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magazine home > archives > fall 2003 > features

The Fulbright Scholar Program has been an avenue for U of M faculty with global drive.

Fulbright and Shining
by Benjamin Potter

With so much turmoil brewing worldwide, the United States finds it more important than ever to foster positive international relations. It's enough to make William Fulbright sound like a prophet.

Fifty-seven years ago, Fulbright, then a U.S. senator from Arkansas, proposed a program that would send hundreds of American scholars and professionals overseas for a year in exchange for foreign scholars and professionals. That dream is now a longstanding reality.

The University of Memphis has played an integral part in the Fulbright Scholar Program. The three most recent U of M recipients, representing the University's law, anthropology and English programs, helped their host countries tremendously and brought back a rich set of new experiences and perspectives to the Mid-South.

Kratzke: From Russia, with law

 
Law professor William Kratzke
 

Dr. William Kratzke poses for a picture in Yaroslavl, Russia, where he gave a guest lecture in 2001. While in Russia, Kratzke spent most of his time in Moscow teaching classes.

Two considerations generally dictate the selection of Fulbright Scholars - location and area of expertise. U of M law professor William Kratzke knew he had a great chance, given his unusual combination of skills and interests. The two-time Fulbright recipient received his undergraduate degree in Russian Area Studies and is an expert in economics law.

Kratzke traveled to Moldova (a country in the former Soviet Union) in 1997 and to Moscow in 2001. He hopes to play a part in helping this region, which is still recovering from the devastating economic impacts of the Cold War.

"The people are going through a major transition in law-making," he says. "What economic analysis does is provides a means of writing laws and writing content to laws. I think my students are going to be involved in that very soon."

Kratzke's host institution was Moscow State Linguistic University. He taught three classes there on economic law and lectured on different aspects of American culture.

"My classes weren't large, but the students were very interested," he says. "They were pretty knowledgeable about economic theory and understood a lot of the basic economic concepts. We could then apply those concepts to law."

The students benefited from more than Kratzke's teaching abilities. His classes, which were conducted in English, gave the students a chance to hear a native speaker and bolster their own language skills.

Kratzke didn't have to speak Russian at the university, but that was another matter beyond the campus borders. There was no reason to worry about living in an unfamiliar city, though. He says that the most important virtue to have on international travel is flexibility. When things didn't go as planned, he was able to adjust and avoid possible problems. The language barrier posed no difficulties for him, either.

"I can speak enough Russian to fend for myself," Kratzke says. He adds that the biggest adjustments came from Moscow's size, not its differences in language or culture. Moscow is the largest city in Russia, with 12 million people - that makes it about 50 percent more populated than New York City.

"In many respects, it was like going from Memphis to New York," he says. "There were many more people in a much more confined area."

Kratzke calls Moscow a "hard city," one that wears its poverty on its sleeves. The city still faces tough challenges, such as dealing with a high rate of unemployment and alcoholism. Even so, there are a few indicators that Russia is a country on the mend.

"They're not unsophisticated," he says. "They have access to computers and the Internet, and there are computer labs at the university. They have television, newspapers - they aren't disconnected from the rest of the world."

Kratzke, too, should be considered an indicator of Russian recovery. His students will take what they've learned and use it for years to come.

Finerman: Breaking barriers

While Kratzke's Fulbright appointment took him to a city of millions, anthropology professor Ruthbeth Finerman traveled to the remote Andean highlands of Ecuador. In 1999, a Senior Fulbright Award allowed her to teach courses for three months at the University of Loja and continue her longstanding research in the region. Since Western medicine debuted there, Dr. Finerman has studied the challenges doctors and their patients have faced.

Ecuador has a diverse population of individuals with Spanish, African or Incan ancestry. In southern Ecuador, where Finerman conducted her research, indigenous communities such as Saraguro that practiced traditional medicine for centuries are slow to embrace Western health-care practices.

Dr. Ruthbeth Finerman
Dr. Ruthbeth Finerman (right) interviewed local Ecuadorians to learn more about their extensive botanical knowledge. Her continuing research focuses on health-care communication.

"There is a serious issue with the social distance between doctors and patients," she says. "That makes it harder to deliver services."

Finerman's research included documenting women's vast knowledge of Ecuadorian flora. Because a variety of ecosystems are nearby, the women are experts on plant life from the Amazon to the Andes.

"Some women could mention off the top of their head as many as 300 plants," she says. "They can tell you what part of the plant to use, what season it grows in, what the plant's uses are, and what other plants to mix it with. So their knowledge is truly extensive."

This expertise gives women a social status they are reluctant to hand over to a physician. Even in the United States, Finerman says, mothers tend to be the decision-makers when it comes to family illnesses.

"The same culture-competency issues that came up in Ecuador come up here [in Memphis]," she says. "Some patients find it very hard to relate to their physicians, and they don't necessarily do what their doctors tell them to do."

Doctors who diagnose hypertension are well aware of this problem. Patients "don't feel sick," she says, meaning doctors often have a hard time convincing them to take medicine and make changes in diet.

The key, Finerman contends, is teaching physicians how to build partnerships with their patients. As a response to the growing Latino population, Finerman has led cultural-competency training for the Memphis and Shelby County Health Department as well as local health-care providers. But English-speaking patients also can have difficulty understanding doctors.

"Even if you speak English, knowing how to distinguish 'diastolic and systolic blood pressure,' for instance, is difficult," she says. "And navigating the health-care system can be difficult, even for someone born here."

Finerman hopes her research can be used as a foundation for others to address health-care challenges worldwide.

"That's what scholars are really supposed to do," she says. "We build a baseline set of knowledge so we understand problems and try to come up with creative solutions."

Whether she's in South America or the Mid-South, Finerman's baseline set of knowledge continues to swell.

Thrush: Teaching teachers

When Dr. Emily Thrush traveled to Guanajuato, Mexico, the English professor didn't realize that she would learn as much as the students she taught.

"I knew absolutely nothing about the area," she says, "and I found out when I got down there how little we all know about Mexico. It has great cultural, geographical and historical diversity."

 
Dr. Emily Thrush
 

Dr. Emily Thrush spent the 2000-01 academic year launching an ESL program in Guanajuato, Mexico. Her ESL studies are also applicable in Memphis, which has a rapidly increasing Mexican immigrant population.

Thrush spent the 2000-01 academic year training teachers at the Universidad de Guanajuato in central Mexico. She was invited to help the school start an English as a Second Language (ESL) program. The requirements in Mexico for ESL teachers are changing rapidly, she says.

"You used to need a high school degree but not a college degree to teach in Mexico," she says. "Now they're requiring a short-term certificate program, and it's clear that in the very near future, they'll have to have a more advanced degree."

Aside from teaching courses and shaping curricula, Thrush was able to advance some research she had started in Memphis. She studies how well French and German speakers understand translated manuals; during her stay in Mexico, she expanded the study to include Spanish speakers.

Thrush enjoyed her stay so much that she developed a three-week summer program in Guanajuato for teachers in Memphis City Schools. The program hinges around a class she has titled "Spanish for Teachers."

"It's designed to give classroom teachers some basic Spanish for welcoming students to the class, giving them some simple instructions, a few disciplinary phrases - just enough to help them communicate," she says.

The summer program also includes an optional ESL course worth U of M college credit, and teachers have a chance to do some cultural sightseeing. Thrush says it is important for local city school teachers to gain a better understanding of the Mexican culture as the Memphis Latino population continues to rise.

"We have one of the fastest-growing populations of non-English-speaking children in our schools," she says. "Most of that recent population is from Mexico, so the teachers are being inundated with students who speak Spanish and very little English." She adds that the summer program allows teachers a glimpse of what immigrant children have experienced before they moved to the United States.

Thrush says that gaining new insight was one of the most valuable outcomes of being a Fulbright scholar.

"Always, one of the advantages to doing international travel is the perspective," she says. "I think the rewards are a very personal thing, but I have never met anyone who did Fulbright and said they regretted it. I have colleagues who did Fulbright 20 years ago and still talk about it."

As Thrush and her colleagues share their newfound perspectives, they make the University's knowledge base even more abundant. There will undoubtedly be many more U of M Fulbright Scholars to come.

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