Service Trip to Albania, Macedonia, and Greece — Reflections by Kathy Parkison

Service Trip to Albania, Macedonia, and Greece — Reflections by Kathy Parkison

“All you have to do is twist the silver wire into curliques and shapes to fill the mold.” The artisan expressed how “easy” it was, walked away and left me struggling with the tweezers, the incredibly fine silver wire, the mold and a less than perfect understanding of how filigree was made. Turns out, you need to have enough curliques and ovals and circles so that they will stay in the mold when the mold is raised – much harder than it looks. We won’t mention how many times I lifted the mold and everything fell out! As a result, I have a much deeper appreciation for the delicate workmanship of filigree, the patience it takes to make it look right, and the time and talent needed to make a piece of jewelry. My piece of art is shown below!

Intricate filigree art leaf

Woman working on filigree art project

I was participating in a cultural camp with Cultural Heritage without Borders (CHwB), Albania – a non-profit that is dedicated to keeping cultural heritage alive in the region. CHwB brings students and recent graduates from around the region to work on projects. This year’s project was arts and crafts – so we studied filigree, rug making, dry and wet felt making, and embroidery and then the students then take those crafts and develop a business plan. Albania has a very high unemployment rate and small businesses are viewed as key to the future – but entrepreneurship is not something most have been taught prior to this two-week camp. As Americans, we have a chance to tour a beautiful country, learn about its long past, answer questions on America and owning a business, and most importantly, develop friendships that last a lifetime.

For many, Albania would not be on the short list of countries to be visited but that is a mistake. The country is lovely, the people are friendly, and the food is excellent – all desirable attributes in my mind. But participating in a cultural exchange with the camps of CHwB, adds a level of interest and interactions that a regular tour cannot hope to match. And that is what makes a Fulbright Association trip so different – the ability to interact with a county and its people at a much deeper level than just touring.

If you are familiar with the Balkans, you know that the area has been the center of unrest for much of the 20th century. In fact, World War I first broke out in the Balkans before engulfing the rest of the world. So the hatreds and unrest run deep in the area. CHwB brings together students from across the area, has them live and work and study together (in English), with the hope that they will learn that “the other” is not to be feared. In addition, as these are credit bearing college courses, there is content and grades for the students. This year’s camp in Kruja, (said with the j having a y sound), was focused, as noted above on traditional Albanian arts and crafts.

But the market for selling the traditional arts and crafts is somewhat limited so part of the camp was examining ways that these crafts could be updated and sold to new markets. Albanian men, for example, used to wear traditional felt hats with each village having its own distinctive design. A man could recognize where a man was from simply by looking at his hat. But today’s men do not wear the traditional hats, so other than tourists, there is not much of market for these hats. BUT, the artisan has worked with a designer in Paris, France to turn these hats into lamps – a creative use of a traditional product!

The Fulbright program was begun after World War II with the goal of helping Americans understand the world by sending us to live and work abroad AND by bringing students and professionals to the United States to understand us. As members of the Fulbright Association, we share the vision of increasing understanding and developing friendships across our countries.

Many of us love to travel but touring through a country without truly interacting with the locals is not my idea of traveling. For 9 of us, this trip gave us the opportunity to meet with students, help them develop their business plans, and see a country that most Americans know little about. Thus, a trip with the Fulbright Association is not a regular touring trip (if it is Tuesday, it must be Belgium type of trip) – it is a deeper interaction with the people and culture and history of the area. We came home with a much deeper understanding of the region and an appreciation for its issues.

—Kathy Parkison

A group of smiling travelers stand outside a van. They are holding a Fulbright Association banner and a placard for Cultural Heritage Without Borders.

June 13, 2018 0

Learning Through Service: The 2018 Service Corps Trip to Vietnam

Learning Through Service: The 2018 Service Corps Trip to Vietnam

Fulbrighters and friends traveled to Hanoi in April for the Fulbright Association’s 2018 Service Corps Trip to Vietnam. In partnership with the local volunteer organizations of Friends for Asia and the Center for Sustainable Development Studies, participants contributed to several service projects with the Vietnamese community, studied and explored important historical and cultural sites, and had the opportunity to network with Fulbrighters in Vietnam.

Participants divided into two groups for the service project. The first taught English to elementary students at Nghia Tan Public School, where they were welcomed by the principal and vice-principals with an introductory reception featuring speeches and snacks. The children were enthusiastic to learn and eager to ask questions (a favorite: “how old are you?”). The second group volunteered at Friendship Village, a residential facility that provides medical care, physical therapy, education, and vocational training to Vietnamese children and veterans who have been affected by Agent Orange. Participants worked with the children and donated 300 reading glasses to Vietnamese veterans, with whom they had the opportunity to engage in thought-provoking discussions about the Vietnam War – which the Vietnamese call the American War.

Interspersed with volunteering, the travelers also visited many of Hanoi’s most famous sites:  the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the Hoa Lo Prison, and Hanoi’s History Museum.  The trip expanded to historical and cultural sites of the surrounding area: the ancient village of Duong Lam, Thay Pagoda, and Bat Trang Pottery village, where the participants used pottery wheels to make their own pottery.  The participants visited by boat the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Halong Bay and Trang An. Learning opportunities were not limited to history: participants enjoyed a variety of delicious Vietnamese cuisine, including much-beloved pho and spring rolls. After shopping in a local market, participants also took a Vietnamese cooking class, with the goal of bringing home a new skill as a souvenir!

No Fulbright trip is complete without the chance to network with local Fulbrighters. The Service Trip participants met with Fulbrighters in Hanoi, and shared their experiences. Seeing the wide reach of the Fulbright Program in action, and building bridges of intercultural understanding and friendship – especially where the aftermath of war is still present to this day – was a highlight for all.

Thanks to our trip partner, the Center for Sustainable Development Studies, for producing this video recap of the group’s meaningful service travel experience:

April 30, 2018 0

2017 Insight Trip to India Builds on Fulbright Connections

2017 Insight Trip to India Builds on Fulbright Connections

Participants on our Insight Trip to India arrived in New Delhi last week, eager to experience the nation’s vibrant culture and connect with local communities. During one of their first days in country, they visited Old Delhi, where they walked along the bustling commercial street Chandni Chowk, explored the spice markets, rode a pedal rickshaw, and toured Jami Masjid, the oldest and largest mosque in India. Later that afternoon, they visited the Anandvan community, where they participated in a lesson on meditation and breathing exercises.

The area is familiar to Fulbright Association Trip Representative and incoming board member Mary Stanton, who did her 2010-2011 Fulbright Teacher Exchange in the region. The Teacher Exchange Program, which was discontinued in 2014, offered primary and secondary school educators the opportunity to exchange teaching positions with a teacher from another country. Mary’s exchange partner was an Indian woman named Rashmi (right), and during their Fulbright year, Mary taught Rashmi’s classes at Bal Bharati Public School. Drawing on the strength of their ongoing connection, Mary introduced the group to Rashmi, who graciously hosted everyone at her home for dinner. “I lived in her home, the home where we had dinner. Rashmi and I have been close friends since our exchange; we call each other our soul sister. Dinner at her house was like an encore of the Fulbright experience,” Mary shared.

The group also met with Nibir and Sunita (below), the only two Fulbright alumni in Agra. The special experiences that come from Fulbright connections to the local community are the true backbone of Fulbright Association Insight and Service Trips. In addition to visiting significant cultural monuments, FA trips facilitate connections with Fulbright alumni in the area and often with local organizations, schools, and clinics as well.

This is the Fulbright Association’s second time leading an Insight Trip to India, and this year’s itinerary has included visits to the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, and Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. The photo below shows the group at Fatehpur Sikri, a UNESCO World Heritage site nicknamed the “Ghost City” that is an important historic site from medieval Mughal India. Built in 1571 by Mughal Emperor Akbar, Fatehpur Sikri was the capital of the Mughal Empire for 14 years. These more traditional travel experiences of India’s cultural and architectural landmarks have only been strengthened by the Fulbright bonds formed in-country and the unique perspectives they instill.

November 28, 2017 0

Building ‘Pathways to Peace’: 2017 Service Tour to Malawi

Building ‘Pathways to Peace’: 2017 Service Tour to Malawi

If you’ve never ridden into an unfamiliar African village and been warmly embraced with singing and dancing after your small van has bumped along on an unpaved, dusty road with more naturally-grooved speed-bumps than trees alongside it, you really can’t fully appreciate how the Fulbright Association’s Service Tour in Malawi came to plant 1700 trees in a watershed area in the village of Naphambo near a river in Zomba.

That is just a glimpse into our delegation’s powerful experience in Malawi this past July. Through the Fulbright Association’s Travel Program, Fulbright alumni have the unique opportunity to further their international exposure and make an impact. The Association organizes two types of purposeful travel programs: Insight Tours are primarily educational, while Service Tours focus on volunteering and fieldwork. The Malawi trip marked a key milestone along a journey that began in 2014. In 2015, the Association officially aligned its travel program with the Pathways to Peace strategic framework, establishing key areas for collective impact that guide our service projects. The Malawi trip became the nexus of three of those impact areas: Global Health, Sustainability, and International Education. The trip also built upon the foundation laid by our institutional member Mercer University’s “Mercer on Mission” trips to many similar locations.

Water and sanitation is a critical issue in Malawi, where water pumps are shared among entire villages and trees are often used for fuel for firewood and cooking instead of preventing sediment run-off into rivers. During their time in country, the Fulbright team worked alongside villagers, the Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD SEA), and the Forestry Research Institute of Malawi (FRIM) to promote sustainable watershed management by planting trees and grasses as part of the Watershed Improvement Project. They also visited local schools, orphanages, and clinics, as well as the Mulunguzi Dam and UNESCO World Heritage Site Cape Maclear. The team’s work received press attention, including two feature articles published in The Nation, Malawi’s national newspaper.

The Fulbright delegation had the opportunity to meet with more than 15 stakeholder groups over the course of nearly 2 weeks. These included members of the Malawi-U.S. Exchanges Alumni Association (MUSEAA), the Malawi Ministry of Health, the World Bank, USAID, Water for People, Rotary International, Dignitas International, Emmanuel International, and YONECO. Part of the team also had the chance to meet William Kamkwamba, who became famous as the author of “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” after building a windmill out of bicycle parts, tractor fans, and plastic pipes at the age of 14, when a drought left farmers like William’s father without any income. William was discovered through the local media when his windmill launched and actually worked. He was invited to speak at a TED Global conference in Tanzania, which led to him being sponsored to attend the African Leadership Academy. He went on to attend Dartmouth College and now lives in the United States.

The tour not only served as a direct-impact experience where participants helped plant trees and buy bicycles and recorders for community radio clubs, but also as an opportunity for fact-finding for the Fulbright Malawi team in support of an anticipated multi-year grant proposal aimed at assessing water quality and monitoring, sanitation, and high school graduation rates for girls in rural Malawi. If the project successfully receives funding from Coca-Cola’s Project RAIN (Replenish Africa Initiative), it could ultimately impact and improve the lives and health of between 37,500 and 50,000 people in in both peri-urban and rural areas surrounding the Chulu Chosema and Naphombe village in Malawi. The initiative would actively participate in long-term capacity building to promote an innovative “Model Village” concept that would be scalable and used in multiple areas throughout the country. It would also promote sustainable approaches to water, health, sanitation, and education services; and would contribute to improved health and livelihoods, especially in marginalized areas, and focus on dramatically increasing the educational opportunities of young girls throughout the target areas.

Among others, the Fulbright delegation included Dr. Zipangani Vokhiwa, Mercer University professor and President of the Georgia Chapter; Kim Eger, Vice President of the national Fulbright Association Board of Directors and Chair of the Pathways Initiative; Dr. Gale Workman, a journalist, professor, and International Rotarian; Dr. Sharon Nickols, a professor and former dean at the University of Georgia; and Dr. Jack Allison, a former Peace Corps volunteer who served in Malawi from 1966-1969. During Dr. Allison’s tour, he wrote a number of songs and jingles to promote public health, one of which became a #1 hit on Malawian radio stations. As the delegate went from village to village, singing the songs they learned from Dr. Allison, they found that to this day, many in Malawi still know his songs by heart. Song and music is one key component of how the Fulbright Association grant proposal intents to facilitate sharing of best practices related to sanitation and hygiene, and Dr. Allison has graciously agreed to help write and record some new songs for the RAIN grant-proposal project.

Kim Eger shared his excitement about the depth of connections built on the trip and the future of the Malawi team’s work, saying: “So called ‘downtime’ was rare on this trip. It was usually filled up with something not initially on the agenda, but where one contact led to another — often through the extensive network of our Fulbrighters. The multiple avenues for strategic partnerships sprang up from many directions daily.” As the Malawi delegation moves forward with their grant proposal in the months ahead, we look forward to sharing their work and its impact with members of our Fulbright community.

To see more photos from the Malawi trip, click here. These photos were taken by delegation participant Sabrina Khan, who generously served as the trip photographer! For more information on the Fulbright Association’s Travel Program, click here

 —Kalyn Cai, Communications Intern

September 29, 2017 0

The Fulbright Association’s 2016 Insight Tour to Peru

The Fulbright Association’s 2016 Insight Tour to Peru

A major attraction for visiting Peru is Machu Picchu. In a word, Machu Picchu is awesome. “The views of snow-capped Andes Mountains, the meandering Urubamba River, and the conversations with fellow travelers on the Peru Railroad added to the pleasure of the trip to Machu Picchu,” said Nancy Neill (New Zealand, 1963), Fulbright Association President. The engineering genius of the Inca also was evident in visits to the Ollantaytambo ruins and Sacsayhuaman, a fortress believed to have been a university.

Machu Picchu was only one of many great experiences in the Fulbright Association Insight Tour in Peru, October 13-21, 2016. Fourteen travelers from Washington, D.C. to Hawaii were led by Andrea Neves (Tanzania, 1997; Uganda 2002), Member of the Fulbright Board of Directors, and Victor Colunga, tour leader. We were met in Peru by two Peruvian alumni. Former President Alejandro Toledo, a Fulbright Scholar to the U.S., joined us for dinner in Lima. And Maywa Blanco, agronomy professor at Cusco’s San Antonio Abad University, directed an excursion to the Quechua potato-growing community.

The Potato Park (El Parque de Papas) was a trip highlight for Lee Fletcher (India, 2004; Fulbright Specialist appointments in other countries). “The insight aspect of the trip was exemplified by our visit to the five altiplano communities where the residents have joined together to improve their physical and social circumstances. They are using indigenous knowledge to create a sustainable food production system without use of chemical fertilizer or plant protection.” Spouse Cindy Fletcher enjoyed the “diversity of sights, sounds, and conversations woven together in a well organized itinerary that still allowed time to explore independently.”

“I enjoyed finding the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco (Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco). It’s a beautiful museum showcasing the history of weaving and its geographical variety,” she explained. Lee also enjoyed Cuzco’s central plaza. He observed, “With the exception of the insertion of luxury hotels and stores into colonial buildings, Cuzco has the same ambience I found there forty years ago.”

The cathedrals in Cusco and Lima attest to the predominance of Catholicism blended with local customs in the religious tradition and contemporary practice of the country. We also learned about the multi-ethnic history of Peru through visits to private museums, including the Museo Rafael Larco Herrera in Lima, where we glimpsed the highly developed pottery and metal craftsmanship (think gold and silver) of the pre-Columbian cultures such as the Moche and Nazca. And, of course, there were opportunities to experience the things Peru is famous for today. Not one person among the group could resist feeding the alpacas and llamas at the Awanakancha Center for South American Camelids, or bringing home at least one delightful example of the rich textile tradition of Peru.

Hotel accommodations throughout the tour rated five stars. The sounds and the view of the rushing river next to the hotel in Aguas Calientes below Machu Picchu and the view of the Pacific Ocean from the hotel in Lima were an added bonus. But the most rewarding part of the trip was traveling with other Fulbrighters and sharing our common concerns for mutual international understanding.

As Reiko Hayashi (Costa Rica, 2010-11) says, “Traveling with Fulbrighters is wonderful. I am looking forward to participating in my third trip.” Reiko, a participant in the first Fulbright Association Insight Tour to Cuba in April 2015, is fulfilling her retirement goal of traveling. When the Peru trip ended she departed Lima for Costa Rica to visit friends.

Fulbright companionship, layers of cultural history, skillful weavers of colorful symbols in fabric and song, breath-taking mountains and valleys, scrumptious food pleasing to the palate and the eyes, and modern preservation coupled with ancient cultivation of the ubiquitous potato. That’s a thumbnail sketch of one amazing trip to Peru.


—Sharon Nickols, Fulbright alumna (Malawi, 1983-84) and participant in the Fulbright Service Corps Trip to Peru in 2015.

September 15, 2017 0