Georgia Chapter of the Fulbright Association

News & Updates


Alumni Profile: Stephen Cottrell

Alumni Profile: Stephen Cottrell

The English novelist George Orwell best captured my first experience in Vietnam with his penetrating words, “If the war didn’t kill you it was bound to start you thinking.” Having survived the former, I became a huge fan of the latter.

It can be safely assumed that many readers of this article have experienced defining moments in their lives and the choices made at those junctures have set them on paths far different from their earlier expectations: meeting their spouse, child birth, winning the lottery. The morning I received my Fulbright letter was such a moment; a simultaneous rush of both excitement and shock as my mind processed the words “congratulations” and “Vietnam” in the same sentence. Although time has been merciful to this veteran it did not dull certain “bad days” there. With some trepidation I agreed to teach at Nha Trang University for a year.

Dr. Stephen Cottrell Interviewing a survivor while doing research on Cambodian internal migration patterns post Khmer Rouge

Dr. Stephen Cottrell interviewing a survivor while doing research on Cambodian internal migration patterns post Khmer Rouge

Although my Fulbright topic focused on geography’s physical and cultural influences on the societal ethos and, by extension, on its higher education leadership traits, it was not to be. I quickly learned that the Vietnamese psyche is far too opaque for such a transparent approach. As in other tradition-oriented cultures, indirect approaches are far more user friendly in getting the job done. That said, I opted for the back-door model and discovered a classic goodness-of-fit when interacting both with academia and navigating through my daily life. Apart from my academic goals, my deeply personal agenda was to live in and observe a culture that had set in motion profound changes in America’s consciousness. Early into my grant the academic and personal challenges seemed a bit daunting but now I am certain that I made the right decision.

Touching down at Tan Son Nhat airport after far too many hours in an economy seat next to my wife, a daughter, two grandchildren and a Raggedy Anne doll named LeRoy, we staggered into the hot Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) night to collect our survival gear for the coming year: ten large suitcases, three back packs and a sea bag full of diapers and baby formula. It was SHOW TIME in my parallel universe! Time to set aside Kafkaesque realpolitik thinking and shift my attention to the crucial matters at hand i.e. not losing the grandkids, passports or luggage while processing through immigration. With the exception of a few bureaucratic episodes not worth mentioning beyond mentioning, we stepped out of the airport and into our Vietnam experience.

As earlier noted, although the U.S. embassy and Vietnam’s Ministry of Education and Training were in support of my academic proposal, it didn’t travel well from the capital Hanoi to my host city of Nha Trang. In short, much of what I wanted to accomplish didn’t find traction at my host university and much that I had never even considered doing became commonplace. At one of our early State Department “check your culture at the door” sessions, I mentioned that I was being underutilized at my host institution. The seven other Fulbrighters who were posted throughout Vietnam chimed in with the same concern. It seemed that our American “Can Do” attitude had begun to show. Upon reflection, we concluded that we were displaying the typical missionary zeal that seems to afflict many Americans living in foreign lands. I recall one embassy official hastily reminding us that the whole world recognizes Americans as workaholics…including the Vietnamese. My take-a-way was, “Don’t fall in love with your plan… adjust accordingly.”

Admittedly, although I had a well-constructed albeit overly ambitious academic goal, my host university had other plans for me. With the embassy’s blessing I embraced the “Go with the Flow” mantra when asked to do this or that by my Vietnamese colleagues. I had decided that they knew more about their needs than I so my clarion call became, “Great! I’ll start today.” Consequently, it didn’t take long before Vietnamese faculty invited me to “di di café den – go for coffee” (a euphemism for a multitude of activities done off campus…a delightful French colonial holdover). As a consequence of long hours spent in the open-air coffee houses along Nha Trang’s beautiful beaches more was accomplished than I could have ever imagined. Since every coffee house was Wi-Fied and the university electricity shut down on what seemed to be a conveniently regular basis the campus regularly evacuated en masse for coffee. Group work on a wide variety of research papers, grants, and graduate coursework ruled the day. Most young faculty were enrolled in graduate programs that had to be finished before they were a certain age. If not, the options at the university were severely curtailed…similar to tenure. Consequently, I drank far too much coffee at no charge.

Dr. Stephen Cottrell presents a lecture on critical thinking at Hong He (Red River) University in Yunnan Province China

Living in a local neighborhood with neighbors such as the Seeing Hands massage parlor operated by the blind, a granny named Ba Bai hawking hot Ban Mi Thit (a delicious spicy sandwich wrapped in a hot French baguette) and the one armed army veteran who gave sidewalk piano lessons on his well-worn key board all provided insight into an ancient culture that had the tenacity and determination to dispose of a litany of foreign powers over the centuries.

As consumerism makes inroads into the Vietnamese value system the younger generation seems to be soul searching to discover what cultural attributes they must abandon to participate in a modern Vietnam and at what cost. Senator J. William Fulbright captured this inner struggle in his book, Arrogance of Power, “What they fear, I think rightly, is that traditional Vietnamese society cannot survive the American economic and cultural impact”. I  believe that the jury is still out on that particular fear.

Sixty percent of Vietnamese are under the age of 30. Consequently, they do not carry the same baggage as their (or our) older generation about the American War. One perky student asked my age in an American culture class that I taught and when I informed her she quite innocently used a new word that we had studied earlier that morning…” Dr. Stephen, you walking relic!” Vietnamese are moving forward with focused youthful exuberance and their government seems to be running to catch up.

In part, due to my year in Vietnam I believe that Mississippi State University now has the potential to build a strong academic relationship with my host university and with student candidates in no less than 11 cities that I visited throughout that nation. When my Fulbright work required travel MSU recruiting materials went along. Parents and students from Ca Mau in the south to Sa Pa along the Chinese border and nine cities in between are now aware of MSU’s offerings. We have established the seeds of working relationships with the parents of several academically gifted Vietnamese students (six enrolled now at MSU and three in the pipeline), a doctoral student candidate who specializes in pig diseases and who speaks French, Chinese, Vietnamese and English. In addition, Nha Trang University administration seems happy with my contribution to three successful Royal Norwegian grants. I’m told that the grant successes aided in the vice director of their biodiversity and environment institute visiting the MSU campus to discuss partnerships. These are but a sampling of the academic take-a-ways that may be the consequence of my Fulbright experience. I would like to think that the give-a-ways are of similar quality but I can only measure that by the warm e-mails regularly received from parents of current and future MSU students and the ongoing requests from Nha Trang University and Vietnam National University-Hanoi faculty to continue editing their graduate papers and research grants.

Shakespeare wrote a few words that capture my feelings about Vietnam today: “I like this place and willingly could waste my remaining days in it”.

 

–Dr. Stephen Cottrell
Fulbright to Thailand (2007), Japan (2009), Vietnam (2013-2014)

Career Corner: Using Summer Wisely

Career Corner: Using Summer Wisely

The summer is upon us.  Life naturally takes on a different rhythm during this season. The days are longer, and this frequently leads to a burst of energy in the evening. We also tend to socialize more, often around holidays like Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day (at least in the U.S.). There are friends and family that we only see during this time of year. And, of course, many of us try to pack in vacation during the summer.

David J Smith — career coach, author, and Fulbrighter

The hiring process tends to be slower in the summer. With organizational fiscal years often starting in the fall (the U.S. federal government fiscal year starts October 1), summer is a time when planning is the priority.  As such, making major decisions on hiring staff is something that is kicked backed until the fall.  In addition, vacation impedes hiring in several ways. Human resources managers take off, but more importantly, hiring committees might have a difficult time getting together because of vacation. For instance, if you are thinking about a career in a college or university in a research or teaching position, getting hired in the summer is unlikely since faculty are off.  Generally, decisions about hiring in academia have been made by late spring. Overall fewer jobs are listed, and for open positions, the recruitment process can be very slow.

As such, summer planning might be better than summer applying. Use the summer months to engage in those activities that require engagement with others (it’s really the best time of the year to be networking) and do those things that improve your overall well-being and fortify you for a fall career campaign.

Here are a couple of suggestions:

  1. Attend events, both professional and social ones. The summer is packed with parties and receptions, some personal and some work related. Summer is no time to be a wallflower. Commit to being in as many “spaces” as you can (meaningful ones, of course). Summer is prime networking season.
  2. Engage in healthy and connective activities. Take advantage of the better weather to see to your physical and psychological health: hike, camp, swim, eat well, and sleep in when you can.  Also, connect with friends, colleagues, and family through events and one on one get-togethers. Often during the hustle and bustle of the year, we lose track of friends or colleagues.  Why not have coffee now, especially when you can have your iced latte outside?
  3. Develop a strategic plan for the fall. Now is the time to think and plan.  Make lists and collect your thoughts on how you will go about looking for work in the fall.  Planning to find work is looking for work!  The better planning you do now, the better the execution in the fall. You can line up informational interviews and put in applications in September, plan conferences to attend in October (like the Fulbright Association conference in DC in October), and focus on interviewing in November and December. Of course, your plans might change, but having a plan of action that you can put in motion in early September will lessen your anxiety about looking for work, and make the process more efficient.
  4. Make space for quiet time. Networking and even planning can be exhausting. The summer is a good time to do nothing! Studies show the benefits of disengagement with others and work (and social media). This disengagement and “nothingness” offers some mental rest and promotes creativity.
  5. Finally, take a vacation. Though there are other times of the year when vacation takes place, the summer allows for outside and physical activities. The beach or the mountains, makes no difference, getting out may be the best means of improving your mental health and wellness. If you don’t, once the fall comes, you might regret it.

Enjoy your summertime! Use the time to renew your commitments, think big and envision your future. But also connect with your humanity.

—David J. Smith

David J. Smith (Fulbright Scholar, Estonia 2003-2004) is a career coach and the author of Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (Information Age Publishing 2016). He is on the career advisory board of the Peace and Collaborative Development Network. David writes regularly on career issues at davidjsmithconsulting.com. He can reached at davidjsmith@davidjsmithconsulting.com.

 

Announcing: New Logo

Announcing: New Logo

We are excited to share important news affecting the Fulbright community worldwide. On the 22nd of May, the Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board unveiled a rebranding of the Fulbright Program, with a new logo and mission-driven language.

In coordination with all Fulbright-related organizations around the world, the Fulbright Association is joining this effort, and we are pleased to share our new logo.  You will find this now on our website and all social media channels.  Over the coming days, all of our chapters will make the same transition.

Why is this happening?  The new logo is part of a wider effort to put the Fulbright’s mission front and center, conveying the Program’s prestige without being elitist.  The messaging and the logo emphasize the impact on mutual understanding, the exchange of knowledge and solutions to complex global challenges.

How did we get here?  The State Department and its partners have spent several years developing this rebranding, interviewing over 100 Fulbrighters, educators and others worldwide, surveying over 1,000 U.S. college students, and analyzing Fulbright’s coverage in the U.S. media.

We hope that you are excited by this rebranding and the new logos for Fulbright and the Fulbright Association.  You can celebrate by getting your new Fulbright t-shirt, and catching up with Nan McEntire, as “Nan Rides for Fulbright” across the U.S—sporting the new brand!

You can also celebrate by taking action right now to ensure Fulbright’s continued funding by Congress.  If you haven’t signed the petition, do that right now.  If you have, but didn’t send a quick email, then click here to contact Congress.  Both will take just a minute and help ensure the future of Fulbright!