Last week was special. What started with a tentative application in November culminated in being formally presented as a Fulbright Scholar, alongside 36 other recipients from across Ireland. As a Fulbright-Marine Institute Awardee I will be undertaking research on ocean wave energy test sites at Oregon State University (details here), just one of a cohort that will be engaging in such diverse activities as researching improvisational Jazz in Brooklyn, studying the development of U.S. conservatism in the 1970′s in Atlanta and teaching the Irish language in Montana.
When Colleen Dube, Executive Director of the Fulbright Commission in Ireland, welcomed us at our orientation session at the Institute of Public Administration in Ballsbridge, she emphasized that a Fulbright scholarship opens doors. We saw a striking example of this the following day when were officially announced as awardees at an event on MS The World. Setting foot on The World was a unique and wonderful experience and was made possible thanks to the hospitality of a U.S. Fulbright alumnus, Dr. Jack Pinkowski and his wife, Mrs. Monica Pinkowski, who are residents aboard this incredible vessel.
Colleen also stressed on a number of occasions that the Fulbright community is akin to a family. The 18th Annual Irish Fulbright Alumni Association Scholars’ Dinner in Dublin Castle allowed us to meet members of this extended network, including former scholars from both Ireland and the U.S., and those who perform vital roles in supporting the program. Unsurprisingly, we heard many quotes from Senator J. William Fulbright over the course of the two days we spent together. This was one of my favourites:
In the long course of history, having people who understand your thought is much greater security than another submarine.
An extended discussion on the nuances of ‘Father Ted’ with Prof. Kevin McGuire from the University of North Carolina, (who was planning a road trip with his daughters to the famous parochial house from the show) highlighted in one small way how bilateral exchange can engender empathy between cultures, though perhaps it wasn’t quite the example that Senator Fulbright envisaged when he proposed the original legislation establishing the program!
Prior to last week the idea of receiving a Fulbright scholarship felt like something quite abstract. While it was always at the forefront of my thoughts it often felt like more of an administrative task: forms to be filled and boxes to be ticked. Finally meeting my fellow awardees, speculating about what may lie ahead of us and talking to those that have gone before me changed that. It has left me inspired to make the most of the opportunity that has been presented to me, and filled me with a sense of responsibility as a representative of both this great program and of Ireland in general.
At this point I must acknowledge the contribution of others in my journey thus far. Throughout this process I have been fortunate to have had the backing of colleagues (both current and future) at UCC and OSU through the initial application, the advice of past Fulbrighters when preparing for my interview and the support and assistance of the staff of the Irish Fulbright Commission in fulfilling the requirements to allow me to live and work in the U.S. I’m also extremely lucky that my girlfriend Claire will be moving to Corvallis with me for the year.
I plan on using this blog as a forum for sharing the many academic, professional and cultural experiences that being Fulbright Scholar will afford me. I hope you keep checking in regularly (or just subscribe to make things easier on yourself!).