Fulbright Visiting Scholars Reflect on Enrichment Seminar Experience

Reposted with permission from the Romanian- U.S. Fulbright Commission 

Four Romanian Fulbright Scholars attended the latest Fulbright Enrichment Seminar organized by the Council for International Exchange of Scholars (CIES) and Global Austin in Austin, Texas, from December 2nd through December 5th, 2015. 
Dr. Alina Dolea (University of Southern California), Dr. Cristian Ivanes (Western Illinois University), Dr. Leon Muntean (Ohio State University) and Dr. Grigore Stamatescu (University of California, Merced) joined other 65 Fulbright Fellows from 41 countries for a 3-days event entitled  “Lone Star, Multiple Constituencies: Studying U.S. Elections and Political Processes and the Challenge of Diversity”. 
The intense and diverse program included a blend of cultural activities, such as a tour of the state Capitol, a series of keynotes and panel discussions on U.S. election law, current issues and global electoral system delivered by professors at the University of Texas at Austin, a tour of the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, the screening of a PBS documentary (Latin Americans: Prejudice  and Pride), meetings with members of Austin City Council, hospitality dinner in the houses of Austin residents, as well as volunteering activities. 
Looking back to the entire experience, Leon pointed out the engagement with other Fulbright scholars from all over the world: ”I found the Austin Enrichment Seminar an excellent idea for completing our Fulbright experience and adding an intercultural perspective to it. It was like closing a circle, in a way, helping us all, Fulbright scholars, national and international, meet, compare and share experiences and ideas, decide on future collaborations. Also, I personally consider an excellent idea to include an insight into the American lifestyle, values and principles through the lecture on leadership and politics, cultural visits, the hosting experience and the volunteering activities. It was, all in all, a special event for us.” 
Cristian added the main takeouts from the event: ”The meeting in Austin actually fulfilled two main goals: on the one hand, it brought together supposedly the best and brightest world scholars in a variety of fields, facilitating communication and knowing of each other's existence. On the other hand, the organizers brought us closer the day-by-day America, so the we could experience this great country at its grass roots level. Definitely, an invaluable experience overall!”
In turn, Alina offered some examples of moments that made an impression on her: ”For me the Seminar was truly unique for three reasons: (1) I had a lovely tasty dinner and a great conversation about Eastern Europe in the home of a very nice family, Lynn and Frank Cooksey, and I found out later that Frank was a former Austin mayor. How many chances does one have to dine with a former mayor of an U.S. city in his home? (2) I could listen to recordings of conversations between Martin Luther King and President Lyndon Johnson, see posters, ads and pins with both John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson used in the 1960’s election campaign and it was really fascinating; (3) I was surprised by the keynote of Shirley Franklin, first African American woman mayor of a major southern city (Atlanta), who presented a non-romanced perspective of current American society, with its internal tensions and issues. I learnt in this first hour of the Seminar more about the U.S. than I had learnt in one month since my arrival. She managed beautifully to highlight the mixture of ups and downs in the American society and made me realize how each country (no matter how long is its democratic tradition) goes through recurrent processes of transformations and reflections about itself. And I particularly liked the mindset (you can contribute and make a difference where you activate). For me, coming from a young democracy like Romania, this is a major takeout as it shows how to cope with slow system change and have a say, get involved and contribute to the greater social change through what you do. By simply doing your job and doing it well.”  
Summing up all these complementary experiences, Grigore concluded: ”The Enrichment Seminar in Austin has been a great opportunity to meet smart and driven people from many different countries, working in a broad range of scientific fields. It was also a good occasion to better know three of my Romanian Fulbright Scholar peers. Compliments go out to the CIES and GlobalAustin teams who put together a balanced and engaging program. The highlight of the program was in the second evening where we were paired up and invited in the homes of Austinites for a home cooked dinner. Tracey was such a great host, showing authentic interest in our background and work, while exchanging experiences - that I will consider doing this for American Fulbrighters as well, once back in Romania. As volunteering plays an important role in the American society, I also felt very proud of the small contribution made during our brief assignment at the Mobile Loaves and Fishes village, just outside downtown (by the way… we dug and planted an irrigation line for a new greenhouse). Leaving Austin, the seminar helped me acknowledge the complexity of the American political process, even more challenging to fully grasp coming from an engineering background, and given a new perspective on embracing diversity across multiple boundaries."