Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Fulbrighter Learns Lithuania--and Its Very Old, Very Hard Language

Today's blog post is by another guest writer -- Christine Beresniova, Fulbright Grantee to Lithuania in 2011-2012. 

I have a very special relationship with Lithuania because I am married to a Lithuanian. So when I was awarded a Fulbright grant in 2011 to spend 9 months doing dissertation research there, many people thought that I would have an easy time of things. People assumed that because I could already limp along in the language, and I knew what I was getting into when someone uttered the words "Lithuanian winter” that I was merely going on some kind of extended vacation.

This was hardly true. My husband was not going with me nor was I going to be spending 9 months lazing about on my mother-in-law's sofa. Instead, I was going to have to carve out my own research path and make my own way in a world that neither knew me nor was invested in my success. Yes, I could look forward to a lovely Sunday dinner of buttery cauliflower, lumpy potato dumplings (cepelinai), and freshly made poppyseed cake every week, but my in-laws could not help me build trust with people, nor could they make the subject I was studying less controversial in Lithuania's political landscape. Doing anthropologic fieldwork on how post-Soviet teachers are trained to teach the Holocaust after 60 years of Soviet-occupied silence on the matter was going to be a journey I had to undertake almost entirely on my own.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

A Fulbrighter's Love Affair with Old-Town Vilnius

Another installment today from Dr. Petrie, Associate Professor and English Department Chair at Colorado Christian University, who was a Fulbright grantee to Lithuania in 2006.

Vilnius has long been a cosmopolitan city with many cultures and ethnicities, and the Old-Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since I was teaching at the University there, it made sense for us to live in the center of Old-Town Vilnius, but our location offered much more than convenience.  The energetic mish-mash of cultures, shops, entertainment, and dining experiences there was unique and unforgettable.  With every day that passed, our street, Totoriu Gatve, named in reference to the fact that it was, long ago, the Tatar quarter of the city (just as Vokieciu Gatve means “German Street” for the same reason) fascinated me more and more. Across the street from our flat was an antique shop, run by an antique lady who lived in the flat above it and featured lace curtains in all her windows, each of a different pattern. 

Directly next to her lies the Transylvania, a pub which advertises +Guinness GB and seemed to be very popular with motorcyclists and British tourists. My husband still claims that you haven't lived until you've seen a tipsy Brit singing Diana Ross's "Stop in the Name of Love" to a passing Taxi in Lithuania. When the Scots were in town for the Lithuania/Scotland football match, we heard a lot of "Auld Lang Syne" coming from there, and our street was flooded by men in kilts. The pub and the antique shop seemed to exist in a semi-armed detente, in which the proprietor of the shop shook her head and clicked her tongue out the window, and the motorcyclists made their bikes backfire in response.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Tubas, Nigerian drama, and Lithuanian Identity: Teaching Literature as a Fulbright Scholar

Today's guest-blogger is Dr. Windy Counsell Petrie, Associate Professor and English Department Chair at Colorado Christian University, who was a Fulbright grantee to Lithuania in 2006. During her time in Lithuania, Dr. Petrie lectured at several Universities on representations of exile in nineteenth- and twentieth-century World Literature as well as the role of female and African American authors in American literary history. Here are her reflections on making the transition from an American University to a Lithuanian one.

On the first day of school at Vilnius University, where I was a visiting scholar, I walked down to campus and witnessed the opening ceremonies for the school year, which occur in the first of many lovely courtyards of the University. Students, spectators, and  tourists watched and listened as the school orchestra played the National Anthem and the University song, children danced in traditional folk costume, and the administration and faculty filed out of the main building onto a large adjoining platform. Speeches were made, the national and University flags raised, and I found it quite moving.  Although I think many Americans would find it quaint to spend the first day of school in festivities, with a band in the background, instead of getting right down to business, I think there’s a certain wisdom to this tradition. After all, any new chance to learn should be celebrated, with tubas if necessary.  

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Reflections of a Fulbright Artist

Today's guest blogger is Patrick Suzeau, associate professor of Dance at the University of Kansas, who spent a semester in Vilnius as a Fulbright scholar in 2007. He was introduced to the Fulbright program by another Fulbright senior scholar, Linda Maxey, who suggested that Patrick and his wife Muriel, also a professor of dance at the University of Kansas, go to Lithuania to offer a different and fresh artistic perspective.

We first came to Vilnius for about three weeks in 2004, around Thanksgiving and we had a superb experience. We enjoyed watching and giving classes at the Lithuanian Academy and the National Ballet School. Muriel taught contemporary dance classes that were very well received; contemporary dance technique was a relatively new arrival to Eastern Europe.  Meanwhile I was asked to teach ballet classes. I thought that it was odd that they would be interested in ballet classes considering that they have a strong tradition in Russian ballet. It became clear to me why when I asked them to execute a certain step, which they did superbly. However, they did it as it is done in Russia.  American ballet has evolved in different directions. That is when I realized why these senior teachers were watching my classes. As a New York City-trained dancer, my background is eclectic, something typical of American artists who have been exposed to diverse techniques and approaches. In addition, as a contemporary choreographer I favor unconventional spatial and rhythmic patterns, something that seemed to have been new and of interest to Lithuanian ballet teachers.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Iki pasimatymo Lietuva!

Sergeant Mario Stoke, Pol/Econ intern Jon Kidd, and myself at the UNESCO Building
It is with great sadness that I must say goodbye to Lithuania. My experience working here at Embassy Vilnius has been absolutely incredible. Especially working in the Public Affairs Section, I had the opportunity to work on important projects and meet some fantastic people. I cannot thank everyone here enough for the incredible guidance and mentorship that they have offered me. The experiences that I have had here will be hard for other posts to live up to. 
Meeting Lithuanians at local gatherings. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Experiences of a Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellow

Before I leave to go back to the States, I wanted to share with all the readers the experiences I have had as a Pickering fellow. The end of my time here in Vilnius also takes me from being a Pickering Fellow to a Pickering Alumni, as it is the final requirement of my contract with the foundation. 

To begin with, The Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship Programs provide funding to participants as they prepare academically and professionally to enter the United States Department of State Foreign Service. Women, members of minority groups historically underrepresented in the Foreign Service, and students with financial need are encouraged to apply. 
2011 GFAF Esther Joe and FAF Kimberly Everett completed their internships in Kuwait City, Kuwait. They had the opportunity to be site officers for Secretary Kerry's visit and to assist with preparations for the Secretary's high-level meetings at the Bayan Palace and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
I started to prepare my application for the Fellowship in September of my senior year in college, and the application was due in February. I worked closely with the writing center, our Director of Scholarships, and the Ambassador in Residence at the University of Central Florida. After writing twenty-seven drafts of my personal statement, I finally turned in the application. I was then selected to continue the process through a writing test in which you are given two hypothetical situations or issues and  you must write about them within a certain amount of time while being supervised via Skype. After I passed this test, I was invited to Washington, D.C. to be interviewed... along with 40 other people... for 20 positions. I practiced with UCF doing mock interviews before flying out to the nation's capital. All the people I met there were incredibly impressive and qualified. I was nervous, but prepared, as I sat in a closed room in front of two professors and an Ambassador, being grilled on what the Pickering Fellowship would mean to me. A month later I was notified that I was selected as a Pickering Fellow!