After people finish their Fulbright experiences, the Council for the International Exchange of Scholars asks them to “reflect on the experience and whether [they] feel it has played or will play a transformative role in [their] life, either professionally or personally.”
My response was difficult to write. Every time I started to write it, I started to cry. My Fulbright experience has been significantly transformative on both professional and personal levels–cognitive, behavioral and emotional.
The reasons I start to cry when I try to reflect on my experience is that, first, I feel so honored to have been granted the opportunity. Second, I have been so moved by the spirit and generosity of the people I met in Ukraine, both colleagues and students. Third, I am so concerned for their future. Here is what I said in my reflection.
First, I am honored and humbled to have been granted the opportunity to live and work in Ukraine. I can’t say it often or well enough. I look forward to composing and publishing a document to reflect my multifaceted experience of the culture, and provide insight for others on a practical and theoretical level about the nature and benefits—or not—of national identity in this historically complicated society that is making its newly democratic way.
Second, the people I met and with whom I renewed acquaintance impress me with their generosity and their hospitality. The impression covers both my professional and personal experiences. My research project focused on national identity with regard to Euro 2012. While I had expected the project to go in one particular direction, ethnographic work requires an open mind; consequently, my observations and experience with regard to visual expression of national identity has extended to the performance of national identity. My recalibrated understanding of the culture in L’viv and Transcarpathis, as well as my new experience of Crimea and Odessa, has determined the overarching metaphor for my project to be hospitality–hospitality as the performance of national identity. New and old friends invited my family on expeditions and to dinners for a number of reasons, including religious (Julian calendar Christmas, New Year’s and Easter). Through their hospitality, they expressed the importance of history, tradition, family and personal relationships that influence their interpretation and expression of national identity in ways that I am trying to understand and express myself. I am working on a series of rhetorical analyses of visual and performance texts that take different expressive forms (academic article, photo essay, poetry, sketches etc.) that I hope to publish as one volume.
On a personal level, the experience profoundly influenced my family. My husband was able to visit his grandfather Mathew’s hometown in L’viv Oblast—the first of his grandfather’s descendants to do so. He persuaded his mother to come to Ukraine for the first time and, together and accompanied by my colleague Borys, they returned to her father’s birthplace to seek and meet relatives they never known. My sons were able to familiarize themselves with the country and the culture of their birth; one reveled in it, one rejected it, but at least they know what it’s like where they came from. We all learned about the history of the area and have left with a much greater appreciation of the human price of history.
The human price of history prompts my concerns for the future of my new family, friends and colleagues. We know that we had the luxury to jet into Ukraine with our return tickets in our luggage, but we left behind people who do not have that luxury. We left people behind for whom the hope of the last decade does not linger, but rather who watch that hard-fought hope seep away. My Ukrainian teacher’s parents met in Siberia where both sets of grandparents had been sent on economic or political whim. Upon their return to L’viv, the family was able to wrest one of the two families’ homes away from the military officer who squatted there. She hears news that Ukraine is selling its rich topsoil to international bidders and that the rada is legislating additional official languages, and she fears for the future of her children. A Russian-speaking Ukrainian colleague in Crimea bristles at the appearance of election posters of the political party in power that surround photographic images of the mid-twentieth century with the red and black communist party ribbon and other Soviet imagery. These women and more of my friends fear for the survival of an independent Ukraine. My experience in Ukraine makes me afraid for them, too.
Having first-hand experience of corruption in education was particularly disconcerting. Witnessing the tragedies of Oksana Makar and Yulia Timoshenko and other less famous obscenities reel out in internal and external storylines without closure has been sickening, let alone disheartening. Sometimes the sadness strikes even closer to home, as does the news of the July 10 roof collapse that killed an Ivan Franko student and a Texas volunteer with the student religious community that Adam and Zachary visited with their friend, Kristy.
On the other hand, teaching students to examine the nature and communication of national identity, and volunteering with inspirational members of the diaspora and aspirational young people to welcome the world to L’viv during Euro 2012, have allowed me to witness their attitudes and aspirations, and to suspect that even if most of the voters in the next election are fooled again, these young people won’t be. The journalism students in L’viv and Crimea, where I participated in a workshop, understand their responsibility for shepherding change at the national level. For example, the student who started writing for the Catholic News from Washington, DC, this week inspires me. While political change may not come soon enough for some of my professorial colleagues, I am confidence that it will come because she and her classmates will help effect it through their journalistic and creative communicative activities. I hope to welcome my Ukrainian friends, colleagues and students, to my own home in the U.S. to share our hospitality as soon as the borders open and Ukraine takes its place as one of the world’s democratic nations.