Second and Third Days of Fulbright Orientation

We started the second day with a run-through of how to manage our Fulbright grant. The CIES representatives discussed our book allowance, the diplomatic pouch, the extra allowance for dependents, how to handle medical insurance among many other administrative topics.

The second session was a two-person panel discussing policy issues in the western hemisphere. The first speaker, an executive from the U.S. Department of State, mentioned that we will be thee U.S. representative in our host country, that we need to understand the significance of that fact and that role. He mentioned that initiatives that came out of the Summit of the Americas include a call for multinational (as opposed to binational) coalitions to be called together to work on issues such as microfinance, energy and climate change partnerships, best practices for each country, security issues which really includes narcotraffic and violence related to drug trafficking, a and more focused look at diversity and tolerance and introducing an education program. I will need to go back and look at President Obama’s Summit speech in Trinidad but I hope that the teaching learning truly goes both ways, I think the U.S. has loads to learn about the issue of diversity and tolerance from places like Trinidad, where there is a true diverse culture, with 40 percent of the population of African descent, 40 percent from Indian subcontinent descent and the other 20 percent from China, Canada, Syria and elsewhere. Often times I think the U.S. should sit back and just listen.

The second speaker was an academic with much of his experiences in Mexico. He said he couldn’t think of another time when left-of-center politics were on the rise in the western hemispheric region. I do not know what was implied by this discussion, that the politics of democratically-elected Venezuela, Chile, Bolivia, and others, should worry us as a country, but I do not share his (or the previous speaker’s) concerns. What we need to keep in mind as we all go forward are the words Obama said at the Summit of the Americas “I didn't come here to debate the past -- I came here to deal with the future.”

We had breakout sessions for people going to certain countries. Fulbright alumni came to give some words of advice. My breakout group included Barbados, Dominica and Jamaica. This was a great way to meet the scholars and students going to Barbados (though I already met all of them) and to hear from those who recently went to the country I am going to. This was a great session, though one thing is clear, Barbados is not like Jamaica. Neither is it like many of the other locations making up the central American region.

After lunch, we saw a panel of three Fulbrighters showing some images from their time in their host country and offering some words of advice. Some of this panel is shown in the video above. This discussion was helpful though seemed to be giving us something we might already know: be logical, be careful, and immerse yourself in the culture.

We started the third day with a breakout for the scholars, those teaching in a foreign country. We heard from four scholars about their experiences teaching in their host countries. All four mentioned challenging teaching conditions, students showing up late, lack of resources. There was a lot about what the country didn’t have, there wasn’t much on what to do with that situation. If one is used to teaching with a projector and computer and all one has is a blackboard and no chalk, how does one work with that? Given the technological and physical challenges one faced how did you modify your pedagogy?

I will be teaching a GIS class and I’ve seen the facilities for teaching this computer-based course. I think I will be okay, technologically-speaking, but this discussion gave me food-for-thought.

There was a talk on what is offered as a Fulbright alumnus. This was pretty cool. I can get an email address, access to academic journals and newspapers, a jobs database and information on volunteerism.

Overall, this was a great orientation. I feel really ready for this academic adventure, I met some wonderful students and the other scholar who will be in Barbados when I am there, and I understand the significance of what I am about to embark upon. Here we go!

The above photo is from David E Marshall's Panoramio collection and it is called "UWI Cave Hill Campus - Clock Tower." Looks beautiful!


First Day of Fulbright Orientation

I am attending the Fulbright Orientation for scholars and students going to the Americas. Yesterday was the first. Here is the schedule and here is what we did the first day:

I’m in Washington D.C. for the Fulbright orientation (at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, DC, 38°53'58.34"N, 77° 1'35.79"W) for students and scholars going to central America and the Caribbean. There are about 100 Fulbrighters here and 2 dozen of them are Fulbright alumni from the region.

During the welcoming remarks we were told that the Fulbright award is among the most competitive in the country. The remarks were important to hear to set the tone for our future experience in the host country. The program is 63 years old and the Fulbright objective has always been “to build mutual understanding between people and places.” We were told that the program is built on soft diplomacy and for building relationships among countries.

The Fulbright program is ‘at a high-water mark’ in terms of funding and solidity but to remember that the U.S. taxpayers are paying my way. My responsibility, however, is not to defend U.S. foreign policy and I am not an official representative of the U.S. government. They do expect all Fulbrighters to be mindful of what we do and say, especially in the context of blogs, Facebook photos or Twitter tweets. I am the face of America and should get out and mingle with as many people as possible while in my host country.

The significance of President Obama making one of his first international visits to the Trinidad and Tobago for the Summit of the Americas meeting was underscored and should be of particular interest to all of us traveling to the Caribbean. This kind of regional presidential attention has not been paid of late and the opportunity for diplomacy with and among the United States’ nearest neighbors is ripe.

The keynote speaker, Dr. Joan Dassin, is Executive Director of the International Fellowships Fund at the Ford Foundation, highlighted the fact that we are leaving for a region at a particularly positive time and we are traveling as ‘citizen-diplomats.’ Latin America has welcomed the election of Barack Obama. Dassin asked the hypothetical question ‘How far do the U.S. presidential policies point to real change?’ We will live out that answer as we move and act as citizen-scholars and citizen-diplomats. There is an important shift in hemispheric relations, where Obama says we “seek an equal partnership in which there is no senior or junior partnership.” As Fulbrighters we have an opportunity to listen and learn from the rest of the world. We must learn as much as we teach and reach beyond individual specialization.

This is going to be a fantastic experience, this Fulbright year ahead of me.

Oddly enough, no one seemed to be Twittering the event. People were paying attention! I did do some Twitter searches only to discover that there were simultaneous orientations going on (in addition to the orientation for China scholars going on at the same hotel as mine).

Click here for days 2 and 3.


Living in Barbados

We settled on an apartment for next year. It's going to be great. You've got to see it to appreciate it. If one goes all the way to a beautiful place like Barbados, shouldn't one try to live as close to the beach as possible? That's the thinking on this.

Next part of the Fulbright experience will be the Fulbright Orientation in Washington D.C. next week.