In fall of 2015, we moved to Montreal, Canada for what was my “research” Fulbright but quickly became our “family” Fulbright. Our time in Montreal is something I don’t want to think of as completed. It happened in the past, but we don’t let it live there. The people we met or simply interacted with daily, the places we visited, the time we spent together, the collaborative research I did…all of it is still so real and relevant.
My children (aged 3, 6, and 7 at the time) spent their days learning alongside others who looked, acted, dressed, believed, and/or celebrated very differently than they did. Yet, while each has acknowledged and asked questions about some of those differences in their own ways, all of those things became secondary to simply making new friends.
Montreal was a wonderful place to parent – providing daily teachable moments about open-mindedness, appreciating culture, understanding politics (it was an election year), and seeing that it is important and OK to stand up for something important to you (we saw lots of peaceful activism – including a school strike that had our children out for several days). Culturally, we found Montrealers to be incredibly accepting and generally nice people. I highlighted a many more experiences in a blog I maintained while there.
As a Fulbright Scholar, I was able to transition fully to a new research line with the support of an incredibly visionary and innovative host scholar. I learned how to collaborate more efficiently and effectively in a research team, leading to the development of a successful research center at my institution. I (re)learned how to conduct field research in ways I had not practiced in some time and in the process, refined my own skillset. I even wrote the proposal for my first textbook while there. By learning from students, I was able to reconsider how I teach and spent valuable time thinking critically about my pedagogy. Overall, I believe my research, teaching, and family-life balance were immeasurably enhanced by my time in Canada. The Fulbright was much more than a sabbatical, it was a blessing personally and professionally. It was a reset button I needed and a culturally enriching experience that changed my family, my work, and many of my perspectives on life.
The notion of nations becoming people resonated with my family. Before we left the US, the two oldest were just beginning to understand that we live in a world with physical borders that define nations. What we have learned while here is that it isn’t quite enough just to talk about, read about, or even live somewhere else. To truly exchange with others, you have to be willing to let go of the way things “are” and just let some things “be.” There’s so much to learn and to share through cultural interaction, which is a wonderful testament and reminder of the mission and value of the Fulbright Program.
J. Patrick Biddix – Fulbright to Canada 2015