Samantha Bennett – India 2019

Samantha Bennett – India 2019

Lifting Others Up Through Action Research

During a field visit, a woman with light gray hair and a forest green sari strolled up to me and began jabbering in Kannada, a local language in Southwestern India, throwing her arms about her thin frame. Nidhi, my translator, stood beside me giggling, testing me on the Kannada greetings she had taught me earlier. I was helpless. All I could comprehend was the word “eat.” The woman brought her fingers to her mouth, mimicking the act of eating. She patted my belly and laughed gregariously. “Have you eaten lunch?” Ah yes, that’s it! That’s what she was trying to say. “Uta Ita” I responded, embarrassed by my inability to speak the local language. She stepped back, waggling her head, the typical Indian way, and seemed satisfied with my response, at least for now.

Through a Fulbright-Nehru research scholarship, I conducted action research in South India for 8 months with a social enterprise called Pollinate Group.  I spent most of my days doing ethnographic field work with women entrepreneurs living in informal settlements in metropolitan cities like Bangalore and Kolkata. These informal migratory communities often lack energy services and clean cooking facilities and women grapple with deeply ingrained gender dynamics. The inhabitants migrate from rural villages to work in cities because climate change has made yearlong subsistence agriculture untenable.

I hoped to understand a women’s sense of agency through her involvement in entrepreneurial activity, selling household products, but most often small-scale solar such as solar lanterns and fans. The products women sell have many life-saving and time-saving benefits: families no longer have to deal with toxic and dangerous kerosene lamps, children can study with a solar lamp to light up the darkness, and with clean cookstoves women can cook without inhaling smoke from firewood they had to take the time to collect. In the process of selling these products, a woman begins to develop business skills and enhances her bargaining power in the household. She also creates a stronger sense of community and challenges gendered norms that a woman’s place is in the home. I was fascinated by this process of empowerment, what it means for a woman, and how that agency could be enhanced.

After an interview with a women entrepreneur, Nidhi and I set out to leave the informal settlement while a group gathered around us. The woman in the forest green sari crouched on the ground in a malasana squat. She looked up at me with her sparkling eyes and began to ask questions excitedly. I explained I was from America, there doing research. Her eyes grew wide. “America!” she shouted and looked up to the sky. She rubbed her fingers together to symbolize the great wealth of Americans. “Rich!” she yelped. She said she’d like to come back to the United States with me as she smiled innocently.

But how could I make her understand the truth of San Francisco’s streets, overflowing with persons without a place to call home? I considered the rising inequalities within U.S. cities where many people can’t afford their rent and commute for hours to save money. I thought of the racial gaps in education, healthcare, and the for-profit criminal justice system. How could I make her see that not all U.S. citizens are wealthy and not everyone has been welcomed into the “American Dream?” It’s not a perfect place, nowhere is perfect.

Before I had time to respond, the woman in the green sari grabbed both of my arms with a force and pulled me down into a squat alongside her on the orange-red dirt. I had felt a barrier between us, as I stood looking down at her while she squatted below me. But I didn’t bring myself down to meet her at her own level. It was she who had to pull me down. While I squatted there, it became clear to me that I could not expect to understand this woman’s perspective while looking down at her. I could never fully understand the complexities of her experience as an Indian woman living in a migratory informal settlement. But, by listening deeply, I could try my best to understand. And so, I gently lifted the woman up to stand by my side, and her eyes sparkled brightly in the mid-day sun.

It was through interactions such as this, that I learned the importance of mutual understanding that the Fulbright Program facilitates. This lesson, of the importance of participatory action research in the context of mutual understanding and of transcending the power dynamic that often exists as a foreign researcher from the United States, stands out to me. We can’t attempt to understand the lived experiences of others from a position of power. We must learn to bring ourselves to the level of those we interact with, with genuine wonder and loving-kindness. I find this incredibly important as a white female working in a development context, working with women who look up to me for the color of my skin, because that is what they were taught to value. Constantly aware of my identity and positionality as an outsider, I was vigilant about creating safe spaces for women to share their stories while being very transparent that my research was meant to benefit their lived experience of agency. To ensure my research was meaningful, I collaborated closely with my host organization, to focus on community needs rather than just my own intellectual interests. I was able to provide an action plan based off my research insights that my host organization could implement to enhance the agency of the entrepreneurs they recruit. Such iterative research is a bottom-up process, informed by the participants and their needs, rather than a exploitative top down process. During my Fulbright research, I was confronted with questions such as: Who am I doing research for? And what do I hope the impact of my research to be? These are questions that all researchers must continue to be mindful of, especially those working abroad and with vulnerable populations.

As I waved goodbye to the colorful group gathered at the edge of the informal settlement, I internalized this valuable lesson. I challenge myself to be more aware of bringing myself to the levels of others and to continuously lift others up. As a researcher and activist inspired by my Fulbright experience, I will continue to uplift the voices of women at the margins, hoping to build capacities and create a flourishing sense of agency for all humans.

-Samantha Bennett

2019 Fulbright U.S. Student to India

 

Update: After an abrupt end to her Fulbright in March, Bennett recreated stories of the resilient women she worked with through her research. Bennett created a manuscript of creative nonfiction stories and now is in the process of applying for graduate programs.

September 14, 2020 0

Alumni Profile – Steven Darian

Alumni Profile – Steven Darian

10th Century Tibetan Monastery in Ladakh, in the Indian Himalayas, 1987

I’ve been lucky enough to have had 3 Fulbrights: to India, Uzbekistan, & Ukraine. Apart from 30 years teaching at Rutgers, I’ve been an incurable traveler, with other long-term assignments in Saudi & Turkey, Afghanistan & India, China & Indonesia. These things become part of your identity. When doing my website, I had to ask myself for the first time: What is my identity or identities? My answer was: Writer, editor, and interculturalist.

Children of the Station––Bombay/Mumbai, 1971

And of course interculturalism––is the core of the Fulbright experience. It is without doubt, a many-faceted word. It involves adding to your institution, adding to your host country, and expanding your understanding of yourself and the world.

My Fulbright to India (along with several other stays in-country), enabled me to write the book I had always dreamed of writing––A Ganges of the Mind––a popular book on the river and people I met while traveling from its source in the high Himalayas, to the Bay of Bengal: beggars and pilgrims, scoundrels and scholars.

Mausoleum of a Sufi Saint––Samarkand, 1997

Plus a scholarly book on the river, as well. It was a time when the journey to the East was in full spate. It seemed almost everyone was going to India for something; yoga and meditation, philosophy, theosophy; you name it. I also connected up with several colleagues from the University of Calcutta, and was later able to mentor several of their students who later traveled to America to study.

The Fulbright to Uzbekistan pulled me into the world of Islamic history and culture, and led me to write a historical novel set in 14th century Samarkand––one of the greatest centers of culture & learning of the Islamic world. I called the book The Illuminator, and spent the following two years studying the Islamic tradition, as background for the book, and for my studies in comparative religion.

The Fulbright to Ukraine resulted in a collaboration on two books with a Ukrainian colleague––Dr. Olga Ilchenko––of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. It was a collaboration that has lasted a lifetime, and also resulted in my currently serving on the editorial board of a Ukrainian journal. My stay also resulted in meeting my wife.

The Buddhas of Bamiyan (6th century), 1964

Istalif––Afghanistan: 1063, 1963, or 2063?

Two years of teaching in China also yielded a collaboration on two books, with a Chinese colleague. And finally, two years teaching in Turkey, that gave me some insights into that amazing part of the world, whose history disappears into the mists of time. My travels have enabled me to visit the ancient sites: Borobudur in Indonesia; stations on the Silk Road; the Buddhas of Bamiyan, before they were dynamited by the Taliban. Gaur: once one the greatest cities of India; and today, the haunt of birds and monkeys. As well as the clay soldiers of X’ian––probably the greatest archaeological find of the 20th century, and to imagine the last days of the emperor’s retinue, who were buried alive with his dead body, beneath the giant mound of earth.

From these wayward journeys, I’ve been able to cobble together a book of my wanderings; called, ça va sans dire, The Wanderer: Travels  & Adventures Beyond the Pale, that pulls together my experiences from 9-10 countries I’ve lived and worked and studied in; and with a cast of characters you can’t forget: swinging swamis, At the Lama’s Table (Sikkim), A Jewish-Christian-Moslem, Sasha and the Maharaja (Pakistan), and Drinking with the Russian Second Secretary (Kabul); to name but a few.

There are great travelers from all lands & all times: Ibn Battuta and al-Muqaddasi, Marco Polo and Magellan, Xuanzang & Zheng He. Here is a wonderful piece of advice from Chuang-tze, on The Inner and Outer Journey:

 

Lieh Tzu was fond of traveling.

The adept Hu-chiu Tzu said to him: “I hear you are

fond of travel. What is it about traveling that pleases you so?”

“I travel,” replied Lieh Tzu, “in order to observe the endless

variety of things, and in this way come to understand the universal.”

“When people travel,” replied Hu, “they see merely the outside—the

husk, the shell. They learn little about the essence of things, which

is only learned from the inward journey.”

After that, Lieh Tzu never went anywhere.

“Now that you understand this,” said Hu, “you may become

a traveler again; realizing that the greatest traveler does not know

where he is going, and so is open to all experience.”

 

Steven Darian – The Author in Banaras, 1987

In a way, the most important thing to pack with you for the journey is––the diary. Keep it under your pillow at night, and try to write something in it every day; about people, places, experiences. And of course, your reflections. Remembering always that: life is people, whether you’re a poet or a physicist. Let me leave you with a parting thought; something I’ve learned from several aeons of travel, umpteen years of writing, and 10 years as a professional editor: Connect with the heart…and the head will follow. Whether you’re a poet, or a physicist.

 

-Steven Darian
Fulbright to India: 1992-1993
Fulbright to Uzbekistan: 1997-1998
Fulbright to Ukraine: 2001-2002

July 27, 2020 0

In Memoriam: Milton Glaser (1929 – 2020)

In Memoriam: Milton Glaser (1929 – 2020)

Image credit: Catalina Kulczar

Milton Glaser, one of the world’s greatest graphic designers and Fulbright Association Lifetime Achievement Awardee, died on June 26th, his 91st birthday.  As the New York Times puts it, Milton “changed the vocabulary of American visual culture,” designing such iconic images as the “I ♥ NY” and a psychedelic poster of Bob Dylan.  The editors of New York Magazine observed that “Milton Glaser’s work is everywhere: in logos in your supermarket, on posters you see from the side walk, and in the identity of New York itself.”

Milton often reflected that his Fulbright grant to Italy—where he studied with the painter Giorgio Morandi in Bologna—changed his life forever, attuning him to artistic traditions and sophisticated aesthetics that powered his own creativity and exceptional career.  The website of the firm he founded in 1974, www.miltonglaser.com, provides a wonderful overview of his life (including a version of “Interminable Length”) and “The Work,” which catalogues many of his campaigns and images.

Milton Glaser on his Fulbright Grant to Italy in 1952 to the Academy of Fine Arts, Bologna, Italy, studying with painter Giorgio Morandi. Image Credit: http://www.miltonglaser.com

You may agree with me that these images reveal an artist of immense reach, a creative genius who tackled each project with new eyes and a fresh palate.  Milton never rested, he never relied on his own iconography, and he never stopped looking for the new in New York, and in the wider world.  His work was bold, striking and memorable because Milton was fearless.

Poster for Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, 1967 – Image Credit: http://www.miltonglaser.com

Milton was also true to the mission of the Fulbright Program, deeply believing in building meaningful friendships wherever he went, and remaining dedicated to teaching successive generations of art students.  His art is known to billions, but his favorite legacy, I will wager, was the love and connection of his friends, colleagues, clients, and students.  He was a mensch.

On a personal note, I am very sad to lose my good friend.  Milton always made time in his busy schedule to sit with me, whether in his studio or at a favorite Italian restaurant nearby.  Our conversations were wide ranging because Milton loved the world and its complexities, injustices and troubled politics.  He viewed that world through very progressive lenses, decidedly, but he was too wise to dismiss anyone’s perspective.  Warm and funny, Milton was a pleasure to know, and I already miss him terribly.

Among many works of art he gave the Fulbright Association is a t-shirt I cherish.  It boldly shouts “ART FOR LIFE.”  Milton Glaser, Fulbrighter and friend, embodied that phrase.  He embraced life with joy.  He connected art to everyday life, making it more precious and beautiful.  We are grateful for his legacy, spirit and creations.

The Fulbright community mourns his loss and shares our condolences with his wife, Shirley.

-John B. Bader, Executive Director

June 29, 2020 0

Virtual Conversations: How to Talk to Your Community Abroad About Black Lives Matter Protests

Virtual Conversations: How to Talk to Your Community Abroad About Black Lives Matter Protests

Students at SMA N 1 Sangatta Utara watch the Oscar Winning Short Film Hair Love as part of their lesson on narrative text

Since arriving back to the United States, most mornings I wake up to a flurry of WhatsApp messages from my students. Typically, these messages read “Miss what are you doing?” or “Miss how is the pandemic in America?” prompting casual updates on our shared experiences in quarantine. Recently, these messages have taken on a new urgency, with the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests happening in more than 2,000 cities in the United States​. Worldwide people are demanding justice for the killings of Black Americans by white police officers. The killing of Black Americans is a systemic problem in the United States and requires action beyond police reform and prosecution.

These morning messages are now filled with voices of concern and confusion. Students are now asking “Miss why are people protesting in America?” Social media and the world wide web allows worry for my safety, and while I myself am not in any immediate danger, I struggle to put into words the long history of racism in the United States and what these protests mean beyond me as an individual.

The Indonesian ETAs host a virtual end of grant ceremony in place of their in person end of year conference in Jakarta

TikTok is a social media application that many Indonesian high schoolers rely on for global news and honest portrayal of experiences beyond their grasp. On such a platform, posts are spread at the swipe of a thumb, offering little pause for reflection and making misinformation rampant. The Black Lives Matter Protests in the United States of America have not been exempt from the consequences of fake news. For instance, a Tiktok of President Donald Trump supposedly mocking the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police has been circulating. The clip of President Donald Trump standing in front of a crowd exclaiming “I cant breath, I cant breath” was taken out of context. It was originally from a rally held in ​Colorado Springs where President Trump was referring not to George Floyd’s death, but to former democratic primary presidential candidate, Michael Bloomberg, fumbling with his answers during a debate. Students were shocked by such a seemingly insensitive act on the matter of race in the United States.

How do you explain how such a video was taken out of context without denying the reality of which we currently exist over WhatsApp? How do you summarize the complexities of the history of race in the United States through language and cultural barriers? How do you explain the larger backdrop of a United States that still has confederate statues to a student who has never traveled beyond their hometown? To answer these questions, I turned to the support and creative brain power of my cohort. While social media platforms can accidentally cause students to promote misinformation, they can also be a teaching resource. Here are some suggestions I gained from the collective man power of my 2019-2020 Indonesian ETA cohort.

A student practices her English writing while learning about famous Black Americans

Use your social media platforms to share, repost and send information to your host community. Try to engage in the post before posting in order to make sure you yourself are not also spreading false information. When sharing posts, consider translating some of the information, making it even more accessible to your students. There are many social media accounts currently explaining the Black Lives Matter movement and protests in America. Reshare a post on your story or personal accounts that is visible to your students. Also, many social media accounts share free books and resources that you can also repost and share with your community abroad. Many social media platforms allow you to post polls or host a Q&A with your followers. Make the most of these functions by allowing your community to ask you questions and providing answers on your story. For members of your host community that may not be on social media, share articles and posts to any WhatsApp groups you are still a part of as well. This will broaden your reach of interaction with your host community to anyone who might be curious and not sure how to ask you.

Similar to when you were teaching grammar and vocabulary to your students and would have to review the material and create an age appropriate lesson, you can review the information about the Black Lives Matter movement and create a lesson plan to teach your students. Your lesson plan can include explaining the history of police brutality in America coupled with videos of people protesting and the reason why they are protesting. You could end the lesson with an activity where you ask students to create a poster they would carry to a Black Lives Matter protest. There are several online resources that also provide lesson plans to teach students about the Black Lives Matter movement that you can lean on. Take a look at the “For Children” tab on websites like, blmresources.net, for children’s books on race that may be more appropriate for students where English is their second, third, or even fourth language.

Another way you can approach conversations about the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States is through comparisons to your host country. An article posted in the Jakarta Post highlighted how systemic racism is not unique to the United States. While the history and cultural contexts differ greatly, ​this article​ discusses the hashtag #PapuanLivesMatter, a spin off of #BlackLivesMatter trending in Indonesia, calling for Indonesians to reflect on their own history with racism and oppression. Papua is an eastern region of Indonesia notoriously exploited for its abundance of natural resources, while simultaneously being denied basic public amenities. This offers a starting point to both improve your understanding as an ETA of the political climate in your host country as well as have students draw their own parallels and make their own conclusions on the Black Lives Matter movement.

From this, I was able to meet my students on a common ground of understanding, allowing us to share about how racism persists in our respective countries and what we can do to combat it as individuals. Similarly to how the shared experience of social isolation once prompted conversations around COVID-19, recognition of racism across the world has facilitated meaningful WhatsApp conversations.

-Lucy Srour, 2019-2020 ETA to Indonesia

-Ammarah Rehman, 2019-2020 ETA to Indonesia

June 29, 2020 0

Fulbright in the Classroom: Thurgood Marshall Academy Lower School 5th Grade Graduates Visit with a U.S. Diplomat and Fulbright Alumnus

Fulbright in the Classroom: Thurgood Marshall Academy Lower School 5th Grade Graduates Visit with a U.S. Diplomat and Fulbright Alumnus

On Tuesday, June 23, graduating 5th graders at Thurgood Marshall Academy Lower School (TMALS) had a Google Meet conversation with United States diplomat and Fulbright alumnus Mr. Leland Lazarus. “It was such an honor to hang out with you,” said Mr. Lazarus to more than 20 TMALS scholars at the end of the meeting. “You are so incredibly smart,” he added. “You are going to be changing the world.”

TMALS, located on West 151st Street in Manhattan, with “a population of mostly Black and Brown students,” according to Principal Dr. Dawn Brooks-DeCosta, “embraces student-centered, culturally responsive, antiracist pedagogy that enhances students’ learning and success in school.  Administrators and teachers actively listen to students’ ideas and observe student individual needs in order to inform curricular priorities, direction and design. Students’ social and historical contexts are reflected in TMALS’s daily practices: student council, self-awareness leaders and ambassadors give students a true voice in the social construct of TMALS. Students lead social-emotional and mindfulness practices daily in the classroom, and peer mediators work with students to resolve conflict, which motivates students to take ownership of their actions, lives, and educational experiences.” TMALS mission is “to provide a robust holistic learning experience for each child through social emotional learning, cultural responsiveness and belonging.  We are the village that raises the child.” 

Dr. Brooks-DeCosta has led the school with a focus on “cultural responsiveness, antiracist pedagogy and social emotional learning.” Her research was written on Black Principal Perspectives on Social-emotional Learning and Culturally Responsive Leadership in Urban Schools: the Role of Beliefs, Values, and Leadership Practices.

Mr. Lazarus is a scholar of Chinese history and language. Fluent in Mandarin, he spent three years as a U.S. diplomat to China. Currently, he is posted to the Caribbean, and is usually based in Barbados. Since the quarantine, however, he has been living in Miami, where his wife works as a medical doctor and is on the front lines of battling Covid-19.

Mr. Lazarus asked the 5th graders many questions: What language do they speak in China? What do you think they eat in China? He shared with the scholars that he tried foods in China that he had never tried before, such as silk worms. He also discovered that what he thought was his favorite Chinese food, General Tso’s Chicken, was an American invention that did not exist in China. TMALS scholars shared what they knew about Chinese food and holidays.

The 5th graders listened with rapt attention as Mr. Lazarus described his experience of Chinese curiosity about someone from a different culture, specifically a Black person. “In China,” he said, “I had to learn the language and get used to the people who live there. There were very few people who looked like me.”

What is diversity?, asked Mr. Lazarus. He noted that TMALS prided itself on being a school of diversity and inclusion. TMALS scholars shared that they had studied Mexico, Jamaica, and the Black Liberation Movement in the United States. Some also mentioned what they knew about Brazil and the Russian Revolution. The scholars also talked with Mr. Lazarus about current events, such as how the murder of George Floyd made them feel, and the toppling of statues honoring proponents of slavery around the world. 

“It shows the power of young people,” said Mr. Lazarus, “young people just like you… who have the power to create change.” 

Mr. Lazarus recommended that the 5th graders learn a foreign language “so you can communicate with other people around the world.” He also encouraged them to live in other countries to learn their history, culture and politics “so that you can influence.”  

After graduating college, Mr. Lazarus received a Fulbright grant to Panama, where he taught English. The Fulbright grant sends U.S. students and scholars to other countries to live and learn about their cultures and histories, and it brings students and scholars from other countries to the United States to do the same. After his “life-changing” Fulbright experience, Mr. Lazarus and his parents, who are Afro-Panamanian, started The Dream Scholarship, which financially supports Panamanian students who want to study English in the United States.

Mr. Lazarus advised TMALS scholars to consider applying for a Fulbright grant when they are in college.

Before departing, Mr. Lazarus asked TMALS scholars if they thought his work as a U.S. diplomat was interesting. “Yes!,” came a chorus of replies.

TMALS teacher Ms. Lucile Middleton called Mr. Lazarus a “history-maker,” someone who influences events and makes history happen. At the end of the conversation, she expressed her hope that TMALS 5th graders go on to become “history-makers” themselves.

-Alison Gardy

Alison Gardy has served as a Fulbright Association board member (2000-2006, 2017 to present) and was president of the Greater New York Chapter of the Fulbright Association (2000-2002). She had a Fulbright grant to Mexico in 1988, where she was lucky to receive the stories of a family who migrated from rural Mexico to the outskirts of the capital city for a better life. 

June 26, 2020 0