The latest BMCC Grants Quarterly Newsletter reminds us that the deadline to apply for a Fulbright Award for the 2020-2021 academic year is August 1, 2019. The most exciting and rewarding experience of my academic career thus far was being awarded a Fulbright Fellowship. I spent the 2015-2016 academic year at University of Turku in Finland, and this award set me on a path that I could not have anticipated, and for which I could not be more thankful. The application and selection process is a long one, and my inspiration for this blog entry is an email I received this month from the US Fulbright Network asking me to encourage colleagues to apply. I hope this blog posts inspires anyone considering this to begin the process in order to meet the August 2019 deadline.
I ended up in Finland through a series of academic and artistic connections. After working with a Swedish feminist artist group Föriningen JA!/YES! Association, I developed an interest in Nordic and Scandinavian models of support for artists. My research project in Finland concerned how artists working there experienced freedom of expression with regard to public funding. I was interested in a cultural comparison with the United States, where morality legislates much of our public funding for the arts. Through a CUNY colleague, I was connected with a Finnish colleague who works in Media and Gender Studies at the University of Turku, and who wrote me a letter of invitation for my application—which is a key part of a successful application.
I spent my Fulbright year interviewing artists, attending events and performances at galleries and festivals, and building a network of international colleagues. Fulbright Finland organized symposia and cultural events for us, and I also presented my research at conferences in Finland, as well as in Denmark and Romania. In fact, my collaboration with a research group based at Aarhus University in Denmark continued, and just last fall I participated in the creation of an interactive installation about technology and memory at the Association for Internet Researchers Conference in Montreal.
Teaching students in Finland, a country with one of the highest ranked educational systems in the world, was a pedagogical inspiration. Perhaps the most important thing I learned about Finland’s high educational ranking is that it comes out of a place of promoting self-direction. Finnish schools provide less structure, and therefore students learn at an early age how to schedule their own time in order to get their work done. In Michael Moore’s documentary Where to Invade Next, the section on education in Finland would have seemed difficult to believe if I had not lived there.
This same model of academic independence is used in the university system, and attracts students from around the world. Historically, higher education was free for anyone who wanted to study in Finland. Unfortunately, that policy changed the during the year I was teaching there, and now tuition is free for all European Union residents, but students from outside of the EU must pay tuition fees. In addition to available fellowships and scholarships, students may also receive a monthly cost-of-living stipend through government, which of course supports full-time study and promotes focus on school.
My classrooms at University of Turku were as international as our classrooms at BMCC, which was a welcome and familiar experience. I taught a public speaking course, as I do here at BMCC, and two graduate seminars that I designed in Media Studies. I used technology in assignments such as blogging, creating scholarly websites, and digital storytelling—and this encouraged me to work with E-Learning and teach hybrid and online courses when I returned to BMCC.
My Fulbright year has given me so much more than what I experienced during that time frame. I’ve been back to Finland via funding from the PSC-CUNY Research Foundation and a BMCC Faculty Development Grant to focus on anti-nationalist and queer feminist performance activism, and this summer I am returning as a Scholar in Residence at Aalto University in Helsinki. BMCC students can only benefit from more faculty being awarded Fulbright awards and increasing our international networks. I encourage my colleagues to explore the multitude of possibilities for awards for the upcoming application, or future years.