Thursday, 13 January 2011

Lit Review: The Fulbright Experience

Over the break, I picked up a few books that had been delivered to my mom's place--out-of-print, impossible to find in the UK, but seminal stuff that I needed for the PhD. Since I've been back in Leeds, I've only had time to read one of them (I'm invigilating exams every day, and we're not allowed to read--constant vigilance!). It's a compilation of essays written by Fulbright alums about their experience, aptly titled The Fulbright Experience.

My favourite chapter dealt with the experience of a Danish-American who first visited the "old country" when he did a Fulbright in Denmark. His upbringing was heavily influenced by his family's Danish culture, and he'd married a Danish-American woman. But actually going to Denmark was eye-opening--there were huge gaps between expectations and actual experiences. He realized that he was more American than he'd thought, and that his romantic notions of the Denmark his ancestors had left behind beared little resemblance to contemporary Denmark today. I really related to this author--I grew up in an Anglophile household, and really over romanticised Britain before coming here. When I actually saw London, Bath, Liverpool, Leeds, etc. it was strange. The language was a bit like it was in the movies, but it varied--sometimes it was hard to understand and I no longer felt like a native speaker. The Georgian architecture of central Bath couldn't be more different than the concrete 60's university campus at the University of Bath just up the hill. I could go on with more examples, but let's just say there were gaps between expectations and experiences. But, for both myself and the author of this chapter, those gaps didn't detract from the experience. On the contrary, we both loved our host countries. So do those gaps matter, in the end?

My least favourite chapter was about this man's experience joining a German fencing fraternity. An interesting enough premise, but it read like an advert. All he could do was praise and defend the fraternity and fencing. There was very little about Germany, or German culture (they're not exactly known for fencing), and nothing at all about how the experience made the author feel about his home country upon return. Instead, I learned all about the intricacies, rules and procedures of fraternity life and different types of fencing. I appreciate that the fencing fraternity was a positive and valuable aspect of the Fulbright experience, but it felt like it was the only thing he did that year...

I have a 2nd volume, The Fulbright Difference, with 41 more essays to read. I think I'll use the 2 together to write up an essay for my next task, 'conceptualizing the student experience' as my supervisor put it.

It's been a rough week, but I think it's coming along alright. Next week I have more exam invigilating, and then the following week my very first TA job starts :) Really looking forward to it. I've dreamed about this since I was in high school...


  1. Don't know if you have checked it out but the US-UK Fulbright Commission YouTube channel might be of interest/help to your research. You can access the channel at

  2. Thanks for the link, that looks great :)