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U.S. Fulbright

Memories of Magnitude: Reflections on My Fulbright Experience in India

September 20, 2017

Benjamin Simington, 2015-2016, India (left), with several sadhus from different Kabir Panthi monasteries. They visited the famous Mahakaleshwar temple in Ujjain together during the Kumbha Mela pilgrimage.

Memory came to be a major theme of my research, along with my personal experiences with the Fulbright Program in India. My initial research project was titled Mahant with a Message: A Study of Sant Vivek Das Acharya. I wanted to focus on the life, religious activity, and socio-political vision of Sant Vivek Das Acharya, the head of the Kabir Chaura monastery of the Kabir Panth. The Kabir Panth is a monotheistic religious community in India rooted in the teachings of the medieval Indian poet-saint Kabir. The community has an emphasis on ideas of tolerance, personal spiritual practice, and the equality of all human beings.

As I continued with my research, the importance of ideas of memory became more and more salient. I eventually shifted my focus to look at how Kabir is remembered in the Kabir Panth through ritual, the space of the monastery, and through the poetry of Kabir in everyday conversation. The way that Kabir’s poetry functioned as a form of remembrance had great personal significance for me. Studying this facet of memory allowed me to experience the poetry of Kabir in a way that was not simply abstract. I was able to internalize it. Memory remains a vital part of the religious experience of the members of the community.

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U.S. Fulbright

Beyond the Book: My Fulbright Year in Germany

November 13, 2013
Gail Taylor - 1

Gail Taylor, 2011-2012, Germany, in front of the Herzog August Bibliothek in

The best research goes beyond the book. Thus, my Fulbright year in Germany opened up new ways of exploring an area of interest: the reception of New World plants into the medicine of Reformation-era Germany. My Study/Research grant allowed me to use the renowned early modern collection of the Herzog August Bibliothek (HAB) in Wolfenbüttel as basis for my historical research. I found that each genre located in the HAB—travel narratives, medical books, herbals, pharmacopoeias, almanacs, apothecary regulations—has its own way of looking at imported remedies. Every morning as I walked to the library, plugged in my laptop, and spread my books out on the reading-room table, I saw New World plants, foods, and peoples through the eyes of 16th century explorers, physicians, and theologians. But only outside the library among friends and different places could these findings come to life.

At a library garden party, I met a local woman who once taught beginning pharmacists. She offered to show me her pharmacy and collections of herbal specimens. Over discussions of how medicine has changed over the last 500 years, we became friends. In her specimen box, I saw the New World plants as they would have looked in 16th century Germany: a pale cross section of sassafras, twisted roots of sarsaparilla, and dark chunks of guaiacum bark, the same dried medicinal plants described in medical books and herbals from the 1500s.

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U.S. Fulbright

Bringing Darkness to Light on Fulbright, By Samantha Lakin, 2011-2012, Switzerland

December 27, 2011

My global perspective has truly evolved during my Fulbright grant in Lausanne, Switzerland.  The essence of my Fulbright research has been to record and analyze oral histories of child Holocaust survivors who were rescued as refugees and brought into Switzerland during World War II.  My project has become much more than a series of interviews with some of the world’s most unique individuals.  By meeting people who experienced one of history’s darkest periods of persecution and fanaticism, I have learned perhaps one of the most important lessons influencing my perspective: meaningful work and life in a multicultural environment require truly accepting others and extending oneself to build trust.  Many of the Holocaust survivors I’ve interviewed were rescued by non-Jewish citizens of different nationalities who risked their lives to combat the hatred the Nazi regime embodied.  Through their experiences with genocidal madness, these survivors have solidified my global perspective and helped me to believe in the strength of the individual.

Living and working in Switzerland as a Fulbright U.S. Student is exciting and challenging.  I have received an incredible response from the international and Swiss academic community, meeting with top World War II history scholars and gaining advice from some key players in the field.  I also had the unique opportunity to meet Mr. Serge Klarsfeld, the most famous modern lawyer known for trying Nazi criminals for crimes against humanity, and to speak with him about my Fulbright experience.  The respect I’ve gained as an up-and-coming scholar in Switzerland is rare.   The support from communities in Lausanne, Zurich, Basel, Geneva, and other local Swiss governments has been overwhelming.  I even had a chance to accompany a Swiss historian on a day-long trip across the French-Swiss border to learn about the history of border crossings during World War II and to gain a visual for my documented stories.  Additionally, videotaping interviews with the last generation of Holocaust survivor children (specifically, adolescents who were rescued and taken to Switzerland to escape Nazi persecution) has been an eye-opening experience.  Some survivors escaped through legal routes like the KinderTransport that left Germany for Switzerland right before the war, and others escaped clandestinely with organizations and “passeurs,” or smugglers, risking their lives to cross French and German borders into Switzerland.

As a Fulbright cultural ambassador to Switzerland from the United States, I have been able to make many connections that have enhanced my research.  At the United States Ambassador’s reception for Fulbrighters and alumni in Bern, I was able to meet Laura Bernier, a professional photographer and former Fulbrighter to Switzerland.  Since this meeting, Laura and I have been working together on a photographic representation of my research.  We’ve taken photos of the places in Switzerland where refugee children crossed borders and subsequently lived and worked, as well as portraits of the Holocaust survivors I’ve interviewed.  Ultimately, I cannot wait to finish my research, which will culminate in the publication of an article in an academic journal and also in a presentation at the United States Embassy in Switzerland in May 2012.  The Fulbright Program has allowed me to shed light on a multifaceted aspect of World War II and to showcase one of its little known histories.

For those recent graduates applying to the Fulbright Program to pursue a study or research grant, my advice is simple:

  • Find a project about which you are truly passionate and let your love for the subject shine through in your application.
  • Once you’ve found a great idea, focus and ground yourself in realistic expectations. 
  • Make sure your essays reveal your personality, but are also focused on what you can reasonably accomplish in a short year, why your research must be funded and why you are the right person for your project. 
  • Rally support from professors, scholars in the field and others.  Don’t be shy in asking for advice from your Fulbright Program Adviser or former Fulbrighters

The Fulbright experience — the unique opportunity to follow a passion for one year — is worth any challenge you may encounter beforehand.  I wish the best of luck to all of the 2012-2013 applicants!

Top photo: Samantha Lakin, 2011-2012, Switzerland, navigating the streets of Lausanne

Middle photo: Samantha Lakin, 2011-2012, Switzerland, interviewing a Holocaust survivor

Bottom photo: The French-Swiss Border, Crossing Point 50

All photos taken by Fulbright alumna Laura Bernier, 2008-2009, Switzerland

U.S. Fulbright

A Homecoming to the “City of Heroes,” By Dahlia Gratia Setiyawan, 2008-2009, Indonesia

August 3, 2011

I’ve come to admire and enjoy so much about Indonesia since my first visit there in 1999 on an undergraduate semester abroad. Accordingly, returning on a Fulbright grant to conduct dissertation research on Indonesian migration to the United States was in many ways a homecoming. And, as every homecoming is often filled with new discoveries as well as pleasant familiarities, this one met — and then exceeded — my expectations.

My Fulbright year began in November 2008 when I arrived in Jakarta to obtain my research permits with the help of the American Indonesian Exchange Foundation (AMINEF, Indonesia’s Fulbright commission). After completing these preliminaries and enjoying some time getting acquainted with the city, I was off to Surabaya, the nation’s second largest metropolis, to settle in and begin my fieldwork.

As I soon discovered, Surabaya is an especially exciting place in which to live and conduct historical research. Named the “City of Heroes” in honor of the valiant efforts of its citizenry during the Indonesian National Revolution, traces of the past linger on amidst a rapidly changing urban landscape. Places such as Tanjung Perak harbor, a working port since pre-modern times, the centuries-old ethnic residential settlements known as kampung, a diverse array of still-proud colonial-era buildings, and a wealth of archives, libraries, and museums make Surabaya an ideal site for an historian of any era.

In seeking to analyze episodes of Indonesian migration to the United States, I immersed myself in the city from which so many recent migrants originated and collected their stories. I spent time engaging in a variety of activities. Document hunting at the municipal archives and the Yayasan Medayu Agung library, recording former migrants’ original oral histories and conducting interviews with U.S. Consulate General staff in Surabaya, all yielded outstanding dissertation materials.  Upon reviewing each of the sources I gathered, I’m reminded of the kindness and generosity shown to me during my fieldwork.

Beyond my research connections, additional encounters produced some of my most meaningful Fulbright moments. As a visiting lecturer in the Department of History at Airlangga University, my affiliate institution, I became part of a remarkable community. In appreciation and exchange for the University’s sponsorship, I co-taught seminars, mentored undergraduates, and helped organize an international academic conference on urban history. My colleagues’ unrivalled encouragement and support (and goodnatured teasing about my Indonesian pronunciation) as well the opportunity to engage with an extraordinary group of students, are memories I continue to cherish. Off campus, volunteering as a cultural ambassador for the U.S. Consulate General brought me in contact with school children, journalists, and policy makers with whom I talked about life in the United States, Indonesians in America, and my Fulbright experiences. Representing my country in this capacity was truly an honor and has piqued my interest in pursuing a Foreign Service career.

My year in Indonesia prepared me not only to start writing my first dissertation chapters, but to also take on the next chapter of my life. Whether my next travels are to Indonesia or to somewhere entirely new, I’ll be able to transform any journey into a visit to a home away from home by drawing from my Fulbright experiences.

Tips for Prospective Study/Research Applicants:

  1. Design a feasible project and communicate your plans clearly in your application. When working on this step, ask: Can I reasonably carry out these plans within the parameters of the grant period? I found it helpful to envision and describe my project in terms of phases, each with some specific goals, and detail how I planned to accomplish each of them.
  2. Be proactive in reaching out to potential affiliates. Actively seek out affiliations by taking advantage of resources at your disposal, be they contacts at your college or university, online Fulbright resources, or other fonts of information. Once you come up with potential options, don’t be shy about getting in touch and inquiring about the possibility of an affiliation.  Most organizations will be very happy to hear of your interest!
  3. Make the most of your affiliation(s). Once abroad, the organization(s) with which you are affiliated present a great opportunity to gain immersion in the country and culture in which you’re living. Spend time getting to know the people there and volunteering when and how you can. Not only will you achieve the grant objectives of increasing mutual understanding and promoting cross-cultural awareness, you may even gain some new friends and receive a good deal of research support.
  4. Be open to exploring. Whether it’s taking tips from local scholars on lesser-known research sites, allowing for variations in your schedule, or even trying different foods, don’t be afraid to step away from your proposed project agenda now and then to explore and experience new things.

Photo: Dahlia Gratia Setiyawan, 2008–2009, Indonesia (second from right), with her colleagues in Airlangga University’s Department of History

Questions for Dahlia about her Fulbright experiences?  Feel free to email her at

U.S. Fulbright

Ethiopic Manuscript Culture and Its European Analogues, By Sean Winslow, 2008-2009, Ethiopia

August 31, 2009

As a scholar of the development of book technology, I have spent a lot of time studying physical objects and wondering about the mindset craftsmen had while producing books in the Ancient and Medieval periods. Since the production of manuscript books in Europe died out centuries ago, it is impossible to ask the producers about their techniques. The tradition of manuscript production that exists (in a reduced state) in the Islamic world is different enough from the one practiced during historical Christendom to limit its utility for the study of traditional European bookmaking. That is why I was excited, during the course of my research, to discover that manuscript bookmaking still survives in the Christian highlands of Ethiopia; it was simply a matter of getting the time and funds to go.

My Fulbright research project, Ethiopic Manuscript Culture and Its European Analogues, documents the remaining craft and tradition of book production in Ethiopia, and applies that knowledge more broadly to the history of book production in Europe and the Mediterranean world. Ethiopia was isolated from the Muslim conquests until the 20th century. As a result, it maintains a largely 4th-5th century style of book production. Additionally, it served as a bridge between the Mediterranean and Arab worlds: the traditional Islamic codex (like the modern book format) is based upon a form learned from Ethiopia, so comparative codicology (the study of books as physical objects) in the two traditions could help shed light on historical innovations in book production.

Based upon my interviews, I have attempted to gain insight into the mindsets of traditionally trained scribes and parchmenters, even learning a bit about magic writing and scroll-production along the way! The interviews have taken me through a large swath of the country; from towns to the remote countryside, bringing me into contact with many interesting people, some of whom I have interviewed and photographed. There has also been a great synergy between my field research and photography.

I had to apply twice to be awarded a Fulbright grant, so my primary advice to applicants would be, “Be persistent.” The second time I applied, I spent a lot more time preparing by briefing my referees on the nature of the project and allowing more time for revising application documents. I think the time spent working on the application, the additional research and the language preparation I undertook all helped. I would encourage potential grantees to start early and to take their time during the application stage.


Marigeta (a type of priest) Birhanu decorates a leather cover on a modern printed book.



Kes (Priest) Fente writing on parchment: traditional scribes produce parchment books using their knee as a writing surface.





The hands of Marigeta Haile Selassie using a bamboo pen to write characters of the native syllabary (called ‘Fidel’) of the Ge’ez language used by the Ethiopian church.




Top photo: Sean Winslow taking advantage of dry season conditions to travel around Tigray, the Northern Province of Ethiopia; Sean’s research focuses on the technological development of the book. During his Fulbright project, Ethiopic Manuscript Culture and Its European Analogues, he interviewed Ethiopia’s last Christian scribes to gain insight into the mindsets of traditional book producers.