pre-departure orientation

I guess this post is about three weeks late. Oops.

A little over three weeks ago, all of the Eastern Europe/Russia Fulbright ETAs descended on our nation’s capitol, taking over lots of rooms in a swanky conference-friendly hotel and wearing clothes that were probably more grown-up than we were (except me. my clothes aren’t that grown up. I’m working on it).

We spent the first two days with just us ETAs, going over some culture stuff but mostly pedagogical theories and classroom activities. On Wednesday evening, the Fulbright Study-Research Students and Fulbright Scholars (also for Eastern Europe and Russia) came in.

In all the 11-hours-a-day’s-worth of sessions, what I came away with was:

  1. Students should talk more than the teacher.
  2. Academic dishonesty from your students isn’t okay, but it’s okay.
  3. Tardiness and truancy from your students aren’t okay, but they’re okay.
  4. Russian police aren’t as scary as American police.
  5. Bringing Rudy is a good idea.
  6. Simon Says and I Spy are the answer to all my problems.
  7. It’s actually really normal that I get sick every time I travel, and I can expect it to happen again.
  8. Teaching won’t take up most of my time.
  9. I’ll need to get creative about the rest of my time.
  10. Sitting alone in my room for one day is okay.
  11. Sitting alone in my room for two days is cause for concern.
  12. The other people going on Fulbright are all kinds of cool.

Honestly, I probably could have done without the first 11 items. Good to know/have confirmed? Yes. Going to change my life? Unlikely. But I am so glad I got to spend 11 hours a day locked up in that overzealously air conditioned hotel basement that week, because the other people there with me were so cool.

Have you ever been in a group of people where you felt very immediately that everyone around you is really smart, capable, and interesting? Now imagine that, but all of these smart, capable, and interesting people are into your thing. Maybe that’s Star Wars, obscure diseases, hairstyles, Harry Potter, or food puns. It’s super overwhelming, right? So I could go up to just about any of the 200 people there and have a real conversation about Dostoevsky, Ukrainian political music, children with disabilities in Eastern European society, Slavic languages, or something else equally interesting. And I had a lot of those conversations, and they were awesome. I learned a lot and got very jazzed about what a lot of the other Fulbrighters were doing.

One of the best facets of that was what most people call “networking,” which, for someone in my stage of professional development, means “rubbing shoulders with people who know more than you do.” …So, the Fulbright Scholars. These are people who are professors, and they’re so good at being professors that the US government thinks, “We want the world to think that all our professors are like you, so we will send you abroad to show the world how awesome American professors are.” Talking to the Scholars I met was definitely a highlight for me– not only could I wring nuggets of wisdom from their thoughts and stories, but we could have the same sorts of conversations I was having with the other ETAs and Students. I’ve had lots of great conversations with professors, but they’ve always been professors at my university, and there was the sort of feeling that their job was to teach me. This was a little different. Not quite peer-ish, but like the only thing either of us would gain from our interaction was the information and ideas we shared. It was cool.

One lady I met is a Creative Writing professor from Fairbanks, and we had a great conversation about poetry from American sub-cultures… she gave me the names of a bunch of Native American women poets, and I recited the first verse of “Maryland, My Maryland” for her. (I’ve also decided I want to be her when I grow up, or at least have shoulder-length white hair and wear bright pink t-shirts and cargo pants to “business casual” events just because I can.)

Even though I won’t be communicating or working with these people (except Vickie, for whom I am monstrously grateful), I feel really happy throwing my name in the pot with theirs, working in our own cities and our own ways for the same things. And all the time spent in that swanky hotel basement was totally worth it, just for that.


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