Sunday, December 4, 2011

Fulbright: It's for Students, Too!

I’ve been here in Amman, Jordan for just under three months now, with seven to go, and I have to say that one of the best things about the experience so far has been sharing it with the wonderful cohort that arrived when I did.  There are five professors who were given Fulbright awards to Jordan this year: my colleagues Tess O’Neill and Angela Banks are both nursing faculty – Tess at the University of Jordan (UJ) with me and Angela at the Jordan University of Science and Technology (JUST)  to the north of here.  Two other professors, one at UJ and one at JUST, will be joining us in January to do 4 month grants.  However, the majority of Fulbrighters here are actually students and that is the point of my post.
Until I became a Fulbrighter and had the chance to meet student Fulbrighters, I had a lot of misconceptions about the program.  So, I’m presenting Five Things Students May Not Know about Becoming Student Fulbrighters.
1.        There is a wide range of eligibility for student Fulbright applicants.
The students here come in all shapes and sizes.  Some of the students here just graduated with their undergraduate degrees in May 2011.  Others have master’s and/or other graduate degrees. Some have been in the working world for a year or more.  A few are actually here working on their doctoral research.  What they have in common is that they all wrote great applications and showed their commitment to the work or research they are doing now through the work they did as undergrads or grad students.
Grace (University of Alabama - Birmingham) and Hannah (Cornell) are both English Teaching Assistants (ETAs). They live with their friend and fellow ETA, Jennifer (Lawrence), and have made it their business to explore just about every cafe in Amman for the best combination work-and-play spots.

2.       If a student is interested in learning a language that the US government considers vital, there is additional money available for that.
Saint Michael’s has two professors serving as Fulbrights this year: Professor Amy Werbel and me. We are both  in countries with official languages (Chinese and Arabic)  that the US government wishes more Americans understood.  Therefore, the US government offers students selected for programs to these and other CLEA (critical language enhancement award) countries special grants in order to spend the first part of their time in-country working on their language skills.  Here, that has meant that all the student researchers have been going to the Qasid Language Institute to study Arabic five days a week since we arrived.  Most of them will finish next week and start their actual research.

3.       Student Fulbrighters come from all kinds of majors and institutions.
There are students from large research institutions like Yale, Johns Hopkins, Princeton and Cornell here, but there are also students from small liberal colleges and big state universities  There are plenty of students who made Arab studies and/or Arabic the focus of their studies, but there are plenty of political science and other liberal arts majors, as well as science majors like biology and geology.  My friend Elizabeth has both a master’s and a law degree on top of her undergraduate degree.
These are the residents of Carpetland (their enormous, entirely carpeted apartment). They are my nearest Fulbright neighbors, and some of my all-time favorite people.  Mike (Syracuse) is doing doctoral research on how legislative bodies affect decisions in a monarchy, and Luke (Yale) and Cooper (Kansas) are ETAs.
4.       There are different kinds of student Fulbright awards.
The traditional route to becoming a student Fulbrighter is to write a proposal describing a project that you would like to research and write about over the coming year.  There are 18 student researchers in Jordan this year who followed that path.  But there are also 10 English teaching assistants (ETAs).  Like the scholars (my category) they are here for the school year (10 months) and have been assigned to all kinds of schools in the Amman area to help out in the English programs.  Some work at the college level, some at secondary school; some work one-on-one and some lecture whole classes. The point is that both avenues ( student researcher and ETA) are possibilities for students interested in becoming Fulbrights.
Jacqui (Johns Hopkins) is a good example of a Fulbrighter who does it all.  She is here to research gender-based violence in Jordan and she's also a regular volunteer at the Jerash Palestinian refugee camp an hour north of here.  On Thanksgiving Day she competed in a bike race from the Dead Sea to Madaba as one of three women in the whole race.

5.       Being a Fulbrighter is fun!
Of course, as in any cultural exchange experience things can be challenging, especially in the beginning.  But from my observations, most of the Fulbrighters here are having an amazing experience.  Most have chosen to live in apartments in groups of two or three, and they’re out exploring Jordan and sometimes the surrounding countries, on weekends and holidays.  They’re also making a difference in the community.  Some are tutoring Sundanese refugees in English, some are volunteering in Palestinian refugee camps, and some are doing additional unpaid internships in nongovernmental organizations that work on the issues they care about. They’re more independent than the average study abroad student, but there is also the wonderful built-in community provided by the rest of the Fulbrighters. 
Elizabeth, here riding a camel with me in the Wadi Rum desert had what I think is one of the most interesting research proposals I can imagine.  Combining her skills and interests in Arabic studies, law, and archeology, she is doing a research project on the stolen antiquities trade, and will be spending a chunk of her winter as a participant at an archaeological dig near the Dead Sea.

The bottom line, I’d say, is that anyone who is interested in doing research or teaching English in another country, whether they’re graduating this year or finished their degree years ago,  should check out what Fulbright has to offer.  There are three of us in the department who have had Fulbright grants (Mike Bosia, who was a student Fulbrighter in France, Jeff Ayres, who had a researcher grant in Canada, and me – first in Tanzania and now in Jordan), and I know we are all huge supporters of the Fulbright program.  So remember : Fulbright is for students (and alumni) too!
For more information, contact Professor Reza Ramazani:
Or check out this website:

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Annual Autumn Fieldtrip to Ottawa, Canada

Posted by Political Science department Chairman, Jeff Ayres:

One of my favorite courses to teach at Saint Michael's is Canadian Politics, and one of the highlights of the course is our annual three-day fieldtrip to Canada's capital in Ottawa. We have been fortunate to have been able to accompany students and faculty from the University of Vermont's Canadian Studies Program for over a decade now each fall semester to Ottawa. The trip gives us a whirlwind tour of Canadian politics, society and culture, and these past three days (October 27-29) did not disappoint. While our itinerary is generally the same each year, including visits to Parliament and meetings with M.P.'s, tours of the National Gallery of Canada and the Canadian Museum of Civilization, an Ontario Hockey League game featuring the Ottawa '67's and time spent exploring the city of Ottawa including the historic Byward Market, each annual visit is shaped uniquely by current political events, and the trip this year served as a reminder especially of just how many ways Canada distinguishes itself from the United States.

A view across the Ottawa, River from Gatineau, Quebec of Canada's Parliament

Canada has a parliamentary system, inherited from the United Kingdom, and we arrived on Parliament Hill in the wake of a spring 2011 federal election that produced a major political realignment in Canada with the formation of a Conservative majority government led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and an official opposition formed historically for the first time by Canada's leftist social democratic New Democratic Party. One of the highlights of this trip is the opportunity to attend Question Period, a centerpiece of the adversarial parliamentary system, where the opposition parties in the House of Commons ask questions of the government and seek to hold it to account for stated government goals and policies. What we witnessed was an opposition (there are four opposition parties in Canada's House of Commons--the NDP, the Liberal Party, the Bloc Quebecois and the Green Party) struggling to challenge a government that clearly intended to pursue its mandate to craft a decidedly more conservative ideologically domestic and foreign policy for Canada. Following Question Period we had an opportunity to speak to and ask questions of two Members of Parliament from the opposition New Democratic and Liberal Parties, who discussed the many differences between Canada and the U.S. (a more collectivist political culture, stricter campaign financing laws, the notable lack of a right to bear arms, and the ever persistent French-English divide).

Saint Michael's students and faculty on a glorious sunny, blue sky (but cold!) Friday morning in the shadow of Parliament Hill on our walk to the National Gallery

Friday is a long but rewarding day for us in Ottawa, as we immersed ourselves in historical and cultural contexts to better understand current political debates. Canada's beautiful National Gallery of Art, which first opened in 1988, is always a welcome opportunity to see collections of both Canadian as well as American and European art. In particular, our tour guide helped us to appreciate the importance of the works of Canada's famous Group of Seven, who shared nationalist ideals and shaped a sense of developing Canadian identity in the years before the Second World War through the depiction of the rugged Canadian landscape (especially the Canadian Sheild).

Students and faculty from Saint Michael's and the University of Vermont walking towards the National Gallery

After visiting the National Gallery, we travelled across the Ottawa River to Gatineau, Quebec, the home of the Canadian Museum of Civilization, and explored a number of exhibits that helped us to appreciate the origins of Canada's multinational (English, French and First Nations) and polyethnic heritage. The Grand Hall is an amazing space backed by a huge photograph of Canada's Pacific Northwest forest, and filled with totem polls and house facades of First Nations of the Northwest (and said to be the largest grouping of totem poles in the world).

Totem pole in Grand Hall at Museum of Civilization

We wrapped up Friday with a lesson of just how important the game of hockey remains to Canadians as one of the few rituals that still has the capacity to knit together the great regional, national and polyethnic differences that so-often divide Canadians. We first attended a lecture by Canadian historian and hockey expert Andrew Hollman at Carleton University, and then travelled to the Ottawa Civic Centre to watch an Ontario Hockey League game featuring the Ottawa '67's (named after the date of Canada's confederation in 1867) and featuring an exciting win in a shoot-out by the 67's.

Ottawa '67's hockey game at Ottawa Civic Centre

A great way to end the trip is to spend Saturday morning exploring Ottawa's Byward Market area downtown, filled with stores, coffee houses, bakeries, and multitudes of speciality food shops. One of my favorite pastimes is to spend an hour or two with the Saturday Toronto Globe and Mail and Ottawa Citizen newspapers with a few pastries and a bowl of cafe au lait in Le Moulin de Provence at the heart of the Byward Market. I have actually lived in Ottawa several times--once for about nine months in 1992 and again in 2003-04 during my Fulbright with my wife and two daughters--and we rarely missed a Saturday morning in the Market.

Interestingly enough, the trip this year did coincide with the still unfolding "Occupy Wallstreet" movement, and across from our downtown Lord Elgin hotel, in Confederation Park, was a large encampment of Occupy Ottawa protesters raising awareness that the border is not a barrier to the challenges posed to Canadians of growing economic inequality, soaring education costs and spreading youth unemployment. We learned a great deal about what distinguishes Canadians politically, socially, historically and culturally from the United States, but I left also recognizing how much we also share as allies, neighbors and participants in this current era of global political transformation and continued economic crisis.

Occupy Ottawa Protesters in Confederation Park