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.