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U.S. Fulbright

Life After Chernobyl

October 17, 2014
Michael Forster Rothbart

Michael Forster Rothbart, 2008-2009, Ukraine, taking photos in the Semikhody graveyard less than a mile from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant

The following blog post is by alumnus Michael Forster Rothbart, who coordinated the compilation and assembly of the current Fulbright Alumni Photography Exhibit, now showing in The Atrium Gallery at the Ronald Reagan Building, 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC, through November 10, 2014. Opening reception and gala to be held at the gallery on Friday, October 17 at 5:30 p.m. Visit the gallery’s Facebook page to learn more.

One month into my Fulbright U.S. Student Program grant to Ukraine, I moved to Sukachi, a village of 1,200, ten miles from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

What’s it like to live near Chernobyl? It depends who you ask. “Is it even safe?” they asked in Kyiv. “Why would you want to live up there, in the middle of nowhere?!” But when people in Sukachi asked where I lived, I said I rented a room from Nina. “Oh, how convenient,” they’d say. “That’s right in the middle of the village!”

I made friends. I drank vodka with my landlord Nina. I drank tea with Viktor. I photographed my neighbors. Sasha, a recovering alcoholic, taught me how to cut hay. Slava, a doctor at the Chernobyl plant, taught me to make borscht. I went to church. I lived my life like the locals as much as I possibly could.

My commitment to this project began when I discovered how most photojournalists distort Chernobyl. They visit briefly, expecting danger and despair, and come away with photos of deformed children and abandoned buildings. This sensationalist approach obscures the more complex stories about how displaced communities adapt and survive.

In contrast, I sought to create full portraits of these communities. I saw suffering, but also joy and beauty, endurance and hope. Living directly in the villages where I photographed gave me access to events and people with an insider’s perspective.

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Foreign Fulbright

Generating Electricity from Windows: A Sunny Fulbright Experience

December 4, 2013
Anastasiia Iefanova, Ukraine

Anastasiia Iefanova, 2011-2013, Ukraine, conducting experimental procedures on the fabrication of semitransparent dye-sensitized solar cells at South Dakota State University

My Fulbright experience started with a Pre-academic Language Program at the University of Arkansas. There, I had an unforgettable experience interacting with students from different countries who became my friends while studying English with me. Meeting people from different parts of the world was one of the highlights of my Fulbright experience as it broadened my world view and helped me to better understand people from different cultural backgrounds. Living with a host family also improved my understanding of American culture as well as my English skills. My host family was very kind and helped me with everything. At the end of my Pre-academic Language Program, my English skills had improved exponentially. These experiences helped me to successfully begin my academic program at South Dakota State University and become more independent while living in the United States.

My master’s program in electrical engineering at South Dakota State University was initially very challenging. Everything was different from my previous school: the academics, how things were organized, and the teaching style. After a couple of months, things became more familiar, and I started to focus more on my research by working with Dr. Mahdi Farrokh Baroughi and his group.

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