Kathy Parkison reflects on her service trip with fellow Fulbright alumni to Serbia.
“You need to ‘sling’ the mortar into the space, not shove it in. Here, let me show you.” Thus began my introduction to historically accurate stone structure repair. As a Fulbright alum (the country of Georgia in 2005), I was used to being flexible and thinking creatively about situations, but this was a great new learning experience. If my Fulbright experience was cake, this trip was icing on the cake.
Fulbright Alumni Service Trips are a different kind of traveling. Although other tour companies might promise educational touring, these Service trips offer a unique blend of education, service learning, historical monuments and touring of the countryside. In addition, we were paired up with students who were participating in a Regional Restoration Camp, run by Cultural Heritage without Borders (CHwB), a Swedish nonprofit. Students and young professionals from all over the Balkans attend these camps. For these students, CHwB offers an intense academic experience learning about design principles and historical restoration techniques while working with artisans, architects, civil engineers and so on. While part of the purpose of the camps is indeed historical restoration, another underlying purpose is to promote peace in the region. Having these students live and work (in English no less) with fellow students from around the region lets them learn and better understand their fellow Balkan neighbors.
We were to work in Eastern Serbia in the wine cellars of Rogljevacke (near the Danube River). The students actually lived in the wine cellar region while we were based in nearby Negotin, Serbia. CHwB mixed up the faculty and students into four groups: the roof crew, the stoners (my group), the mud crew and the survey crew. Note the safety equipment.
Our task was stone work. First you must sift the stone/sand mixture to isolate out the sand. Sifting took much of one day. Then you begin the mortar process by throwing water onto the stones (so the mortar will stick). And then comes the actual ‘slinging’ of the mortar into the joints.
Each group had their own set of chores. For the mud group, first you mix the water and straw into the dirt and get it to the right consistency. Once the mud is mixed, then you wet the walls with a paintbrush and water so the mud will adhere. Then you have the fun chore of putting the mud onto the walls by hand. I do believe the students and faculty alike enjoyed that part.
In addition to working with CHwB, the Fulbright trip emphasized touring the wonders of the country. As an ancient civilization, Serbia had Roman ruins, beautiful cities, and lovely monasteries and nunneries. There was even a very early civilization, the earliest in Europe (about 9500 BCE) located at Lepenski Vir on the Danube.
Lastly, the trip included soft diplomacy through visits with government officials, faculty members at various institutions, embassy officials, ministry officials and fellow Fulbrighters across the country. Takeaways from these visits include: All of them emphasizing that the war mongering past of Serbia is in the past; a true desire to be good citizens of the world; a wish for closer ties with the U.S. and U.S. businesses; a desire to join the EU, a love of their country and a desire to share it with all of us.
Overall, I had no idea what the true impact of this trip would be on me. I had no idea it would be so much fun to spend two weeks with fellow Fulbright alumni, that it would be so much fun to learn historical restoration techniques, that I would enjoy learning the history of the area, and that I would so enjoy the country and its people. Fulbright alumni are so easy to travel with, so much in love with learning and so ready to welcome you into their fold.
I would highly recommend all Fulbright alumni (and their partners) to travel with a Fulbright Association Service Trip. It is a wonderful way to see a country; to help that country on its economic, political and social growth patterns and to meet a group of fellow alumni that will forever be your close friends.