My Fulbright experience opened many doors for me of which I had never dreamed of. After my 1992 six week trip through Eastern Europe, which was partially funded by the Fulbright program, I opted to spend my 1994-1995 years teaching the first American history course ever offered at Palackeho University in the Czech Republic.
In addition, I led an alumni group and an NEH Summer Institute for School Teachers seeking to understand actions of perpetrators and to enhance individual responsibilities. My first experience took place at Baba Jar in Ukraine during the 1992 program followed by my first visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau with Luther’s Nordic choir in 1994. I am not Jewish, nor descended from Czechs, yet a primary goal of mine is to teach minority and emigrant history as it has always been a concern for human rights that is still prevalent today when I am already 86 years old and still teaching in my first Fulbright home, Charles University in Prague, which introduced me to Czech scholars and students.
My second Fulbright appointment in Moldova offered another opportunity to learn about contemporary challenges. An unexpected invitation resulted in me teaching a class at a second university, Moldova State, which was also my Fulbright host but the Dean of the university focused on translation and interpretation education. When they asked me to teach, I replied that I wasn’t a linguist and that I had no materials whereupon she said I could teach whatever I wished and that their goal was to offer students a class taught by a native speaker.
After consulting with the US Embassy, which allowed me to use a seminar room and their library, I agreed and students were assigned to read anything of interest to them after each class, write a short paper about their reading, and to present it the next day. My favorite memory was the student’s remark, “I didn’t know how much language I could learn from reading.”
After multiple adventures in a country divided by loyalties, I was asked to be one of the four Erasmus lecturers in the Czech Republic in the spring of 2008. The next step was to teach for the pedagogical faculty at Charles in the fall, a course on US History since World War II. To my shock, there were more than 100 students seeking to understand history after 1930, beyond which they had no access. That too was a marvelous experience in spite of my initial concern as I managed to use small groups to avoid 100% lecturing.
My next invitation came from my Fulbright hosts at Charles in the spring of 2009, and I have continued teaching US minority and emigrant history class since then, working with 30 MA theses, adding a Zoom class in 2020 on Dissent in American History, and tutoring younger students in English which a few of them are the children of my colleagues. I have also used these years to widen my horizons with travel to Senegal, Ghana, South Africa, India, China, New Zealand, Brazil, Argentina, for the Fulbright Association gathering, and walked the Camino from Portugal to Santiago, Spain. I have spent time in almost all the EU nations as well – all of this a result of my Fulbright appointment in 2001. I assisted two Luther colleagues with the college’s program in Nottingham, UK twice as well.
My appreciation and respect for people and cultures of the world continues to unfold as I have retained relationships with other Fulbright scholars and hosted one at Luther. My Luther ties remain important as I have been able to host students and colleagues in Prague during these years. My desire to have a meaningful life has been enriched by my Fulbright opportunities. Senator Fulbright’s contributions to the search for peaceful, scientific, all disciplines, and respect for the common humanity of the planet continues to be a major American contribution to nations, scholar, and students.
Norma Hervey – Fulbright to Czech Republic 2001