Heather Fielding of Purdue University will be examining the treatment of Eastern Europe in English-language literature with her students at Poltava’s Korolenko National Pedagogical University. Joseph Kush of Duquesne University will share his experiences regarding student-centered learning methodology at Sumy State University. Brendan Hoffman, a Washington-based photo journalist who has been documenting Ukraine since the Maidan, will travel throughout Ukraine chronicling Ukrainian culture and society. Kristine Nugent of Georgetown University will be examining language education policy while with the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine.
They are among the roughly 35 American scholars, graduate students and experts that are spending a semester or two in Ukraine during the current academic year under the auspices of the Fulbright program, which is administered in Ukraine by the Institute for International Education.
Since the program’s inception in Ukraine a quarter of century ago, some 700 American “Fulbrighters” have come to Ukraine to lecture, study or conduct research. And about 1000 Ukrainian scholars and university students have come to the U.S.
Marta Kolomayets, the Fulbright Ukraine Country Director, emphasizes that it’s not just about the academics, it is just as much a question of serving as a cultural ambassador.
“The Fulbright program is a program of mutual understanding, of cultural ambassadorship… the Americans that come over bring American culture here and the Ukrainians that go to the United States are cultural ambassadors for Ukraine. So many people tell me that the important thing is not only what you learn — it’s how you communicate with other people and the outside world, and tolerance and understanding. Understanding the differences–it’s a very important part of the Fulbright program.”
Ms. Kolomayets explains that she started as the director of the Ukraine Fulbright program at a challenging time — in January of 2013 — as the Yanukovych government’s anti-democratic policies were coming into full swing. However, the success of the Maidan protests and the Revolution of Dignity ushered in a new period of openness in Ukraine which the Fulbright program benefits from and also tries to amplify. Today, “Ukraine is more open to Western values and Western understanding,” she says. And now with visa-free travel to Europe that trend is accelerating even faster.
Marta says that Americans are taking notice of Ukraine’s younger generation and its dedication to improving the country: “The thing that I really like about Ukrainian youth is that they are very creative and very innovative. There are a lot of them that want to stay in Ukraine and make Ukraine a country that is successful economically, with democratic reforms, with innovation, with technology.”
Despite having access to unlimited information and knowledge online, the Fulbright program provides the opportunity for exchange program participants to learn through real-life observation and interaction–and to consider what might be worth emulating or adopting. It is particularly useful and instructive, Marta Kolomayets believes, for Ukrainian students to experience the culture and spirit of American universities:
“People can see what the American education system looks like, the kinds of universities, the campuses. One thing that’s lacking in Ukraine, I think, that’s important to see in the United States, is … there is really no branding of universities, allegiance, no sports teams, no community life — it’s not as developed as it in the United States with either sororities, or clubs, after-school activities or sports teams. That doesn’t exist in Ukraine yet. “
With 50 Ukrainians coming to the United States annually within the Fulbright program and with about three dozen Americans coming to Ukraine it is difficult to provide an adequate sampling of the interesting and important research and projects that have been conducted. Still, I asked Marta to describe the work of a couple of recent American Fulbrighters and, among others, she told me about Rachel Stevens and Mark Isaak.
Rachel Stevens is a sculptor and Professor of Art from New Mexico State University who has roots in Ternopil oblast. Her Fulbright involved creating sculptures based on remnants of Jewish culture in Galicia and she was affiliated with the Lviv National Academy of Arts and the Center of Urban History of Eastern Europe. As part of a broad range of activities, she created 75 glass replicas of an ancient, rusted synagogue key which she discovered at a market in Lviv. During a September 2018 ceremony these glass keys were awarded to representatives of cultural and academic institutions, volunteer and public organizations, and others that work with Jewish heritage in Lviv and in other Galician cities and towns.
During his Fulbright at Petro Mohyla Black Sea National University in Mykolayiv, Mark Isaak of the Maryland Institute College of Art, along with Gabriela Bulisova, worked on a short documentary film titled God’s River about a unique coalition of veterans, academics, environmentalists and patriots who came together to fight the water diversion plans of the state-operated power conglomerate in a part of the Southern Buh River area, the longest river entirely within Ukraine. The activists oppose the plan arguing that it will threaten endangered flora and fauna, submerge archeological digs, and destroy Hardovyy Island, a place that is sacred to Cossack heritage.
Last year, Fulbright Ukraine marked its 25th anniversary with the release of a catalog, featuring the reminiscences of a great number of program participants.
For more information about various Fulbright Ukraine programs click here.
Photo at top of page: Fulbright Ukraine Country Director Marta Kolomayets. She has served on the Friends of Ukraine Network (FOUN) Task Force on Democracy, Civil Society, Media and Educational Development. FOUN is an initiative of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation (USUF). [Photo courtesy of Fulbright Ukraine program].
Adrian Karmazyn, the author of this story, is a communications advisor at USUF. He participated in the Fulbright Specialist Program in the Fall of 2016.