Experiences as a Fulbright – Roy Gonas – Ukraine 2010

As a Fulbright Specialist one is expected to impart knowledge and usually in the classroom.  But it is one part of the responsibility.  For me being a Fulbright became a mission of diplomacy, education, relationships and other experiences-many unexpected.  This writing is an attempt to share some of those experiences and how becoming a Fulbright occurred.

Preparing for the unexpected, if there is such, is something attorneys try to do.  It applied to my first visit to Ukraine.  It was April 2010.  Part of the reason for visiting was to inquire in behalf of an American university if the University of Kyiv wanted to establish a relationship with it.  The appointment was in the Department of Private International Law.  A few days before leaving home a request was made by the department to give a lecture.  The shortage of time to prepare caused me to decline.  But during the meeting an older professor walked in, introduced himself and told me how much time I had for a lecture.  The meeting with the host adjourned and found myself walking to the lecture hall conversing with the professor and putting thoughts together on what to lecture.

The host professor suggested speaking on International Commercial Arbitration (CA) and two other topics.  Saved.  I had just completed hearing an ICA case and remembered some interesting points from it to discuss without breaching confidentiality.

We entered the lecture hall with elevated aisles and saw no empty seats.  During the introduction thought was given to speaking about fifty minutes and leaving about twenty minutes for questions.  To do so the audience was baited by leaving open items deserving for discussion.  It worked.  After, students lined up to ask more questions.  There have been multiple returns to Kyiv to lecture.

Roy-Gonas-Fulbright-Ukraine3-8a95b735Then during a brief visit to Lviv (Ukrainian spellings used), a remarkable city, I was asked about the Kyiv visit and mentioned the lecture experience.  Not know was the person with whom I spoke was well known by the University of Lviv Faculty of International Relations where a number of subdisciplines in law are taught.  Soon after returning home and likely resulting from the Lviv conversation came an invitation to lecture there.  Two weeks were planned for ninety-minute lectures on ICA plus others.  Lectures have been given at various universities but it was the first time having a class.

Feeling a calling for the classroom, research was done for grants to lecture abroad.  Application was made for the Fulbright Specialist program.  Two weeks after becoming approved an invitation came from the National University, Odesa Academy of Law, which found me on the roster, and was accepted.  Ten ninety-minute lectures were scheduled over two weeks.

Travel to Odesa, arrival and the first full day were experiences of their own.  The trip of three planes and layovers was 17 ½ hours arriving Sunday at 10:30 p. m.  The head of the Department of International Relations and Law was waiting to greet and we drove to a dormitory having an apartment for visiting faculty.  Our first task was to remove a very pregnant cat escaping the cold, wind and rain.  The host told me Monday’s schedule: breakfast nearby at nine, meeting with the Vice Rector for International Studies at ten, followed by lunch with the new aide.

Leave was taken to get some rest and review notes before lecturing 3:30-5.  But more was to come.

Found was law students take notes and exit.  There is little if any inter-action with professors compared with US schools.  In Central and Eastern schools many professors are from the Soviet era or were trained by those from it.  Class discussion is not like in American classrooms.  But in each of the law schools visited request was made to encourage class discussion.  There remains an effort to change the classroom environment.  Add to this background the students encountered had before them someone trained by the Socratic method, learning the concepts of a new subject with new terms and in their third or fourth language.  It called for giving students a syllabus, speaking slower than usual with more commonly use words.  Still, the challenge continued due to some students hesitant with their believed level of English and trying to communicate with those in their first year of university and others through to the second year of Ph.D. level-a six year spread.

The day was not over at 5:00 p.m.  Students remained to ask questions, usually till 5:30 and later.  A student aide would then say which ones were picking me up at seven and where we would be going.   One evening students told me they volunteered for the evening outings. They wanted to get to know me.  They heard the same from me and saying it was part of our education.

There was more than lecturing on ICA.  Added was a lecture on advocacy.  It gave me the opportunity to speak on ethics.  The host told me to expect 25 students.  After meeting the dean of the advocacy school, we entered a classroom with well over 130 students.  On another occasion a classroom full of judges were addressed on ICA.  Like at home many new judges are not familiar with arbitration.

Here it should be stated my rules.  It was becoming apparent some students may be wanting to remain in contact.  Required was they must initiate the contact.  Some did, became friends and following their careers a joy.  Also, except with a female aide, if only females were taking me out there must be at least two.  A couple of the ladies have married and their husbands have also become good friends.  My life has been enriched by their friendships and the host faculty members at each school.  To be remembered is when students said being in residence showed my interest in them and not just giving a guest lecture, not taking questions, enjoying the hospitality and leaving.  Remember diplomacy.

Odesa was greatly enjoyed.  The host and his assistances were very gracious.  He invited my annual return.  They continued from his successor and were fulfilled till the pandemic.  Students remain a joy with whom to work and, sometimes, mentor.  But the return home was far from relaxing.  Travel the Fulbright office scheduled was from Odesa to Prague to Rome then Miami.  But Rome called for spending overnight and meeting an early flight to Miami.  The last flight was delayed by hours.  Service on the foreign carrier had minimal service.  So be it.  The first Fulbright experience remains with great memories.

About 1 ½ years after the first Odesa trip an invitation came from the Director of the Institute for Legal Studies of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences to lecture under a Fulbright grant.  The Institute’s grant application was rejected.  The Fulbright office said it wanted to send a constitutional law scholar.  Later learned none went.  The director again applied and was approved.  The assignment included lecturing two weeks at the University of Szeged Law School and then be in Budapest two weeks to give a lecture at Central European University and address an international symposium on the proposed US-EU treaty on trade.  Near the end of the spring 2016 assignment an invitation came to attend a cruise on the Danube given for incoming and the outgoing Fulbright students.  Most of the time was speaking with the students.   Their study and career plans were taken with much interest.  Already enjoyed was following former students going on to foreign universities to earn LLM degrees and beyond.

A former student suggested I see Chernivtsi, Ukraine.  The beautiful university was visited.  While there a law professor just met escorted me to the law building.  Soon there was an audience of the dean and several faculty and students.  Asked why visiting Ukraine the audience was told of the annual lecture assignments in Lviv and Odesa.  There upon the dean stated he wanted me in Chernivtsi the next year.  Again, those annual in-person lecture assignments continued till the 2020 pandemic.  Invitations also remain elsewhere.

For Chernivtsi my offer to add a lecture on American Jurisprudence resulted in a schedule of back-to-back eighty-minute lectures each morning for a week.  Preparing for the added lectures led to developing a lecture on the impeachment of US Justice Samuel Chase, 1804-1805.  Since, students at all schools, while being in residence, unanimously vote for the impeachment lecture.  It is easy to see how one thing leads to another.

For those considering becoming Fulbright Specialists, be careful what you wish for and be surprised by the unexpected and unintended.  When trying to rest you may get a call to lecture in fifteen minutes to another class on a different subject.  But do enjoy the evenings.

Roy B Gonas – Fulbright Ukraine 2010

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