Today at MACEE, there was an orientation for the outgoing Malaysian Fulbrighters who will be leaving for the US shortly. So TP came to work with me, and he and the other current American Fulbrighters gave some advice to the Malaysians. It was pretty fun actually, we got to meet some of the people and talk to them about what they study and where they are going.
Many of the Fulbrighters are part of the "scholars" program, meaning that they already have PhDs and academic careers here and wish to go do some short term research in the States. Education seems to be the real hot topic here. There is one woman going to Penn who studies sociolinguistics and how English is taught here as opposed to other countries. We met another woman who works on multicultural education and will be a Stanford this fall. She says she is struggling to make sense of the system here, and can’t stand the division along ethnic lines that she sees in universities in Malaysia. After ranting for a few minutes, she let slip that she got her PhD at Michigan State, and suddenly her ranting made a lot more sense to us. We also met a couple who both got grants to Ohio State, he for geography and she for mathematics education. They are bringing their 5 children along, and from the sound of it, the kids’ biggest worry is if they will be allowed to eat school lunches when they go to school in the States. Seems like a funny thing to worry about to us, but I guess they haven’t heard that school food is usually not so good! The mother went on and on (with us agreeing) about how it sucks that politicians, not educators, make up policies for education. She said she thought it was a bit better in the states, but we had to tell her that it’s the same- things might not be "outlawed", but you sure won’t get funding if you’re not teaching the right types of things. The funny thing was that as she was leaving, she was going to get a ride from another scholar who works for the Department of Education. We thought it was amusing that she was buddy-buddy with him after complaining about the higher-ups two minutes before.
We also learned an interesting fact about the Fulbright program. The first country to set up a Fulbright exchange program with the US was Burma. We were both surprised at that fact, and that this was the first time we had heard it. One of the US Embassy staff who has worked closely with MACEE and Fulbrighters he told us- he is actually departing for Burma to become the second-in-command there shortly, and is hoping to restart the now discontinued program there again. Also, we learned that the money to fund the scholarships originally came from the sale of leftover WWII ships and planes. The idea was to use the money to promote understanding between nations so that another world war would never happen. I think that’s probably the coolest use of money I’ve heard about in a long time.