The Unexpected…and Then Some!

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Shelly Daly, Associate Professor of Business, Lindenwood University
2016-2017 Fulbright U.S. Scholar to Bhutan

Embarking on my Fulbright experience, I was joyful, excited and full of energy. I had lived and worked overseas before and felt like I had done as much as possible to prepare for, and make the most of, my time in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. I had read, emailed, contacted Fulbright alumni from Bhutan and I had packed and repacked, using every pound of my weight allowance with great consideration. I had reviewed all my notes from the Fulbright Orientation in Washington, D.C. and learned as much as possible about the culture I would be immersed in.

I started blogs for friends and family and felt like this would relieve me from some of the need to keep people updated with individual emails. I wanted to really focus on where I was posted, and the work and experience ahead of me, without a lot of distractions or demands from ‘back home’. Sure there were moments of cultural adjustment and frustration. There were many more moments of happiness and fun and new experiences than I could possibly squeeze into my blog posts.

I felt like all my preparation and planning really paid off as I settled into my surroundings, my job, my routine, and my new culture. I was living a balanced and productive lifestyle and roadblocks or frustrations were very mild and easy to work around. I felt immersed in my community and was spending Monday evenings assisting in a tutoring program in the next village. I spent exhausting but fulfilling hours reading in English with six to eight year olds, discussing intricacies of grammar with 7th-9th graders, and practicing oral language skills with 4th to 6th graders. I visited local schools in three districts, showing them pictures of America, telling them about my home and customs and simply building a mutual rapport of respect and interest. In my host university, I agreed to review many research projects and became involved in the Honors program knowing that these were students whom I could help shepherd even beyond my time in country by using email and internet to encourage them to research, publish, and continue their education. I brought American games of Uno, Yahtzee, and Scrabble to teach my students and colleagues and pulled them into celebrations for Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras.

But then something happened, about nine weeks into my time in Bhutan, that really threw me for a loop. We, that is all Fulbright Awardees in South Central Asia, attended the annual conference for our region, held this year in Kolkata, India. 

I had not planned for what effect this conference would have on me. It would probably be more accurate to say I did not plan for the multitude of ways in which this conference re-invigorated me, balanced out my plans for the remaining time in-country, reminded me of the gift of being in the Fulbright circle, and the way in which it brought me so many new friends and colleagues from across the United States. 

The regional conference, hosted by USIEF (United States-India Educational Foundation), was amazing beyond compare. The regional conference gives all attendees the opportunity to learn about Fulbright work throughout the region, to discuss educational exchange issues and to offer ideas for future development and growth for the Fulbright Program in years to come.  

Attendees from the Fulbright-Nehru Student Research Programs were especially noteworthy and awe inspiring to see the next generation of scholarship being undertaken in such vast displays of talent and dedication. Although my field is International Business, when Katherine Gilbert finished her presentation on the use of Syriac historical inscriptions on the Malabar Coast and then sang to us from an ancient hymn in Syriac, I was not only enthralled but immensely grateful for the vast educational reach of the Fulbright Program. As I listened to programs on fashion design from India, women’s experiences with disability in Asia, or the transformations of Tashkent architecture, I was inspired to learn, understand and share more about each of these topics. Each program offered an element of knowledge that could be integrated into future lectures and teaching points.

To see the vast array of talents that are supported through Fulbright grants, to hear about the projects and work being conducted in these many countries, to share dinners and outings with people I had never before met but had so much in common with, was one of the greatest unexpected aspects of my Fulbright award. Many of us are still in touch, and will be for years to come. I have over 120 emails and contacts that I can reach out to any time in the future with the simple phrase, “We met in Kolkata…”  I have professional leads and personal friends. Several of us were able to plan our regional travel grant through conversations and meetings held over those beautiful days in Kolkata. 

The Regional Travel Grant is another benefit of the Fulbright grant to South Central Asia. It allows us to travel to another country in the same region for a specific professional activity such as lecture, research, observation, or conferences. Most of us left Kolkata with invitations to speak, lecture, or conduct such activity by securing knowledge of where our areas of expertise would be most useful and the ability of another Fulbright grantee to assist us in the arrangements. I personally have plans to conduct lectures on entrepreneurship in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan and will be hosting a Fulbright Visiting Scholar from India at Gaeddu College to speak on new media in marketing.

This unexpected joy was a definite high point in my Fulbright experience (and there have been so many!). It reminded me of the inherent reciprocity of taking everything I am learning back to my state-side institution and the wealth of knowledge, information, sharing and understanding that Fulbright fosters. The experience, while beyond my expectations, has also carried the blessing of new friendships, which bring a smile to my face and energy to my work as I continue my time in the happiest place on earth.