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
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.
From Russia, with law
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
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
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
"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.
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
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.
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
"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
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.
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."
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
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
"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