars of Global Distinction.

While DCCC was the first community college in North Carolina to start Scholars of Global Distinction, now more than 20 colleges offer this program. To implement programming, the college works with World View at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, which serves as a convening organization for colleges in the state interested in global learning.

Leveraging On-Campus Ingenuity

Much of DCCC’s international activity outreach and coordination has occurred through innovative, in-house support – ensuring broader awareness on the campus of DCCC’s international programming, while also reducing program costs. DCCC’s digital media instructor and his students created a video to promote the college’s study abroad programs, and a computer instructor and his students created a database for Suzanne and her team to track students in the Scholars of Global Distinction program.

DCCC’s efforts to promote study abroad by its students comes full circle in the personalized support it continues to provide its visting Fulbrighters.  FLTAs not only benefit from a warm welcome by DCCC administration – which includes a campus buddy system to ensure Fellows are able to more easily integrate into campus life, but also  benefit from DCCC’s ingenuity.  The campus provides the FLTAs accommodation at the energy efficient “Green House,” a historical house across the street from the campus renovated by DCCC very own heating and air-conditioning students. In addition, DCCC allows eligible FLTAs to use of one of the college’s fleet of vehicles to get around during their award period. Finally, Suzanne has invited each cohort of FLTAs to her house for Thanksgiving and acted as their cultural liaison throughout the duration of their time at DCCC.

Given the barriers that DCCC overcame to cultivate a global outlook on campus, Suzanne believes that if DCCC can internationalize, other institutions can too. “I always say that the moral of the DCCC story is that if we can do it, anybody can,” she says.

Enrichment Foreign Fulbright

A Tree Grows in Williamson: Seeking Sustainability in Appalachia

July 31, 2019
By Sayed Masihullah Fakhri, Fulbright Foreign Student, Afghanistan

The Fulbright-Amizade trip to Williamson, West Virginia was one of the most thought-provoking experiences I had during my stay in the United States. I have often thought about the sustainability of a single industry supporting a local economy, such as Williamson’s dependence on coal. Through this experience, I had the opportunity to see first-hand these effects in an Appalachian town.

Before coming to the United States, I used to work for the Ministry of Mines & Petroleum (MoMP) in Afghanistan, where the coal sector dominates, although it continues to lose ground to more sustainable sources of energy. At the program orientation in Charleston, South Carolina, I began to hear about Williamson’s efforts to switch to sustainable power sources. Once in Williamson, that sentiment was corroborated in many conversations with the residents, who were keen to talk about the town’s changing energy policy and industry. I believe this will help me advise MoMP’s “mining roadmap” revision, and add a well-thought out plan to address community sustainability issues related to booming bulk commodities, as is the case in Williamson.

Furthermore, I was impressed by the Williamson residents’ strong social bonds. These bonds help the community care for each other in turbulent times. Alexis Batausa, a local resident who successfully improved his health through lifestyle changes, is an amazing example. His efforts to better his life impressed the whole community, and now others join him in running and other healthy activities.  Jessie Spaulding, another Williamson resident, also impressed me with his commitment to sobriety. Talking to him, I began to understand his desire to help other residents combat their substance abuse problems and follow a better path. These individuals demonstrate that one person can make a difference!

After seeing Williamson’s dedication to community, I searched for a way to maintain a lasting connection with the town. I wanted something to remind me of the amazing moments I spent with the genuinely nice people I met, including moments of serene silence on Second Avenue, where I had a veggie omelet. Thus, I came up with the idea of planting a red maple tree in a quiet corner of Williamson’s elementary school, and someday, I hope to go back and pay a visit.

U.S. Fulbright

Snapshots from Life on Kiribati

July 15, 2019
By Aurora Brachman, Fulbright U.S. Student to Kiribati

During my sophomore year at Pomona College I became aware of Kiribati, a small Pacific Island nation at risk of vanishing forever under rising sea levels. Scientists project that in as few as 30 years the entire country could be under water. Little did I know that Kiribati would play an important role in my life, and ultimately lead me to the Fulbright Program.

At the time, there was little information about how the 110,000 citizens of Kiribati were responding to this frightening prognosis. The media representations available were sensationalistic and objectifying, transforming Kiribati into a symbol of climate change, but failing to acknowledge the reality of the daily lives of the I-Kiribati. Despite never having never made a documentary before, I applied for and received a grant through the Pacific Basin Institute to create a documentary making the I-Kiribati and their stories the focal point.

Navigating Kiribati as an outsider is challenging. It is one of the least-developed countries in the world. Eighty percent of the population lives a subsistence lifestyle and there is severely limited access to electricity or running water. Though life will continue on the island for the next few decades, climate change is already making its mark. Some of my closest friends have had their homes destroyed by King Tides – exceptionally high tides that have become more powerful in recent years and are inundating the island, flooding homes and turning fresh water brackish. One friend lost her baby sister to dehydration from drinking water contaminated with oceanwater.

Yet what struck me most about Kiribati had nothing to do with climate change. Kiribati is vibrant in a way I didn’t know anything could be. I have never encountered a group of people that radiate love the way Kiribati people do. During my time there, I befriended a tight knit group of high school students, and they became my liaisons to their world. I was 19 at the time and so were they, and despite our vastly different life experiences, we related as most 19-year-olds do. We commiserated over our anxieties surrounding our encroaching adulthood, discussed our dreams for our futures, and shared our fears about a world paralyzed to act on climate change.

Yet when I asked my friends what they would miss most about Kiribati when they are forced to leave, and the resounding answer was, “the way we treat each other.”

After returning to Pomona, I dreamt of going back to Kiribati. I applied for and was accepted to the Fulbright Program. As someone interested in an artistic field, I didn’t know if my work would be deemed “scholarly enough” or worthy of a Fulbright – but my worries were unfounded. I strongly believe that no one who is interested in applying for Fulbright should be under the false impression that Fulbright is not for them. Fulbright is an incredible resource, and if you have a passion for something, you should absolutely apply.

In consultation with my Kiribati network, I developed a new project for my Fulbright, tentatively titled Life Between the Tides. An anthology series, Life Between the Tides is intended to be a platform of empowerment and self-representation for Kiribati and to build respect, empathy, and understanding of Kiribati people to ease their transition when they are forced to migrate from their country in the near future.

My post-production work will be supported by funding through a granting institution called “Pacific Islanders in Communications,” an organization funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). I was extremely fortunate to receive the funding as well as a commitment to digital and potential television distribution through the CPB. Life Between the Tides is projected to be released by the beginning of next year.

My time in Kiribati was one of the most challenging but rewarding experiences of my life. I treasure the lessons it taught me, and the fortitude and resilience I discovered that I never knew I had. Any challenges I face now pale in comparison to what I overcame on my Fulbright. I feel a kind of self-assuredness and self-confidence in my ability as a filmmaker, and a person, that I never had prior to this experience.

This September I will begin my MFA in Documentary Film and Video at Stanford University. I am both anxious and excited to be expanding upon my skills as a filmmaker, storyteller, and artist. In addition to refining my own abilities as a filmmaker, I want to pioneer a new form of participatory documentary filmmaking that works with disenfranchised communities to help equip them with the skills and tools to tell their own stories.

Compelling stories do not only lie at the center of the Pacific. Now, more than ever, there is a critical need for fostering greater understanding across communities through nuanced storytelling that honors the lives of its subjects. I hope to always use my position as a documentary filmmaker to uplift the narratives of those who struggle to have their voices heard.

Photo credit: Aurora Brachman and Darren James