Monday, 20 December 2010

Update & thoughts on Anti-Americanism

My beloved supervisor passed away. The battle with cancer was, in his wife's words, mercifully brief. His memorial service was lovely--they played The Beatles' "In My Life", one of my favorite songs and so fitting for this Liverpudlian :) I'll miss him deeply, as will everybody who knew him. But one of the last things he said to me as my supervisor was "Get on with it." So I will, and I'll dedicate it to him and try to make him proud.

We're getting ready to leave for Christmas break. I'm really looking forward to it--it's been a rough start to the PhD, and I think a trip to the States will give me some inspiration (as I'm researching American PD, after all).

My final bit of work before the break was an essay on anti-Americanism. I'll be using it as a springboard for my next essay, how anti-Americanism fits into my PD research. My main point is that anti-Americanism is the target of PD--it is what we are battling against in the "battle over hearts and minds." There are different causes of anti-Americanism, and different ways of using PD tools to fight them--so I'll go into all of that in the second essay. But the essential point I want to make is that American Fulbrighters, as cultural ambassadors, have a goal that often gets overlooked: fighting anti-Americanism. The Fulbright mission statement says they're there to promote mutual understanding--overcome stereotypes, create sympathy for the US, make our policies better understood, etc. Anti-Americanism isn't mentioned explicitly, but it's implied as the opposite of mutual understanding. It's mutual misunderstanding.

After 9/11, when we asked "why do they hate us?", some said that the fact we had to ask, the fact we weren't already aware of the offense we'd caused around the world, was reason enough to hate us.
That's why I'm fascinated by the potential of PD...That, and because Phil Taylor inspired me to work in this field.
RIP, Phil...

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Academia and atheism...

I just read a passage in one of my books that irritated me and got me thinking about why so many academics seem to be atheists/agnostics (and especially why some seem to find pleasure in mocking faith...). Before blogging, I googled it (as usual) and found an actual study on this topic written by none other than my brother-in-law's cousin, Solon Simmons. It felt really weird to be doing research and see the name of a guy I actually know--been to his house, had dinner, played with his kids, etc. His research found that despite the stereotype that academics are atheist or agnostic, the majority of professors are actually religious believers. Maybe those who mock the faithful are just louder than the rest?

Anyway, the passage that irked me in the first place:
"Despite America's self-image as the primary twenty-first century civilizing force, the overwhelming majority of Americans believe in angels and miracles and, among countries where people believe religion to be very important, America is closer to Pakistan and Nigeria than to France or Germany." (Gary Younge, Who Are We--and Should it Matter in the 21st Century?, 2010, p. 6)

Ok, so you can't be a 'civilizing force' and also hold religious beliefs? Why are those 2 things mutually exclusive? Albert Schweitzer actually included sprituality in his definition of civilization:
"It is the sum total of all progress made by man in every sphere of action and from every point of view in so far as the progress helps towards the spiritual perfecting of individuals as the progress of all progress." (The Philosophy of Civilization).

Civilization is about progress. Why does Gary Younge equate "progress" with atheism, with not believing in angels and miracles, with religion not being 'very important'?

Monday, 29 November 2010

Stepping back...

I've had a major blow this week, both personally and academically. My beloved mentor is seriously ill, and it's such a shock. When I read his e-mail, I just broke down in tears. Now I'm in slightly better shape--numb but still depressed, of course. I've had to face the fact that the man who inspired me to do the PhD won't be supervising it through to completion. It's made me question everything and reflect on life...and with all this philosophising, I haven't been able to concentrate on my reading.
But I know that this is what I'm supposed to be doing. He wants me to succeed in this project we designed together. And dedicating my dissertation to him means I'll have to work hard and make it the best piece of writing I can possibly produce.

This week, I've been stepping back and looking at my project. On Friday I'm going to discuss my lit review with my co-supervisor (now my main supervisor), so right now I'm just putting together a few ideas about what it is exactly that I want this project to accomplish...

--I know what I don't want it to be: another redundant Fulbright study that doesn't say anything new. They all have the same findings--exchange students act as effective cultural mediators, friendship networks are valuable PD tools, etc.
--I know I still want to focus on Americans abroad. It's original (research usually looks at foreign Fulbrighters coming to America), and I'm an American abroad so I know what to ask from my own experience.
--I know I want a political/IR angle, because that's my background and that's what I'm into.
--I think Turkey would be interesting for a comparative case because of the religion/culture aspect and the possibility of EU accession in coming years (relates to Trans-Atlantic relations, US-EU), as well as their political/cultural anti-Americanism.
--I think Belgium would also be a good one because of their cultural anti-Americanism--this would help isolate causes/perceptions of anti-Americanism and cultural/political effects of PD in the other 2 cases.
--I think it's all about triangulation. More methods and more aspects of the PD/student exchange phenomenon means more interesting/accurate results.

But, having said all of that, I'm still not entirely sure what's going to happen with the direction of my project. And I think that's ok for now...

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Lit Review Essay

That's how I write, too--some of my most brilliant work has resulted from last-minute panic and lots of coffee...

I submitted my lit review essay yesterday, the first piece of work in my PhD. It wasn't great, but I think it gave a good overview of what I've read so far. I struggled with it because the literature has been all over the place--political science, psychology, education, international relations, sociology, history, cultural studies, etc. It made it really hard to come up with a summary, so in the end, I used that diversity as my summary. My main point was simply that this topic is very interdisciplinary and future research should use a broad scope.

Was that a good point, or just an academic cop-out? We'll see on Friday when I meet with my supervisor...

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Globalization and Root Beer

As part of my planning for Thanksgiving dinner, I just did a Google search for french fried onions, and found this retailer. They sell American groceries in the UK. My American friends back home will look at the website and laugh at the prices (£4.50 for a 2-L bottle of Root Beer???), but my American friends in the UK will look at the website and actually consider paying the exhorbitant prices for things they've been missing (a root beer float sounds pretty good in the land of tea...). Libby's canned pumpkin seems to be a big seller (I brought a big can back with me this time, worth £4.30 on this website, along with jellied cranberry sauce that goes for £2.45!).

This doesn't even touch on the wide range of American companies & products we have access to in our every day lives in the UK. Everyone always mentions McDonald's taking over the world, but we've got other companies here, too:
Burger King
Pizza Hut
T.G.I. Friday's
North Face
Ralph Lauren
American Apparel

and I'm sure many others that I haven't remembered...

How do we participate in 'culture learning' when globalization has made it so easy to access a taste of home? If globalization means Americanization, as some scholars have argued, then why do Americans still feel culture shock when they go abroad?

Monday, 15 November 2010

Literature Review: U.S. Image Abroad

I love the extremes: Kenya's been at 94% in 2000 and 2010, and only 1% of Jordanians had a favorable view of the U.S. in 2003

This week, I have been writing up a lit review essay for my supervisor, so my reading has been all over the place. The most recent new readings, though, have been about America's image abroad. Some of them I've liked, and some I've found a lot of fault with...Pre-9/11 books and articles have some variety in topics, while all of the post-9/11 books focus on what America can do to restore its image and credibility (mostly in the Middle East). Very little has been written since the election of Obama, but what has been all seems to point to the same conclusion: the election of Obama restored America's image more than anything else could have done. The question of "why do they hate us?" has been criticised throughout the literature as too simplistic and largely misguided. People around the world didn't hate America--they hated American policies, i.e. waging war in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention our unconditional support of Israel, lack of cooperation on Kyoto's environmental efforts, and questionable trading practices. The election of Barack Obama was seen as a "clean slate" for America's image abroad. Hope and change was not just a campaign slogan for America, it was a promise to the world that Obama would bring hope and change as "leader of the free world."

That said, I haven't found much written since his inauguration...How has America's global reputation fared over the past couple of years? What more can be done to improve it?
--Close Guantanamo (suggestion from a guy at a party, who had been very pleased to see Obama's day 1 executive order to close it, and very disappointed to see that it hadn't been done yet. I found myself struggling to explain why it hadn't happened yet. I'm a staunch defender of this President, but even I couldn't think of an excuse...)
--End Iraq War (50,000 troops remain after the official end of combat missions? Seriously?)
--Get Wall Street sorted. They blame America for the economic collapse, and they'll keep resenting that until they see real efforts to repair that broken system...

On the positive side, they liked the health care bill, and seemed to appreciate its significance more than most Americans did...

Monday, 8 November 2010

Literature Review: The Special Relationship

US-UK relations...too close for public diplomacy to have an effect?

This week, I've been mostly reading about the political side of my project--the "Special Relationship" between the UK and the US. It's been much more interesting than some of the other readings I've done, but also pretty unsettling...
I had a meeting with my supervisor, and my project is changing already. Everybody told me this would happen, but I didn't expect it to come up so soon. I guess it's better to change it early rather than later, after you've invested (wasted) more time in it. Like a certain friend of the family who purused a PhD in history for many, many years, only to change his mind and go to law school (at least he did well in law school!).
That's an extreme example, anyway--my project isn't changing that much. It's just that the lit review so far has shown me that there are 2 basic approaches to my topic, and I happen to find one of them more interesting--and it's not the one I thought it would be when I wrote my research proposal last year.
Back to the Special Relationship--my project needs to change because the US-UK case is an extreme example. We're too close to really measure whether or not student exchange has any effect. If public diplomacy's goal is to make others sympathetic to our foreign policy, in the UK-US case, it's pretty irrelevant. No matter how many students we ship back & forth across the Atlantic, the Americans and Brits will most likely always be sympathetic to each others' foreign policies. It's strategic, symbolic, self-reinforcing, etc.
So if it's so irrelevant, why am I studying this? Because studying extreme cases is, in itself, interesting. But in order to make this a worthwhile 3-year research project, I might just need to make it a comparative study--look at American Fulbrighters in a country that's not an ally, or a country that is techincally 'friendly', but still full of anti-American public sentiment.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Literature Review: The man himself

This week, I've been reading The Fulbright Program: A History and works written by J. William Fulbright himself. Now I know I've chosen the right topic, because reading these hasn't felt like work--I would actually read these in my free time. Fulbright's books, especially, are so interesting, and I love his writing style. Old Myths and New Realities was written in 1964, and has the best, most reasonable views I've ever seen coming out of the Cold War.

"A well-conceived national security program is one which concerns itself with the psychology as well as the technology of defense and deterrence. It must seek to bring some sanity and restraint into the relations of great nations which know, but do not always seem to feel and believe and act as though they know, that a decision made in anger or fear, or a simple mistake, could...result in the incineration of tens of millions of people and the virtual destruction of human society." (pp. 47-48)

Fulbright argues for 'sanity and restraint' in the face of the Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) policy. Of course voices of reason existed during the Cold War (that's how it stayed 'Cold'), but I didn't realize he was one of them. Fulbright's name will always be associated with student exchange--it's easy to forget his other accomplishments as a Senator for 30 years, the author of several books on foreign policy, and a mentor to President Clinton. He's really far more impressive than I ever realized.

Monday, 18 October 2010


Why do I keep reading about the "scarcity of empirical studies" in the introduction to dozens of empirical studies? Obviously there are a lot of empirical bibliography is filling up pretty quickly. Is this just something people say to make their work sound original? Or have they seriously not read all the other studies that are out there?

These researchers need to collaborate.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Literature Review: Culture Shock

I can tell already that the literature review is going to be a logistical nightmare. Two weeks in and I've already got 20 sources on my annotated bibliography. I haven't even touched the public diplomacy literature yet--these are just books on study abroad and culture shock.

As a way of keeping myself sane and my thoughts organized, I'm going to stick with reading from one subject area each week and write up a little blog post about how the lit review is going.

This week I have been mostly reading (Fast Show reference, haha!)...about culture shock. The psychology and sociology culture-contact literature is really quite repetitive, and I haven't found anything surprising. It all seems like common sense to me--foreign students who spend a great deal of time with locals show better overall adjustment than foreign students who are insular (hanging out exclusively with people from their home country). Well, obviously--isn't that the whole point of studying abroad, to hang out with locals? That's what "fostering mutual understanding between the peoples of two nations" is all about.
The only concept I really found interesting was this idea of cultural distance. It's common sense, just like the other findings, but it's still an interesting way of looking at the world. Basically, students from similar (proximate) cultures are going to have an easier time adjusting and a better overall sojourn experience than students from dissimilar (distant) cultures. Now, what I find interesting about that is that geographic distance has nothing to do with cultural distance. A student from Australia going to the UK is just as geographically distant as a student from China (even a bit further than the Chinese student!), but their culture is more similar, so the Australian has an easier time adjusting than the Chinese student.

The interesting thing about this from my own experiences is that I've never felt culture shock in the UK, but I have felt it in my own country. When I went to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, I was surrounded by affluent, conservative Southerners. Two anecdotes illustrate my culture shock there:
1) There was a girl on my hall who was majoring in the same subject as me, and when I asked her why she had chosen that major, she replied, "Well, it doesn't really matter what I major in, I'm just here to find a husband." While my jaw dropped in horror, nobody else around us seemed to think that was a strange answer.

2) As it was election season (Oct 2004), I had a Kerry/Edwards sign in my ground-floor dorm window. One night I heard a couple of drunken frat boys yelling outside, and one quite close to the window yelled "I'm pissing on Edwards! Edwards is a bitch!" I yanked open the blinds to see a guy scampering away. I felt so violated, harrassed and unwelcome...

When people ask why I didn't stay at Vandy, I just tell them one (or both) of these stories. If they're at all liberal or tolerant, they get it.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Stuff White People Like

"If you need to make up your own study abroad experience, they all pretty much work the same way. You arrived in Australia not knowing anybody, you went out to the bar the first night and made a lot of friends, you had a short relationship with someone from a foreign country, you didn’t learn anything, and you acquired a taste for something (local food, beer, fruit). This latter point is important because you will need to be able to tell everyone how it is unavailable in your current country."--Christian Lander, Stuff White People Like (22 Feb 2008)

I absolutely love this post, because it is so true for me and most of my friends. That study abroad story really does sum up the experience, for the most part.

I went to England not knowing anybody, went out to pubs with my new coursemate friends, had my foreign guy flings, (actually did learn a lot in school, though), and acquired a taste for Weston's Organic cider, which is not available in the U.S.

My friend went to France not knowing anybody, went out drinking with new friends from school, had a brief relationship with a French girl, (did learn something, as he became fluent in French) and acquired a taste for a variety of cheeses that are presumably hard to find in the U.S.

Another friend went to teach in small-town Austria (she only knew some people in Vienna and Germany), went out for bier und schnitzel with her new coursemate friends, had a (serious, as they're now engaged) relationship with an Austrian, (did learn something, as she decided she didn't want to become a teacher), and acquired a taste for schnitzel, which just isn't the same in the U.S.

The only thing Lander appears to have wrong is the learning bit. I think students actually do learn something during an academic sojourn, despite the increased partying potential. If anything, it might be fair to say that partying is part of the learning process...We learn about local culture from our host country peers, and if local student culture involves partying, then isn't a good night out just part of the culture-contact experience?

Study Abroad in Film: "L'Auberge Espagnol"

This 2002 film does nothing to contradict the popular conception of study abroad as a party year. Xavier, a French student on an ERASMUS program in Barcelona, lives it up--he drinks a lot, cheats on his girlfriend with a married woman, and tries to cheat on her again by hitting on a friend (who actually turns out to be a lesbian). He scraps his plan to work in international business (and, presumably, ditches his economics major) and decides to become a writer (good luck with that...). On the bright side, he's had a life-changing experience, learned to speak Spanish with some fluency, and made some wonderfully eccentric new friends...

There's a lot of culture-contact going on in this film, but for me, the most interesting stuff comes from the two British characters. Wendy is very proper, studious and bookish--she yells at the others for being too loud when she's trying to study, complains about always having to pick up after them, etc. But when she gets drunk and lets loose, that prim exterior goes out the window and she hooks up with an American guitarist. Her brother William comes to visit, and he's an exaggeratedly awful yob. He speaks English exclusively and mocks her foreign housemates with stereotypes of each of their countries. He thinks his jokes are hilarious, while everyone else gets offended by them. To be fair, the housemates really do follow predictable stereotypes, so her awful brother isn't all wrong there--the Italian guy is laidback and sloppy, the German guy is efficient and orderly, etc. William says what everybody else might be thinking, but they're all too tactful to actually come out and say it.

All in all, it's a nice coming-of-age comedy, with some interesting insights into study abroad and the culture side of European integration.

Study Abroad in Pop Culture,18092/

I love this article in The Onion, "More Colleges Offering Dick-Around Abroad Programs." It really does a great job of capturing the reputation of study abroad as little more than a semester-long party in another country. For some students, it is just that--but does that makestudy abroad any less valuable as a form of public diplomacy? The best, most effective public diplomacy is credible and shows us as we are, 'warts and all'. What's more credible than an informal conversation about politics over a pint in a pub? Student life demands an element of "dicking around"--and if we do that in the company of foreigners, at least we're getting more interesting dicking-around experience than our peers back at home.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Is it just me, or is this going really well?

Throughout these orientation activities, I keep hearing how hard the PhD is, and how it's going to be so frustrating and lonely, but that we'll make it--somehow, after 3 or 4 grueling years, we'll get it done.

But honestly, I look at other PhD's I've known, and it doesn't look that bad. Yes, you have to do a lot of reading and writing--but I love that. Reading and writing is my thing--why else would I be doing a PhD? And yes, it would be lonely if I were sat alone in a library all day, but I'm not. I'm doing a 9-5-ish day in the office and in the libraries, with other students around me all the time. My schedule's flexible--I can go for a coffee or make a personal phone call any time I like (not like a real 9-5 job). And at the end of the day, I go home with my boyfriend and we talk about our day and make dinner. It's not lonely at all--actually, the MA was lonelier because I didn't have a communal office and I lived alone then.

I'm sure it will get tougher, when I'm trying to get interviews tracked down, or when I've got writer's block over this 100,000 word paper. But so far, it all seems pretty straightforward.

These people need to suck it up--watch "Dirty Jobs" and see what real work is like...

Monday, 4 October 2010

On Arrival...

Every year around Labor Day, I start to get that lovely, crisp 'back-to-school' feeling. I've always loved going back to school--shopping for new school clothes and checking off the supply list, meeting all your classmates & teachers on the first day, figuring out who to sit with, etc.

This fall's been a bit different, and it's a long way from picking up colored pencils and glue sticks at the start of first grade. I've got fancy moleskine notebooks, 4 GB flash drives (which weren't on the supply list even when I was in high school), and a netbook with wireless internet connectivity. My new textbooks aren't 'required'--I'm making up the reading list.

The only thing that's really the same: the nerves. This afternoon, I'm speaking with the director of the Fulbright awards programme in London. He wants to hear about my research aims before I contact his scholars for interviews. This all sounds very high-brow and exciting, and it's all I've ever wanted--to be an academic and get to talk to people like this. So part of me is thrilled, the PhD student part of me couldn't be happier. But the other side, the little-kid-in-first-grade part of me--well, it's terrified. How did this happen? Since when am I qualified to talk to anybody about my research? When I did book reports in school and made dioramas and posters, there wasn't any programme director asking me about my research. This is just some topic I'm interested in, and I found some great supervisors, and now I'm here...My third day of the PhD and I'm already expected to talk about 'my research aims'...

Before I went to England for the first time, on an exchange program at the University of Bath, I was really excited but very nervous. So nervous, in fact, that I threw up. Right there in the Starbucks parking lot as I was enjoying a good-bye coffee with my best friend. I felt better immediately, and I'll always remember her advice. As I fretted about meeting new people and making friends, she said "Relax. People always like you, because you're smiley and fabulous. They won't know what hit 'em."

And it was true--I had an amazing time, met some great people, and really fell in love with England. And England really loved me back. I found my niche, and my area of interest. So now, as I wait for that phone call, I just need to remember--I'm in my zone. I'm living the dream. This is my research, and I own it.

Update: The conversation went fine. I really had no reason to be that nervous. Am meeting up with a Fulbright student next Monday!

Friday, 1 October 2010


Rainy day on campus...

The Brits have a love-hate relationship with the weather, in that they love to talk about how much they hate it. When the weather is bleak, they love to complain about it; when the weather is great, they just say "Well, it won't last!"

In Kate Fox's Watching the English, she discusses the importance of weather as a conversational opener and topic for small-talk.
"Dreadful weather we've been having today, isn't it?"
The 'isn't it?' is so characteristically British in its politeness and subtlety, as it's an invitation for small-talk that can easily be accepted ('oh, yes, it's terrible!') or politely declined (quick nod and averted eyes).

So while visitors think the Brits talk about the weather too much, there's really a lot more to the weather small-talk than it seems.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Takeaway culture

Battered sausage (a deep fried hot dog--not quite like a corn dog, but it's the closest comparison)

Doner Kebab--an absolute guilty pleasure. After a few pints, there's nothing else in the world I'd like more than a kebab. However, I have never eaten one in the light of day. Immensely popular with students...which led to:

It's like an amazing combination of 2 of students' favorite things. (Pot Noodle is like Top Ramen in the US--very cheap college student food)

And saving the best for last...the classic Fish & Chips. Americans aren't used to having a whole length of a fish spread across their plate--it's a little intimidating. Mushy peas don't look too appetizing, but they're alright. All in all, when done right, fish & chips are an obvious must for tourists/exchange students.

Variations on a theme

Toad in the Hole

Bangers and Mash

Filled Yorkshire Pudding

The Brits like their sausages. These are just a few of the variations I've seen with sausages (I'm saving breakfast for its own entry, and battered sausages for the chippy entry). At first I was a bit put off...the texture of their sausages is too fine, almost like a pate instead of ground meat. But I've come to appreciate them. They're 'cheap & cheerful', 'stick to your ribs' food that only costs about £2 for a pack of 8 sausages. Still not exactly my food of choice, but it's easy to see why they've become a staple in classic British pub grub.

About the study

My academic background is in European Studies (BA, University of Washington) and Political Communication (MA, University of Leeds). For both of those degrees, I wrote theses on the relationship between politics, terrorism and the media. While I still find that topic interesting, I decided to choose something less depressing for my PhD topic. Public diplomacy is getting to be a more popular field, but there is still a lot of work to be done--especially with student exchanges, which is really overlooked. The great minds of the day all seem to agree that student exchanges play an important role in public diplomacy, but hardly anyone ever does empirical research into them. The few studies that exist are almost exclusively focused on foreign students coming to the US, and never look at American students going abroad. Britain is the number one destination of choice for American study abroad participants, with over 33,000 US students coming to the UK in 2008. Our shared language, history, culture, etc. make it a relatively easy transition for students (easier than, say, China or Zimbabwe). And since I've been an American student in Britain for the past few years (and plan to be for a few more), I decided to write about what I know: the experience of American students in Britain.

It's a sort of unquestioned assumption that Americans don't go abroad and don't have passports, and students only study abroad so they can party it up 6,000 miles away from their parents. Yet the government (US State Department) gives Fulbright scholarships to students to go abroad, so there must be some strategic political value to this. This is where public diplomacy comes in. Public diplomacy is about 'telling our story to the world', where one country's government directs information (the diplomacy) towards the people of another country (the public). Students are great at this--their audience is receptive (friendly classmates), their message is credible (learn about America from an American's first-hand account), and they're well-positioned to participate in a 2-way dialogue that further enhances their credibility and efficacy (unlike other forms of PD, such as international broadcasting which is a 1-way street).

In this study, I will be looking at the experiences of American Fulbright participants in the UK to see how they compare or contrast with the Fulbright program's stated public diplomacy objectives. I hope to survey as many participants as possible over the next three years, and interview others involved in this field (Fulbright and State Dept representatives, former program alums, other public diplomacy researchers, etc.). I want to look at how they've changed over the years, particularly in the post-9/11 era (many studies date from the Cold War era, when public diplomacy was a key strategy in that ideological fight). At the end of this, I hope to have something interesting to say (100,000 words to be exact) about the current state of public diplomacy and student exchanges, perhaps about how they can be most effective or how they could be improved, and comment on the overall role of student exchanges within public diplomacy efforts.