2014/12/12

2012-13 U.S. Fulbrighters Comment On Their Experience

At the end of their stay in the Czech Republic, Fulbright grantees are required to submit a Final Report where they reflect on their experience. Here is an excerpt from these Final Reports from the academic year 2012-13.  The comments can be also found in our Annual Report.

U.S. Fulbright students conducting research in the Czech Republic have to cope with a number of cultural differences and a challenging language setting.

Anna Adler conducting research on puppet theater at the Academy of Performing Arts in 2012/13 found people here somewhat depressed at first sight attributing it to a post-Communist, post‐Soviet ‘greyness’:  “I am still not used to how reserved, unaffected, and unemotional some people are. Yet this has also taught me a lot about myself, and my own social graces. I have learned that sometimes it is good to be more restrained, more quiet, more polite – a useful exercise for me, as I very often feel like the loud American, saying whatever comes to my mind. Anyway, most Czechs I have met and formed relationships with are restrained at first but very warm, open and generous when you get to know them, full of humor and eccentricities.”

On the other hand, René Miller studying proteins at the Charles University Faculty of Science in 2012/13 cannot praise enough the warm attitudes of her Czech colleagues: “The camaraderie that my colleagues share is unmatched to any other laboratory I have experienced in the United States. They support each other in their personal lives and professional lives. The laboratory is one cohesive unit – lunches and breaks are taken together, sports are played together, work is a collaborated effort.”

Fulbright year enables U.S. students to fully concentrate on their work. Sivan Eldar studying music composition at the Academy of Performing Arts in 2012/13 emphasizes in her final report: “The Fulbright experience has been invaluable in allowing me to transition from a student-composer to a professional one. During my time in Prague I was able to dedicate myself fully to my art: composing, collaborating with local musicians, dancers, producers, giving professional talks about my work. As I return to the US in July to teach a composition workshop and give a talk on my recent projects, I bring with me these new professional experiences, and also a newly gained confidence in my ability to work in and out of academia.”

René Miller states that “Professionally I am better prepared and better equipped with the skills I need to work independently as a researcher and as a team member.”

Fulbright year makes U.S. students perceive their host country differently than a regular tourist. Quite often, they identify themselves with their temporary home.

Anna Adler was surprised how much of the city is overrun by tourists most of the year: “Though I am still a tourist in a sense, I feel very protective of Prague, maybe even more than the natives…The tourists eat up the city’s space, resources, air and energy! They truly consume the city. The city gets lost underneath them all. Also, what I found striking is the hyper consumption of cheap goods not just souvenirs bought by tourists  but local people buying all sorts of cheap food, clothing and accessories just because they can buy freely. So quantity and availability of goods has quickly superseded quality in a sort of hyper--‐capitalist mode of consumption…”. Therefore, Anna’s plan is “to propose to do a Visual Culture Orientation Seminar, for NYU Prague Study Abroad program or perhaps another organization, in order to share my knowledge and experience of Prague, in an alternative, creative and performative way. Through this seminar students will create physical and mental maps of the city thus becoming invested, engaged and immersed in their genius loci.”

Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETA) placed at secondary schools all over the country often face much more challenging situations than research students mostly staying in Prague (totally unknown environment, lack of social contacts, demanding teaching obligations).

The experience described thoroughly by Adam Spanier teaching at the Grammar School Uničov in 2012/13 is similar to that of other ETAs: “In a very abstract way, my time here in the Czech Republic has resulted in a strange balance of improved confidence (if I can live and travel by myself, alone, in a tiny Czech town for 10 months, I think I can live almost anywhere), and also an increase in humility (the more I learn here, the more I realize that I don’t know all that much). The people here, the culture, the stories – everything really – has given me a greater appreciation of the world and provided me with even more encouragement to continue my pursuit of adventure and understanding. In a less abstract way, living in a country where I don’t speak the native language has required me to better develop my communication skills and my patience. Things that would have been simple in my native language (organizing class lists, discussing lesson plans, etc…), have required precision and clarity. And finally, in a more tangible way, this experience has allowed me to better develop my language skills (I have greatly improved my Spanish and my Czech). I’ve also spent time developing the following knowledge about skills: photography, web design, photo manipulation, screenwriting, film history and theory, and others.” 

 For many like Asha Gibson teaching at the Grammar School in Nymburk in 2012/13 their Fulbright is a formative experience: “Personally I think I have grown a lot in this year. I have developed a love for teaching and I am no longer afraid of public speaking. I have learned to laugh at myself and not take things too personally. I have also learned I can adapt to most situations.”

Most host institutions are aware of the above mentioned challenges and try embracing ETAs in local communities as much as possible. A

sha Gibson was totally impressed by the lasting relationships that she had made:“My colleagues are so caring, considerate, and thoughtful. I have been overwhelmed with love and kindness these last 10 months. In addition, I have found the people of Nymburk have also welcomed me with open arms. I was able to integrate into the community in several ways, which helped me to adapt to my new surroundings. I have already made plans to return to Nymburk and several of my colleagues and friends have made plans to visit me in New York. I know that the friendships that I have made will last a lifetime and that I will always have a second home in Nymburk.” While some U.S. students have encountered racism in relation to Roma, Asha states: “I was surprised that me being Black was never an issue. People were curious more than anything else. I found that talking about my experiences with being Black was a great way to open up conversations about race and discrimination in the Czech Republic. I think one of the biggest differences between the USA and the CR is that in the US, there are people of many different cultures and backgrounds. It was sometimes challenging to talk about diversity in the classroom because many times, the students have never considered people who are different from them.”

As the quality of research and higher education institutions in the Czech Republic has been increasing gradually since 1989 Fulbright grants have become more and more beneficial not only for Czech host institutions but for grantees themselves as well as for their home institutions.

Prof. Andras Gutman conducting research at the Institute of Analytical Chemistry of the Czech Academy of Sciences speaks with great respect of his Czech colleagues: “The professional value of my stay was very high as the group of Dr. František Foret is one of the best in the world in combining the theoretical and practical aspects of electric field driven separation methods in miniaturized format. As a continuation of my Fulbright project, I and my host are getting into the exciting field of circulating tumor cell (CTC) research using microfluidics and currently applying for joint grants. We will have close collaboration on the new field of CTC analysis, sending exchange students and postdocs to each other’s labs and continue with joint publications in the field of miniaturization.”

A historian Prof. Claire Nolte researching in the Prague City Archives in 2012/13 is convinced that since she teaches at a small college with little research support, her experience was of great professional value to her:“Without the Fulbright grant, I could never have contemplated undertaking a project of this magnitude.”

Prof. Michael Kraus who gave courses at the Faculty of Social Science of Charles University became newly interested in the subject of corruption, something he had not studied systematically until now:
“I will offer a course on “Comparative Corruption” at my home institution down the road—I have collected much new material here, as well as the experience of designing the course here.”  

Teaching in different educational settings often asks for changes in teaching techniques.

Shippen Bright lecturing at the Faculty of Business Administration of the University of Economics and the Faculty of Humanities of Charles University in Prague in 2012/13 says: “Professionally I find that whenever I have taught something I end up learning even more. My students ask probing questions that challenge long held beliefs and the defending or modification of those beliefs and understand make me a better teacher, better practitioner and a better person.” 

Prof. Julie Pietroburgo who lectured at the Faculty of Economics and Administration of Masaryk University in 2012/13 values new teaching techniques she tried out while in the Czech Republic: “… seeing my course materials through the eyes of a new group of students has caused me to re-prioritize and restructure how I teach this course.  This will be useful to me back home where perhaps I had become a bit established in my ways.  I certainly have developed a new sensitivity to the subject of fundraising and what works and doesn’t in different cultural settings. To the extent that I have a number of international students at home, I think that I can be more relevant in my teaching to them having had this experience. I will add an international perspective to my fundraising and grantmaking courses. Many of the materials that I have gathered and utilized for my Czech teaching experience will be incorporated into my courses at home. Further, I teach a Writing course for graduate students at my home institution. Many of my students are those for whom English is a second language. I have new appreciation for and familiarity with their unique writing problems having taught here.”

Prof. George Stoffan giving music courses at the Janáček Academy of Performing Arts in 2012/13 believes that his work here will have enduring value on me as a clarinetist and as an instructor:“I have learned how to organize my thoughts, slow down the process, and deliver my thoughts in clearer, more concise ways. While here, I had to do that out of necessity. When I did not, my students would stop me and ask me what I meant, or to repeat myself, and I am glad they did. They have helped me become a better teacher. I will be a new teacher for my students back in the U.S., as I adopt these newly-formed habits in my full-time position. I have also learned new repertoire. I hope to perform more Czech music in my recitals in the U.S., and to present Czech music at conferences and other universities so that I may promote Czech music in the United States.”

For some U.S. grantees the experience of being here has become really unique and unrepeatable as Prof. David Edwards teaching at the Faculty of Humanities of Charles University in 2012/13 states in his report: “On a personal level, this year was also vitally important for me and my wife, given that our son was born here during our time with Fulbright.”

Prof. Jeffrey Smith who lectured at the Ostrava University in 2012/13 decided to eventually settle down in the Czech Republic: “… the grant year fundamentally repositioned me professionally, enabled considerable forward-looking effort with respect to course development and research, and made me acquainted with many Czechs (and others) with whom I will continue to interact and collaborate in coming years.”

Fulbright specialists bring expertise and contacts that are much needed at Czech universities. They represent a different teaching style, which stimulates critical thinking among students. Simultaneously, specialists themselves find the participation in the program enriching. They are able to learn about different cultures and establish new partnerships.  The program has been particularly crucial for universities outside the capital which may experience difficulties in attracting international scholars. It has also been very important for introducing the fields not developed in the Czech Republic.

Prof. Kolker praised the interest of students in his classes: “The students were fully engaged in the class and attendance, which is not considered mandatory at Charles University, was about 95%. Responses to an anonymous survey I provided to the students demonstrated that they were enthusiastic about the class. In addition, faculty liaison thanked me several times and indicated the program well fulfilled expectations. I developed Power Point slides with some video illustrations for each class. Students advised that these provided helpful reinforcement of the material covered during the lectures and classroom participation as did the reading materials. For a subsequent presentation, I would provide additional information on international arbitration and on methods of dealing with corruption as the students regard it as inevitable and unlikely to be eliminated.”

Prof. Ratner spoke very enthusiastically about his visit: “Collaboration with Professors Havlas and Michl on the subject of exciton fission was cemented during my visit. Other joint projects are possible, including one with the group in Olomouc on iron derivatives as both photovoltaic components and with the group in Brno on climate change behaviors in chemistry. The best thing that happens on such a short visit is meeting new people – I arranged for one postdoc to come for a year to Northwestern, I arranged a short-term visit for one of my graduate students to visit Prague, and I think I let the people at all the institutions other than my host institution (which was already quite aware of this) know about the kind of nanoscience and charge transport being done at Northwestern. Finally, I think that the more American people come through places like Czech Republic, the better our mutual understandings will be, which provides progress not only in science, but also in society. What I learned from this experience was mostly that wonderful science is actually done in Olomouc at Palacký University, and in Brno at the Technical University there. In fact, some of the instrumentation at these places is spectacular: better than that at any American institution of which I am aware.”

Also Prof. Janata expects further cooperation: “We will continue our common scientific project (atomic metals) both on theoretical and experimental basis. I would also like to help them to develop a graduate course in chemical sensors.”

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