So many people have been telling me what an honor it is to meet a Fulbright Scholar. I feel it is such an honor for me to encounter the Fulbright experience, to be able to engage with a culture on its own terms, to be free to observe and contemplate.
A great part of the privilege is to have the opportunity to interact with people as far as possible, in a way they deem normal. If that means attending funerals and seeing orphanages, so be it. If it means giving people the pen out of your pocket or the shirt off your back, all the better. And to hear people's concerns, their fears and hopes, their philosophy on life--total strangers! What a blessing.
Blessing rhymes with dressing and believe it or not that's what the young German couple at the table next to me were complaining about this evening. In turn they giggled and mocked the waiter's expression as he tried to grasp what they were asking for. Salad dressing? Really? If it can be a privilege not to be like people such as these, then count this among my blessings.
Every day uncovers something new, something so unexpected that you feel like you're water flowing through a field or along a ditch or between the tubular walls of a culvert. You are free and unbridled and able to make the most of every day.
You can use your powers of insight and draw your own conclusions about what you observe. Your take on things may be much different than anything you've read or learned. By putting yourself out and putting yourself out there you are finding a language, a matrix of communication and expression, that goes beyond the bounds you've experienced before. You may see things as well that people in your host country haven't considered. You are in many places at once, many heads, many hearts, and many landscapes. You develop a sort of sixth sense that allows you to read and absorb the landscape in novel ways. Each "read" brings new insights-new tools for building the place-model you develop.
I take seriously the mission of the Fulbright, cultural and academic exchange. Where one (academic) is weaker in my opinion it provides a focus and a slightly more structured challenge. Cultural exchange on the other hand is robust and a beautiful challenge in its own way. Boundaries are more fluid. Ways of exchange are endless. As a "mature" scholar I can use this experience not as a stepping stone to more opportunities, grants, graduate school, etc., but for its own inherent value. That value may change from day to day. Its dimensions and tenor may shape themselves differently as the experience develops. But it never fails to teach, to enrich, and to provide more opportunities for growth.