Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Fulbright WAGs

I'm working on my grantee experience chapter this week. Although the Fulbright Program has always been open to women, most of the early grantees were men. There's no indication that the selection process was biased or discriminatory--it's just that the applicant pool had more men than women in it. For every Sylvia Plath (1955-57, Cambridge), there's a Joseph Heller and a John Updike.

That said, there have been plenty of women accompanying grantees. I've found a few interesting bits in the archives about wives of Fulbrighters in Egypt, India and Iraq during the early days, and would love to incorporate them somehow into the chapter. The tone can be a bit 1960's at times, but I think it shows that dependents have an important role to play in the Fulbright experience. They make friends of their own and connect with the community, interacting with people that the grantee would not otherwise meet. In my favourite passage, the researchers seem surprised that wives are more than "only an asset or a handicap" to the grantee--fancy that!

“Several American wives undertook almost full-time activity as public lecturers, classroom teachers, or consultants in educational work. Others joined charitable or church organizations or served in the welfare programs of village development organizations. Reports from the educational foundations highly commend the influence of these women on the Indian community. The record of these wives and the depth of their understanding of India leads to the conclusion that grantees’ wives are not only an asset or a handicap. Their contributions to communities of countries like India can become highly significant.” (MacGregor, 1962, p. 40; U Ark MC 468, 103-6).

The little dears can make themselves useful, after all! :) 

Senator Fulbright, for his part, didn't believe in paying for a grantee's family to tag along."The original idea, which is still sound, I think, is to take your best American graduate students, not their families...Too much is spent on sending professors and their families over." (Sussman, 1992, p. 56). I take his criticism as a defensive measure, trying to get the most out of the programme's limited funds. Senator Fulbright fought a constant battle for adequate funding, and he recognised that two or even three junior scholars could be sent overseas for the price of just one senior professor with a family.

That said, which is the better investment? For the aims of the Fulbright Program, so much depends on individual personalities and attitudes. Will those 2-3 junior researchers be insular or outgoing? Will the professor's family give locals a good impression--and how can you vet them during the selection process? Essentially, you can't--Fulbright WAGs are a wildcard.

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