Saint Mary’s Fulbright grantees discuss experiences in Malaysia, Mongolia
Sara Schlecht | Friday, November 22, 2019
Members of the Saint Mary’s community gathered Thursday evening for a panel discussion about Fulbright grants as part of the College’s International Education week.
Laura Elder, a global studies professor who specializes in cultural anthropology, has received multiple Fulbright grants and now serves as the College’s Fulbright program advisor.
“It’s a program for which all U.S. citizens are eligible, across the board,” Elder said. “All you need is a bachelor’s degree and an idea. You do not have to be an academic scholar. It could be someone who’s interested in the arts, medicine [or] science. What you need is an idea and a place where you’d like to work on that idea.”
Elder received a Fulbright Scholar grant to study the intersections of Islam, feminism, culture and the economy in Malaysia in 2015.
“As part of this research that I was doing — thinking about Islam, feminism and economy — I got to go all around Malaysia and give lectures because Fulbright paid for it,” Elder said.
Because of the Fulbright program’s focus on having deep exchanges within a country and its larger surrounding region, Elder was also given the opportunity to visit other places such as Cambodia and Burma.
In addition to research and travel, Elder has used her experience in Malaysia to form relationships that could potentially be used to help Saint Mary’s establish more study abroad programs, she said.
“I’m [the] Fulbright program advisor,” Elder said. “If you’re interested in these kinds of engagements, we can make them happen.”
Eleanor Jones, a Saint Mary’s alumna (’16) and current graduate student in global affairs at Notre Dame, was a Fulbright English teaching assistant in Mongolia from 2017 to 2018.
“I went [to Mongolia] in August to do teacher training and what they call survival Mongolian language … and some Mongolian culture and history,” Jones said.
Jones taught at the University of Life Sciences in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. Most of her students came from the countryside, she said, and many of their families were nomadic.
“When they would go home for the holidays, they would have to find their family because they may not be where they left them,” Jones said.
Among the parts of her teaching experience she highlighted was an international cooking day at the university, during which she helped make some of the most American dishes she could think of — mac and cheese, sloppy joes and coleslaw.
She said she also attended an eagle festival, which occurred in -20 degree temperatures.
“I found out I’m allergic to the cold,” Jones said. “Once, I went horseback riding in -20 degrees, and my face broke out in hives. My Mongolian friend was with me and saw my face and picked up snow from the ground and just rubbed it in my face and then wiped it off with a scarf. The hives were gone … because the snow wasn’t as cold as the air.”
As the end of her program neared, Jones said she got to travel more.
“At the end of the program for Fulbright, we did community outreach,” she said. “For two weeks, we got to travel around the Mongolian countryside to different rural schools and do some dental classes and do some outreach for the American Embassy to promote some of our exchange programs.”
An important part of Jones’ experience was looking beyond “pretty pictures” to see the problems in the area, including pollution, she said.
“The winter that I was there was worse than it was in New Delhi,” Jones said. “… Mongolians [would] wear the air mask and then pull it down to smoke a cigarette and then put the air mask back on.”
Jones said her time in Mongolia was difficult but gave her the chance to learn a lot about herself.
Jamie Wagman, chair of the history and gender and women’s studies departments, was a Fulbright Specialist in Morocco in the spring.
“In the spring of 2018, Fulbright notified me that the International University of Rabat in Morocco accepted my application, and I was approved for a short-term project,” Wagman said.
Wagman said she had close friends from North Africa after hosting students for the Study of the United States Institute at Saint Mary’s, but she had never actually traveled there.
“But I never set foot on [the] continent,” Wagman said. “I’d certainly never seen Morocco. I did not know Arabic. I barely knew any French. Still, I couldn’t wait.”
Wagman brought her family to Morocco with her for the duration of her program. She said being a mother and an academic poses challenges when it comes to giving proper time and attention to both roles, so bringing her family with her was very important.
One focus of her work in Morocco was helping the recently founded university with curriculum and development.
“I met with faculty members and administrators to put together a proposal for a dual MBA and masters in gender and women’s studies program,” Wagman said. “I also provided lectures on transgender visibility, reproductive rights, history, sexual purity and stereotyping, and public health history in the U.S.”
She said her students were familiar with gender theory, and the university community did not conform to the gender norms she had expected.
Wagman said she found the university community to be welcoming and helped her family get acquainted with the city.
“I realized how easy it is not to know what to do and not to know who to ask,” she said.