|USIA Fulbright Scholar in China|
My experience here at Nankai University in Tienjin at the Institute of Historical Studies has been extremely positive. My colleagues are congenial, supportive and appreciative of all my efforts. In addition to my courses, my activities have been very diverse---from organizing an historic preservation symposium, to creating walking tours of the former European concession areas, to rewriting the city of Tienjin's tourist guide. I've also been fortunate enough to present lectures for the Fulbright Speakers Program in Chinese cities as far north as Hohhot, capital of Inner Mongolia, and south as Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong Provice. In May, I'll participate in an American Studies conference in Ulan Batar where I'll be giving a lecture on the fabrication of the American cowboy.
Throughout this semester and last, I've been taking photos and writing about my experiences. My first Fulbright lecture away from Nankai University in Tienjin was in Hohhot the capital of Inner Mongolia. I went there by hard sleeper on the train, (which took about 15 hours) and as we crossed into the Mongolian plateau, I looked out the window and saw a caravan of men and animals making their way along a low mountain ridge and thought I'd been transported back to the 15th century. A poor city compared to Tienjin (which is booming), and with limited resources, everything in Hohhot appeared two notches down. The amount and quality of goods was inferior to what is on the market here in Tienjin, buildings were in disrepair and for the first time since I've been in China---people came up to me on the street begging. I was warned repeatedly to " hold on to my purse," the door to my guest room in the "foreign experts bldg." had three locks and a peephole, and more than once I had a funny feeling that if I let down my guard I would be approached by somebody on the street. But nothing ever happened and I was probably safer than I would have been in Washington, D.C.
Inner Mongolia Polytechnic University was clearly thrilled to have a Fulbrighter lecture and very gracious---walking me through the tiny lanes of the fascinating old city and taking me out for Mongolian hot pot. But the best thing were the Mongolian students themselves who sang me Mongolian grassland songs (in absolutely beautiful voices) and came to my room afterwards to talk candidly about what was on their minds and in their souls. They don't see foreigners very often and more than a hundred attended each of the three lectures I gave. During a question and answer period, one of them actually asked me if it was true that "Monica Lewinsky was a spy for the KGB?" ( How do you answer that!)
I've given a lot of lectures since, but this one stands out in my mind and, I believe, is not that untypical for the Fulbright experience. Before coming here, I was reading though Fulbright materials and came across a former grantee talking about his experience. What he said was something like: 'I am sure there are Fulbrighters out there for whom the experience was not life-transforming. I, however, have never met any.' At the time I thought it was an exaggeration; now I know it is not.
Thanks again for caring about how we're doing out here and reminding us how important the Fulbright program is.
Dr. Kendall Taylor