Insight Trip to Iceland: July 2019

Insight Trip to Iceland: July 2019

The Iceland Insight Tour was remarkable in many ways.  First, it was planned in collaboration with a Travel Agency: MUNDO, led by a Fulbright alumna.  She understood from the first that a customized tour would be appropriate, and she and I worked quickly and well together to craft the outline via SKYPE. My role was to begin with the proposition that we go North and West rather than taking the usual tourist route of the Golden Circle from Reykjavik to the waterfall, glacier, geyser, and green houses along the South Coast. There are many tours that go there daily, and alumni who wish to visit them can easily add a day or two to a journey and go there on their own.  Two persons did on a day just before returning home. Another booked a day at the Blue Lagoon SPA—another iconic Iceland site, but not necessarily the “must do” uniquely for Fulbrighters.  Several others had already made those tours on prior visits to Iceland. Thus, the basic idea of going to a less touristic and more historic area of the country ended up bringing in a group of alumni and friends of Fulbright who wanted the deeper immersion in the country’s history, culture, and ecological and environmental uniqueness.

The second element that made the trip memorable is that Belinda Theriault, the ED of the Fulbright Commission in Iceland, was convinced by her colleague at MUNDO to be the guide/leader on the journey.  She was wonderful: she knew so much; she had such special contacts; she connected us with Fulbrighters either currently on grants or ready to go on them; and, at the end, the Chair of the FC of the country—its most prominent, now retired, Ambassador to the USA, to the UN, to China, and to the Balkans.  Having him as a dinner companion in Reykjavik the last evening was the final “coup” Belinda provided, and it was particularly meaningful because three of the current members of the Fulbright Association Board of Directors were on the trip and were able to talk with him about mutual concerns over dinner: FAR Schmider (President of the Board), Bruce Fowler (Chair of the Advocacy Task Force), and Jay Nathan (active member of Conference Committee and generous donor.)

The third element, of course, was the camaraderie and genuine interest the Fulbright and friends travel group found with one another during the six days on the road.  Many have now written specially to acknowledge their pleasure at making new friends with whom they hope to travel again.  Not only was Belinda a generous leader; the driver of the 15-passenger van, Sirry, and she made a terrific “tag team.” They hadn’t known one another before the tour, but both brought so many extra insights and ideas to the journey that we waited for the day’s “surprise” each morning. They even joked they could become a team doing tours: maybe someday they will be! They’d be great.

The tour was six days and nights, with two nights in each of three hotels.  This is a critical element: if one moves every night, too much time is spent checking in and out and packing, unpacking, and repacking. And one sleeps better the second night in the same bed!  The travel time in the van was managed well, also.  We never spent more than two to three hours in travel at a time, and each day was planned with visits, exhibits, spa baths, or talks with questions interspersed with the ever-scenic vistas as we drove the ring road.

So what did we see and experience? First, two-lane roads with very little traffic moving through an immense variety of landscapes: ocean, fjords, lava fields and caves, hidden waterfalls, snow-covered mountains, hints of the glacier in the distance, isolated farm houses, sheep ranging free on the mossy green ground cover of hills, mountains, and valleys, Icelandic horses (never allowed to return if they leave the country, and no horses allowed to enter the country to keep the herd pure), and towns of less than 100 people or homes with small barns dotting the landscape. Weather was as changeable as advertised: from warm days in the 60s to mixed clouds, full sun lasting moments, fog, cool nights in lingering light (we were just under the Arctic Circle where the summer days never end), and just a bit of rain. Changes occurred by the hour, as is another typical and unique aspect of Icelandic life. One always travels with layers of clothing.

Events included a demonstration of yarn dyeing at Hespa Gallery—the small room where all the flora historically part of Iceland’s landscape are used to dye the natural, lamb’s wool yarn.  The artist did her master’s thesis on the history, folklore, uses, and dying potential of natural materials, and her practice and teaching have resulted in specialty packs of yarns for shawls or caps—or larger projects. These are for sale at her atelier as well as in upscale design stores in Reykjavik and at the airport shop.  (The FAR Schmider, a knitter, immediately spent more than she had budgeted on the first day!)

The Settlements Centre was next: two tours introduced the group to the settlement of Iceland in 870 AD and the narrative of Eigil, an early settler in the farming area and the subject of the most famous of the Viking Sagas written down from oral tradition between 1240-1260 AD.

The first evening culminated with an outdoor hot springs natural bath visit to the largest such SPA in Iceland: Karuma.   It was one of two such events, giving travelers the chance to relax, invigorate their skin cells, and revel in another unique aspect of Icelandic life.

A modest hotel welcomed tired travelers in the area of the earliest settlements, an area now revitalizing with environmental/ecotravelers.  The history of the area is evoked and documented in the novelist Jon Kalman Stefansson’s book, “Heaven and Hell.”

On day two, we descended into the Cave at Vithgelmir, owned and environmentally protected by the farmer under whose private land it lies.  The information about its formation in volcanic eruptions and a careful look at the variety of layers, subtle colors, and hidden places where outlaws hid from organized society in the past, were all relayed during stops on route down and back from deep in the earth. The group was official and safe in hard hats with Magellan lights.

The Center for study of the Sagas and other Icelandic literature at Reyholt introduced the group to the devotion of Icelanders to literature and to education as well as to its literary treasure trove. Now twenty years old, the center holds conferences, oversees publication of books, and continues research in related areas. Scholars from all over the world come there to learn and to explore the great tradition of medieval literature—in fact, the most famous medieval historian, Snorri Surluson, who was a descendant of Egil’s, wrote the Saga (story) of Egil Skallagrimsson on the farm site. The newest study of the Sagas was published with an Introduction by Jane Smiley, a Fulbright Scholar to Iceland. It is based on new comparison studies of all the available vellum editions, many returned from Denmark after centuries held in a library there while Iceland was under its political control. “The Sagas of the Icelanders” is the title; copies in paperback were prominently displayed at the Keflavik International Airport.  (Smiley had just returned as a Fulbright Specialist to discuss this new publication.)

SIgliufjorder was another surprise–a beautiful small city  (2200 people) at the head of the fjord surrounded by snow-covered mountains. Those of us who had read Ragnar Jonasson’s crime novel, “Snow Blind,” set in midwinter in the city began to understand both the beauty of endless summer sun and the claustrophobia of winter nights and days of darkness so close to the Arctic Circle. The town lies at the very northern part of the country.

The Herring Museum in Sigliufjorder, the largest industrial museum in Europe, documents the years of the Norwegian Steamships from Bohuslan which scooped up the Herring from the sea and gave work to the Icelanders who “worked the fish.” Barrels of pickled Herring and specialty canned products were sent all over the world from 1875 until about 1910. A local Icelander who became wealthy in the fish industry, returned to Sigliufjorder to reinvent it as a charming place to live and a tourist destination. The Hotel Sigliu was the highlight of our nights on the road. The morning buffet in a sunny dining space facing the fjord and the snow-covered mountain just outside the window made us wish to linger.

Even dinners in Sigliufjorder were surprises: we had Lamb Shanks cooked Moroccan-style served in individual Tagines at a local restaurant where we saw copies of Ragnar’s novels displayed on the piano ready for jazz musicians.

Akuryeri, the second largest city in Iceland, is home to a university where a Fulbrighter from the U. of Alaska is currently working on Polar Public Health issues. We were fortunate to have her join us for the entire day going to Lake Myvatn. It was a fine opportunity both to learn about issues facing both America and Iceland with climate change in the Arctic regions and to hear her enthusiastic report of being a Fulbrighter there.  We hope our connection with Rhonda Johnson will result in another alum adding her expertise to a program of the FA.

Lake Myvatn was another extraordinary opportunity: from taste-testing lamb and fish smoked in the traditional Icelandic way in a shed fired with “sheep shit.” It was also the place for an extraordinary nature Bath at Reykjahlith.

Retracing our route on the ring road, we experienced the Westgoers Museum in Hofsos.  The displays there were filled with the photo panels of late 19th C. life in S. Canada, and Northern North Dakota and Western Minnesota send back by the descendants of those who left Iceland in hope and despair.  The land was so difficult to live in after the volcanic eruptions of the 19th century.  The beauty of Hofsos in summer belied the winter dark once more, and it showed in the picture of Westgoers on the ship ready to depart the harbor how mixed their feelings were leaving a place they were never to see again.

We arrived in Reykjavik to spend the last two days of the journey at a hotel in the center of the old part of town within walking distance of the Parliament, the cathedral church, and the university and national museums. It turned out to be a record-setting time of heat (about 70 degrees F.) so the street cafes and the roller blade park were full of summer celebrators into the always-light early morning hours.

Though our last day was to be “on our own,” everyone eagerly took on the chance to tour the Parliament, the Althingi. It is not open to the public, so it was Belinda’s final “surprise.  She worked with leaders there for 14 years, so she was able to arrange a full private tour with a good deal of information about the oldest standing parliament of a democracy in the world.  This opportunity, along with having met the most distinguished ambassador of the country the prior evening over dinner, were fitting conclusions to our in depth introduction to Iceland.

It is a country whose history connects the Viking past with the first sightings of N. America, and whose literate, sophisticated, world-aware residents are now sharing their land of harsh beauty with over two million visitors each year.  Sitting precisely on the ridge between the North American and the Eurasian techtonic plates* at the original Athingi, at Thingvellir, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one can look into the gap between them.  Our group, however, will need to wait for another Icelandic tour to do that.  It is but one example of how much more there is to experience, learn, and enjoy about this remarkable country.

–Mary Ellen Heian Schmider

* The tectonic plates whose turbulent interactions formed Iceland, are the Eurasian tectonic plate and the North American tectonic plate. Spanning the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, Iceland emerged as a result of the divergent, spreading, boundary between these two plates and the activity of Iceland´s own hotspot or mantle plume.


August 15, 2019 0

2019 Service Trip to Greece

2019 Service Trip to Greece

Καλώς ήρθατε από την Ελλάδα Fulbright ταξιδιώτες! Nine Fulbright alumni and friends of international education embarked last month for a Service Corps Trip to Greece May 17-26. The Fulbright Association’s first service trip to Greece started from the beautiful city of Heraklion, capital of the island of Crete and brought together Fulbrighters and friends for 10 beautiful and adventurous days to explore the country’s legendary thousands-year history, its rich contemporary culture, and its beautiful Mediterranean geography – and had the opportunity to give back by participating in volunteer projects and connect with the local Fulbright network along the journey.

Our traveling group came from different backgrounds, with different Fulbright experiences, and friendships and connections were made almost immediately. The group members were all very positive and open to exploring the beautiful country of Greece, interacting with locals, and eagerly supporting even the service component of the trip.  Greece couldn’t have welcomed a more enthusiastic group of travelers.  This collection of wonderful, knowledgeable, energetic, giving, funny, and warm individuals made the trip incredibly special and memorable.  After that trip I made those people friends for life.

Learning more about MInoan civilization from Professor Kostas Georgakopoulos

Greece is most famous for its ancient civilizations, and with personal lectures from archaeologists and historians, participants delved deeply into its vast history. A trip to the Bronze Age archaeological site of Knossos featured Professor Kostas Georgakopoulos as a guide, who provided the group with extensive information about the Minoan civilization. Historians say this site was first settled in the late Neolithic era, around 4000 years ago. They visited the archeological museum of Heraklion, which houses numerous Minoan artifacts.

“The visits to the historical sites and sights were top-notch,” commented Lehman Fletcher, one of the participants. “The university visits, and the winery visit on Crete, gave us some person-to-person opportunities.”

Another highlight was a cooking class and visit to the local Boutari winery, one of the most famous wineries in Greece. The chef of the winery, Maria, offered participants a cooking class in classic Greek dishes mousaka, dolmadakia, and dakos. Participants tried their hand at Greek cooking – a little trickier than it looks!

A cooking class with chef Maria

We took a day trip to the island of Spinalonga to learn history a little closer to today. Originally, Spinalonga was not a separate island, but connected to Crete. However, during the Venetian occupation of Crete, the island was carved out of the coast for defense purposes, and a fort was built. During Venetian rule, salt was harvested from salt flats around the island. The island was subsequently used as a leper colony from 1903 to 1957.  It is notable for being one of the last active leper colonies in Europe. The last resident, a priest, left the island in 1962.

After Spinalonga, we visited INSTAP, the Institute for Aegean Prehistory Study for East Crete. The Institute for Aegean Prehistory (INSTAP) was established as a non-profit organization in the United States in 1981. The goal of INSTAP’s grant program is to promote knowledge of the Aegean region, and to support archaeological fieldwork and research focusing on the chronological span of the Paleolithic period through to the 8th century B.C.  To that end, INSTAP has awarded more than 3,000 grants to individual scholars and organizations from more than 15 countries. We had the opportunity to visit the institute and meet Dr. Brogan, the institute’s Director and a Fulbrighter himself, who gave us a tour. We learned about the process of sampling the soil and cleaning artifacts.  From there we were able to admire the breath-taking Ha Gorge.

We left beautiful Crete and arrived in Athens where we met with the Doctors of the World. They made a presentation covering their program and the current situation of refugees in Greece, who are still arriving every day from different parts of the world. Our traveler, Dr Erna Olafson, made a presentation to clinicians of Doctors of the World concerning the book she co-authored, Trauma and Grief Component Therapy for Adolescents.

Maria presents a Certificate of Appreciation to Dr. Tom Brogan

Next, we visited Marathon and were able to share feelings and passion of the archaeologists working the excavation at Plasi. The director of the excavation, Dr Yiannis Papadatos, gave us an introduction to the history of the area, provided information about the current archaeological excavation, and offered the group the opportunity to partake in a few of the excavation steps.

In the evening we were invited by the Fulbright Association of Greece to visit the first university of Athens. Maria Gazouli, the president of the Fulbright Association, who had been extremely helpful and supportive in organizing the trip, made introductions along with members of the US embassy. Dr Lee Fletcher gave a touching speech for our group. The group was also offered a tour in the first university of Greece, which now serves as a museum of university history. The tour was followed by cocktails and finger food provided by the Fulbright Association of Greece.

We had the opportunity to discuss the benefits of American universities to motivated Greek undergraduate students who were interested in going abroad for graduate studies.  Our travelers introduced themselves, discussed their backgrounds, and gave amazing tips for studying in the US, followed by a Q&A session.  Fulbright Commission and Fulbright Association representatives were also present and introduced.

We visited the archaeological site of Kerameikos, one of the largest districts of ancient Athens, located on the northwest edge of the city.  As suggested by its name, the Kerameikos (from the Greek word for pottery) was a settlement of potters and vase painters, and the main production center of the famous Attic vases. The parts of the Kerameikos that were located near the riverbank suffered continuously from flooding, and so the area was converted into a burial ground, which gradually developed into the most important cemetery of ancient Athens.

Then we visited the Ancient Agora. The Agora was the heart of ancient Athens, the focus of political, commercial, administrative and social activity, the religious and cultural center, and the seat of justice.  Dr. John Camp, the director of Ancient Agora of American School of Classical Studies (ASCSA) offered us an exclusive tour to places in the ruins where tourists aren’t normally allowed to visit

In the afternoon we visited the NGO Praksis (Programs of Development of Social Support and Medical Cooperation), a non-profit organization which helps social groups in need (like refugees or the homeless) through specific programs and access to medical. There were discussions with our group  and we donated reading glasses provided from the EnvisionFulbright and Restoring Vision program.

Our last day of the trip we visited the rocky outcrop known as the Acropolis, housing the temple and sanctuary of ancient Athens dedicated to the goddess Athena. The most celebrated myths of ancient Athens, its greatest religious festivals, earliest cults and many decisive events in the city’s history are all connected to this sacred area of the city.  These unique masterpieces of ancient architecture combine different orders and styles of classical art in a most innovative manner and have influenced art and culture for many centuries. The Acropolis of the 5th century BC is the most accurate reflection of the splendor, power, and wealth of Athens at its greatest peak; the golden age of Pericles.

Click here to see more photos from the trip, or click here to learn more about the Fulbright Association’s Travel Programs.

–Maria Kostavasili
Senior Fellow, Fulbright Association

June 20, 2019 0

Insight Trip: Moroccan Magic

Insight Trip: Moroccan Magic

“Play it again, Fulbright,” was the refrain we heard after our cultural immersion into exotic Morocco. A diverse group of Fulbrighters and Friends of Fulbright ranging in age from millennials to pre-baby boomers and originating from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic shore spent nine (9) days traversing Morocco from the bustling city of Casablanca with its beaches, white capped waves and wonderful seaside restaurants to the exotic cosmopolitan city of Marrakech that rivals Paris and New York. Amanda Eggers, our ever- patient tour representative; Jalil, our ever-present and knowledgeable tour guide; Abde, our ever-helpful and careful driver; and I, Justice Cynthia A. Baldwin, Secretary of the Fulbright Association Board and Fulbright Association Representative comprised the trip leadership team.

Trip leader Justice Cynthia Baldwin

On our tour of Casablanca, we immediately confronted the antiquity of Morocco compared with the youth of our very own country. The Portuguese took over the city in 1460, naming it Casa Blanca, “white house” for the color of the fort which protected the city. Now, with its seven million people, the city is nicknamed “the monster” because, people don’t leave, the monster eats them. Morocco is Sunni Muslim and we tour the magnificent Hassan II mosque built from 1986 to 1993 with the highest minaret in the world. The mosque overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and is overwhelming with its beauty and its cost, estimated to be over 800 million dollars although none of the Moroccan people know the exact cost. Jalil gave us a lecture on the Sunni and Shiite Muslims explaining how the split within Islam occurred after the death of Mohammed.

Rabat, Morocco’s capital was our next stop after Casablanca. Our first stop in Rabat is the Grand Palace located on 25 hectares and containing the Royal School where the Crown Prince is educated, government buildings and a mosque. The palace was built in 1860 and is more ceremonial than utilitarian now. Morocco is a constitutional monarchy. The present king is 54 years of age and is perceived as quite modern. His wife has a doctorate and they have two children- the Crown Prince who is 16 and an 11 year old daughter. While we visited many sites in and around Rabat including Le Tour Hassan; the mausoleum of Mohammed V, where the present king’s grandfather, father and uncle lie in a magnificent patterned building with a gold leaf decorated ceiling; and the Kasbah Les Oudaias, the favorite of many of us on that tour was the Chellah, the history of which dates back to the Phoenicians and then to the Romans in AD 40 who called it Sala Colonia. It was abandoned from 1154 until the 14th century when Sultan Abou al-Hassan build the necropolis, the ruins of which we were walking. In Rabat, we had the first of many traditional dinners which began with plates of zaalouk which is a cooked eggplant dish, lentils, carrots, tomatoes and peppers, pumpkin with honey and cauliflower, all fragrantly and deliciously spiced. The main courses were tagines of chicken with olives and lemon and beef with dates. A huge basket of Moroccan bread accompanied the meal. Dessert was sliced fruit served with a little honey and cinnamon.

The best part of any Fulbright trip is the cultural immersion and in Rabat we visited the Fulbright Commission where our contact Moustapha Laalioui, the Deputy Executive Secretary Mohammed Chrayeh and the rest of the staff greeted us warmly with trays of cookies and other sweets and treats, water, coffee and mint tea. We viewed their 35th Anniversary video and heard from a panel consisting of Oussama El Addouli, Director of IES in Morocco; Amini Mechaal, Arabic professor and Customized Program Assistant; and Miriam Ruth Dike, a doctoral student from the United States. Other Fulbrighters also participated. We met students doing research in anthropology, linguistics and Arabic. There were Muslims and non- Muslims, men and women. They had studied from Hunter College in New York City to UC, Santa Barbara in California. The discussion was lively and informative and we had to be pulled away.

We traveled through the Moroccan Tuscany where we saw large olive groves and vineyards toward Meknes which was our next stop. Meknes was a capital of Morocco before Fes and finally Rabat. We stopped to visit the ruins at Volubilis where we saw olive trees that are 1000 years old and beautifully preserved mosaics from AD 280 that were unearthed beginning in 1755. We stepped into the Middle Ages as we walked the Meknes Medina seeing snake charmers, musicians, and vendors selling herbal medicines, tagine pottery, and woven goods as well as freshly slaughtered meats, and large displays of olives, spices, fruits, cookies and dates. We took a picture in front of the Meknes Gate.

It was on to Fes, founded by Idriss II because his father Idriss I decided that Volubilis was too small. On the bus between cities we have lectures and discussions on religion, education, politics, gender roles and government. In Fes, the King’s Palace and the Jewish Quarter date back to the 12th century. The new city was built in 1912. The Romans called the people that they found here barbarians or what we now know as Berbers. The Jewish people came from Spain during the Inquisition and were welcomed by the Idrissian Dynasty. The Jews were treated with respect and many of them worked in the king’s court. Many Jews left in 1948 when Israel was established. Walking through the narrow dark passageways where we had to cling to the sides to allow the pack animals to pass was like time travel to an ancient time. We visited the high school which is adjacent to the only mosque in the Medina (old city) which non- Muslims can enter. In this mosque, our Fes guide Jamal points out the stained glass windows and the cedar wood partitions which show respect for the catholic religion and Judaism. We pass the American Fondouk founded by Annie Bishop to provide veterinarian services for the donkeys and mules which work in the Medina. We visited a tannery that continues to tan hides as people did centuries ago. We were given sprigs of mint to mask the odor and it worked. In Fes, we stayed in our first riad (a building that has a courtyard in the center). Staying in these old beautiful buildings added to our cultural immersion.

Our journey from Fes to the Sahara Desert is one of our longer, but more interesting bus rides. We are now going from the Middle Atlas Mountains to the High Atlas Mountains and we stop at a lovely French café in the village of Ifrane which looks like it was placed there right out of the Swiss Alps. In fact, this section is called Swiss Morocco. The town was constructed in the 1930’s by the French. Our next stop was one that helps differentiate Fulbright trips from other tours. It was at the Al Akhawayn University located in Ifrane in the Middle Atlas Mountains. It is a tuition-based, co-educational public university where the courses are taught in English. The university has about 2200 students and awards bachelors and Masters degrees. We have a wonderful tour by Amy Fishburn, Sr. Director for Internationalization and Partnerships and two student guides.

Our ride through the Middle Atlas Mountains is glorious. We take photos of Barbary apes and Berber herders with herds of sheep. Before us, we saw the snow-capped High Atlas Mountains. We stopped for lunch at the Hotel Taddart which served the best grilled trout that any of us had in a long time. We were trying to reach the desert in time to ride the camels to see the sunset. The long bus ride allowed us the opportunity to hear from Fulbrighters and Friends of Fulbright who had written or edited books on topics ranging from Brazilian literature and linguistics to energy on the African Continent. We passed a former French Foreign Legion garrison and several date plantations before we entered the Sahara Desert which is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the west, the Mediterranean Sea on the north and the Red Sea on the east. The Sahara is about the size of the United States. We reached the city of Erfoud known for its fossil museum and the place where fossils over 600,000 years old have been found and arrived at the Merzouga Dunes in time for the camel ride to see the sunset and then ride back to the camp where we spent the night. There are Persian rug runners leading to our tents which have a bedroom with a sitting area, a bathroom and a shower- such luxury in the desert. The staff was dressed in colorful robes and head wraps. After dinner, there was Berber drumming around the fire. The sky was so clear that we can identify many of the constellations including the Milky Way. It was so lovely and peaceful.

On the road again, we passed Bedouins with camel herds, got a panoramic view of the Dades Gorge and saw the largest silver mine in Morocco. Almond trees lined the highway. We passed through miles and miles of desert expanse with the High Atlas in the background. It is breathtakingly beautiful. We have entered the Valley of the Roses and the Dades Gorge. On our right we saw the Tiylite Jewish Cemetery dating from 1492. This is an agricultural region growing olives, almonds, roses, wheat and barley. That night we slept at a lovely Kasbah.

The next morning we headed for the UNESCO site of Ait Ben Haddou. Jalil reminded us of the many movies that have been made in Morocco including at the site we will visit. The list includes Blackhawk Down, The Exorcist, The Hills Have Eyes, Cleopatra, The Jewel of the Nile, The Last Temptation of Christ and American Sniper. The largest movie studio in Morocco is called the Oscar Studio. We are 2500 meters high and entering the Tichka Pass on our way to Marrakesh. What goes up must come down and for two days we climbed through the Middle and High Atlas Mountains; now we are descending. Marrakech is the flattest city in Morocco. There are one million mopeds in the city and the drivers call themselves mo-sapiens. The Marrakech Medina was built in 1056.

It is in Marrakech that we get three more truly Fulbright experiences. One was at the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) which is a Moroccan Association and a US 501 (c) (3) corporation which was founded in 2000 by former Peace Corps volunteers committed to furthering sustainable development. They have projects in organic agriculture, women’s empowerment, youth development, education and health. Of the 25 staff persons, 23 are Moroccan. They fed us both intellectually and physically and again, we had to be pulled away.

In Marrakesh, we enjoyed a lot of free time. Marrakech is nicknamed “the red city,” “the palm city,” and “the city of saints.” The Koutoubia Mosque became our landmark as we discovered the medina with its 12th century minaret and the main square Djemaa el Fna which dates from the 11th century.

Our second Fulbright experience was lunch at the Amal Women’s Training Center. Amal means “hope” and this organization has given women, most of whom are divorced or have some other perceived social disability, hope. The organization also provides education for their children. The center founded in 2013 provides training for women in cooking and baking and helps place them in jobs.

At our final dinner we had our last Fulbright experience when Professor Ismail M. Alaoui, a professor of physics, who received his doctorate at American University joined us. We had a wonderful time reviewing the highlights of our trip before returning to the hotel to try to stuff the souvenirs we’d purchased into our luggage.

Our Moroccan odyssey was truly magical and as we headed back to the airport in Casablanca, we were saying. “Play it again, Fulbright.”

–Justice Cynthia Baldwin
Fulbright to Zimbabwe, 1994

To see more photos, click here. The 2019 Insight Trip to Morocco (March 9-17) was part of the Fulbright Association’s Travel Programs. To learn more about travel opportunities with the Fulbright Association, please visit

March 26, 2019 0

2018 Insight Trip to Mexico

2018 Insight Trip to Mexico

The Teotihuacán artifact laboratory

The Fulbright Association’s first Insight Trip to Mexico brought together thirty Fulbrighters and friends of international education for four days of cultural exploration, engagement, and networking. Starting directly after the end of the Association’s annual conference in Puebla, the trip gave participants the opportunity to forge a stronger connection with Mexico outside of the conference venues.

“Our traveling group was as diverse in background, Fulbright experience in the world, and age, as any we’ve had, and the friendships and immediate connections that were made were one of the joys of the trip,” says Dr. Mary Ellen Schmider, the trip’s Fulbright Association Representative and a member of the Fulbright Association’s Travel Program planning committee. “There was a sense of eagerness to learn. Fulbrighters of all ages continue to want to experience new places in as much depth as they can put into a day. Our tour guide noted that our group wanted everything he could give them in terms of information!”

Mary Ellen and Nancy Neill with Dr. Sergio Gómez

A highlight of the trip was visiting the ancient Mesoamerican cirty of Teotihuacán, which boasts some of the largest ancient pyramids in Latin America and is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. Containing the massive Pyramid of the Sun, the Pyramid of the Moon, and the Temple of the Feathered Serpent Quetzalcoatl, participants climbed the narrow steps of pyramids and walked through the tunnels of ruins that clock in at over two thousands years old. A special treat was having the opportunity to meet with renowned archaeologist Dr. Sergio Gómez, who famously discovered hidden tunnels under the site and now works as Teotihuacán‘s lead researcher. Dr. Gómez personally toured the group through his team’s laboratory, where they had the opportunity to interact with ancient artifacts and learn more about the artifact restoration process. Additional forays into Mexico’s ancient history also included the Great Pyramid of Cholula, the largest archaeological pyramid site in Mexico, and the Templo Mayor, the extraordinary Aztec ruins nestled in the heart of Mexico City, when the city was known as Tenochtitlan.

Day of the Dead Altar

The group not only had the chance to learn more about ancient Mayan and Aztec religious practices, they learned about contemporary religion in Mexico as well. They visited a number of historically-significant landmark churches and basilicas, including the Church of Saint Mary of Tonantzintla in Cholula and the Basilica de Guadalupe and National Cathedral in Mexico City. With guided insight from experts, participants learned more about the legends, traditions, and symbols of Mexico’s religious culture, which reflected the combination of moving Mexican traditional religion and the import of Western Catholicism and how they merged in the decorations and iconography.

A particularly memorable point was interacting with churches and local communities during the celebrations of the Day of the Dead, or Día de Muertos. A special and sacred time stemming from ancient Mexican tradition, this holiday period reflects a spiritual window when the souls of departed loved ones return to the human world, guided by the ofrenda altars that families and friends erect in their honor, decorated with food offerings, colorful paper banners, and Aztec marigold petals. Celebrations also included parades and processions of local parishioners to places of worship.

They also enjoyed the monuments, museums, and institutions of Mexico City for a multi-faceted educational experience. They studied both ancient and contemporary history, from the acclaimed Museum of Anthropology to the National Palace, and the Trotsky Museum, which honors the Stalin-critic Leon Trotsky who lived there until his assassination in 1942. They engaged the art, especially the iconic work of Frida Kahlo and Diego Riverra by visiting their studios of Casa Azul and the Anahuacalli Museum under the guidance of a curator. The trip would not have been complete without a taste of Mexico’s culinary world: participants were able to try delicious local dishes, such as the famous mole of Puebla, and, of course, a sip of the local mezcal.

The archaeological site at Cholula

On seeing so many layers of Mexican’s heritage and history, Mary Ellen remarks, “We had 20th century history, we had New Spain history, Aztec history, we had what’s underneath Aztec history from Mesoamerica before anyone else got there, some of it discovered as recently as 2017 – all in four days! Putting that history together and to be in those places was really quite extraordinary.”

But what really makes a Fulbright Trip is the chance to network and share international experiences. Participants had the opportunity to connect with other Fulbright alumni, both within their group of fellow travelers, and during an evening networking reception where they met current Fulbrighters in Mexico.

The Insight Trip to Mexico is part of the Fulbright Association’s international Travel Programs. To learn more about upcoming Insight and Service Corps trips, check out

–Alison Aadland

November 29, 2018 0

2018 Service Corps Trip to Malawi

2018 Service Corps Trip to Malawi

In July of 2018, the Fulbright Association returned to Malawi for its second Service Corps Trip in the country, following a successful program in 2017. Eleven participants, ranging from age 12 to age 74, met in Lilongwe City to work with nonprofit organization LEAD SEA (Leadership for Environment and Development in Southern and Eastern Africa) on Pathways to Peace projects to promote sustainability, global health, and education initiatives.

The participants represented a diverse demographic, including professors, musicians, a retired physician, entrepreneurs, and high school students, and included both Fulbright and Peace Corps alums. The group was led by Dr. Zipangani Vokhiwa of Mercer University, who, along with former Fulbright Association Vice President Kim Eger, a sustainability solutions expert, laid the groundwork for the Pathways to Peace initiative.


The core sustainability service projects were built under the focal point of W.A.S.H. (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene). Following up from work begun during the 2017 program, participants planted trees in order to combat mass deforestation that has been rampant in Malawi.

A population boom in the last 50 years has increased the number of people living in Malawi to over 18 million, from just under 3 million in 1950. However, infrastructure has yet to encompass this growth, and 80% of the population does not have electricity. As a result, wood is an important commodity for fuel, heat, and cooking, leading people to chop down trees. But in addition to negatively impacting the environment and native wildlife, deforestation upsets local streams and rivers, which has in turn led to larger issues with water sanitation.

The Forestry Research Institute of Malawi (FRIM) has initiated efforts to work with communities for replanting and caring long-term for trees. The Fulbright Association team collaborated with them, along with members from local villages and primary schools, to plant new trees in an attempt to mitigate the severe effects of deforestation.

One of the most exciting parts of the service trip was seeing the growth of the trees planted during last year’s Service Corps Trip. Participants who joined last year’s service trip had planted over 1700 trees in July of 2017, and were proud to see that not only had 77% of the 6- to 8-inch saplings survived, some had grown up to four feet tall.

“The most powerful part of the trip was seeing village leaders in Naphambo light up at the sight of a Fulbright Association team returning for the second time, with more trees,” says Kim Eger, participant and one of the organizers of the trip. “In that moment, you could see in their smiling eyes that trust had been earned as they saw us following through, just as we said we would. Seeing how well our trees had been cared for, based on outstanding survival rates signaled to us that we’d found great partners who also did the hard work of watering and ensuring the investment would pay off in the future.”


Another cause that the participants contributed to was the promotion of girls’ education.

Girls and young women in many developing countries including Malawi face a difficult obstacle when it comes to daily school attendance: a lack of access to affordable menstrual hygiene products. This means that many girls are limited to either using unhygienic alternatives or be forced to stay home while on their periods, which inhibits their ability to receive an education.

The Fulbright group teamed up with Grace Pads, a local non-profit that seeks to enable girls to stay in school by distributing reusable sanitary pads. At about $10 per kit, the pads are washable and can last up to 18 months. The menstrual hygiene kit distribution project was conducted in several primary and secondary schools in partnership with Grace Pads at Chuluchosema, and the group had the chance to meet with hundreds of schoolgirls and connect with them personally over the course of the program, which ultimately seeks to increase female graduation rates from 15% to 75%. Thanks to Fulbrighters personally sponsoring the project, the Fulbright group was able to distribute 300 menstrual hygiene kits.

The Fulbright Association’s Georgia Chapter jump-started this effort on May 28, 2018 when they collaborated with Grace Pads and LEAD SEA in launching the first official Malawi event for Global Menstrual Hygiene Day. The event took place thanks to the efforts of visiting Fulbright Scholar to Malawi, Dr. Suresh Muthurkrishnan and his wife Rashmi Janakiraman. Read more here.

By empowering girls to stay in school, the project in turn empowers women to receive vocational training and boost their economic status, as well as lead to further professional and educational opportunities.


Another facet of the service project was social campaigning through music. Jack Allison, a returning Service Corps participant and Peace Corps alum, and James Hunt, a musician, collaborated with YONECO (Youth Net and Counseling) and the Zomba Street Child band to record songs that explore and bring attention to social and economic issues in Malawi, including Jack’s own song “Girls Not Brides”. They hope to produce a full album that would be used to highlight and raise funds for YONECO’s work.

The group additionally were able to meet the Executive Director of YONECO, MacBain Mkandawire. Two of the Fulbright team participants, both high school students, are planning to advance the work of YONECO back home by holding a fundraiser event at their school in Georgia.

The Fulbright team also had the honor of being interviewed on the TV show Speak Out, featured on MBC, a local Malawi news channel. Along with Professor Sosten Chiotha, the Executive Director of LEAD SEA, several delegates from the Fulbright team participated in a program entitled “The Spirit of Volunteerism”. Dr. Zipangani Vokhiwa, Dr. Jack Allison, Ms. Sienna Eger, and Mr. Kim Eger spoke about their experiences and goals with the service project work.


In addition to volunteer work, the Fulbright Service Corps team engaged with the community to learn more about Malawian culture. They went to the Mtakataka Kungoni Cultural Centre and the Mua Museum to study the history and traditions of Malawian people. They met with school teachers and staff at the Kachitsa Community Based Child Care Centre in Salima, Malawi. At Zomba Market, they had the chance to eat popular Malawian cuisine, and took in the breathtaking landscape of Malawi at the top of Zomba Plateau and the shores of the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Lake Malawi.

Several participants also had the opportunity to celebrate the Fourth of July at the United States Embassy in Malawi, and had the pleasure of meeting Ambassador Virginia Palmer, the embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission Andrew Herrup, and fellow Fulbrighter and Public Affairs Officer, Edward Monster.

But what was both most impressive and memorable to the Service Corps team was the warm welcome and kindness they received from the local communities and organizations, who were passionate about improving life in Malawi. It was truly meaningful to collaborate with these groups and support them in their important work.

The Fulbright Association is continuing its efforts in 2019 and plans to return to Malawi with another Service Corps Trip in 2020. To learn more about the Fulbright Association’s travel programs, please click here.

This article was made possible by contributions of photos, stories, and reports by Kim Eger and Dr. Renee Pratt. Click here to see more photos, and click here to read Dr. Pratt’s trip report.

-Alison Aadland

August 24, 2018 0