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On the Fulbright Specialist Program

Today’s guest blog post is by Guven Witteveen. Witteveen is Outreach Education Consultant and Evaluator, visual anthropologist and Japan expert based in Michigan. He is studying better ways for scholars to use ePublishing to advance their work. He can be reached via e-mail: anthroview@gmail.com

main entrance to ethnic nationalities side of the Xinjiang Museum in Urumqi, China

main entrance to ethnic nationalities side of the Xinjiang Museum in Urumqi, China

Early March 2012 I was invited to send a brief proposal for a 5 week course & workshops on anthropological research methods to the prospective host, the Xinjiang Normal University’s Institute for History and Ethnology in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region on China’s western edge and home to 13 ethnic nationalities. In a few weeks a formal offer was sent and travel and teaching plans began in earnest. Due to permissions needed from multiple agencies on and off campus to issue the sponsoring letter, the visa process at the consulate in the U.S. had to be rushed in person. But early in June I was met at the airport by an English speaking graduate student and a university driver in a U.S. brand of car. In a few days my classes got underway. But the story began in summer 2010.

Browsing the Fulbright pages at cies.org, I learned of the Specialist Program, intended for experts to visit for two weeks to two months, with airfare reimbursed and a modest daily stipend from the U.S. government. The room and board and the local transportation were to be met by the host institution. I completed my application to be added to the registry and in due course was accepted for a five year term with a maximum of two assignments spaced 24 months apart (exceptions are Burma, Indonesia, and Pakistan where a new initiative exists). My call to China came from their search of the registry, although a project may be sparked directly by the Specialist cultivating a prospective host, too. Whether the expert is retired or still in service, campus-based or working outside the academy, the FSP is a good way to apply oneself to relatively discrete, well-defined projects. The FSP website testimonials show the scope of assignments, but it is fair to say in all cases that both host and guest are enriched by the personal interchange.

Recounting my FSP work begins with the main purpose: a graduate class about methods. Attendance varied from 6 to 26 people representing several ethnic groups and included some faculty and staff who were curious, too. Not knowing the language levels, I depended on the whiteboard and LCD projector to underscore my meaning. Occasionally I turned to the strongest English speakers to paraphrase my ideas. In addition I assisted with native speaker editing of subtitles for three ethnographic films (e.g. tinyurl.com/ashiq2010; screenings, tinyurl.com/dvd2012xuar), helped with English print and web materials (abstracts, announcements), and organized a twice weekly ethnographic film night. I gave the annual Kunlun lecture in my final week of teaching, too. At the individual advising level I worked with a half dozen faculty at the Institute and the same number of grad students to source electronic publications in English relevant to their research. Toward the end of the 38 days in Xinjiang I was invited on a day trip to Turpan and before that a longer tour north to the Altay Mountains and to the Karamay petrochemical center. Pictures and video links are at the bottom of gpwitteveen.googlepages.com/fulbright2012. Anecdotal observations are in blog style at jot2012urc.blogspot.com

The Fulbright Specialist Program connects dozens of experts each year around the world as a useful complement to the traditional Fulbright year programs abroad and in USA. Whether registering and actively seeking hosts, or just waiting for a host to call from the registry listing, the FSP is well suited to us contextual chameleons trained in the fields of anthropology.

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