Fulbright in New Zealand
Chapter 2 — A Kiwi — on the Campus
on the Campus
" I came from a white, middle-class, Anglo-Saxon monoculture. Working, living and playing in a multi-cultural mixed society was a big change. However, one thing is sure — there are as many societies and cultures in the USA as there are grains of sand on a shore. I met only a few ...
New Zealand speech was too fast, pitched too high and had too much alien slang for easy comprehension. Acquiring an American accent was a necessary self-defence. Between three months when novelty had worn off and 12 months when one was accepted into the community was the most difficult. Thoughtful criticism was usually supported, and no offence was taken. Compared to my companions I was very short of money; however everyone made allowances and was exceedingly generous ...
Food, clothes, theatre, sports, travel, homes, the superb college facilities compared to New Zealand, the change of seasons, fall colours, dogwood trees in spring, computers (I visited Penn. State's huge basement computer bank — one of the first), politics — it was McCarthy communist hunting, Nixon's first controversial TV ‘apology’." Helen Hughes, Fulbright graduate student, 1952
"The Fulbright programme is an antidote to stereotyping; it removes our national blinkers."
L. Maurice Cave, Fulbright graduate student, 1955
"The more opportunities for cultural exchanges the better for the mental health of the world. Touristing provides only a superficial picture of a country. One needs to live in a community for a time to really gain an understanding of a country and its people." W. David Barney, Fulbright researcher, 1962
"As a young adult this award made me more sensitive to my own society. It has allowed me to move easily between the two countries throughout a whole career, to teach, hold office, publish and consult as readily in the United States of America as in New Zealand." Dame Marie Clay, Fulbright graduate student, 1951
"This experience was a watershed in my life, personally and professionally. It set me in new directions and was influential in providing me with a very satisfying career."
Dame Jean Herbison, Fulbright graduate student, 1961
"At the start, my expectations were limited and not clearly defined due to lack of knowledge of what might be possible. After a short time in the States, from my study, research project work at the clinic, and contact with eminent people in the field, I became more aware of what was possible. I was fully extended intellectually for the first time." Olive Chapman-Taylor, Fulbright graduate student, 1954
The programme was first publicised in the New Zealand University Calendar of 1952. ‘About twenty travel grants,’ it read, ‘will be made annually to New Zealand citizens of either sex who intend to study for at least one academic year in the United States and who undertake to return to New Zealand when their studies are completed.’ It then gave details of the allocations: 11 to graduate students, three to research scholars ‘of some professional standing’, and three to visiting professors ‘who have been or expect to be invited to teach at an American university’.
The following paragraph made it very clear that the award was purely a travel grant and could be given only to an applicant who anticipated ‘securing a Scholarship in an American university or of otherwise arranging for his support while in the United States’. No award could be made without this surety — ‘The Foundation has no dollars.’ However, the belief was expressed that any New Zealand graduate ‘with a first class academic record’ could get a suitable scholarship quite readily, and the Foundation declared itself willing ‘to offer advice about Scholarship aid on request’.
This, in fact, is what happened. The hopeful scholar or student applied to the Foundation for advice, and Eric Budge obliged. The system worked very well indeed. In the years up to 1969 454 New Zealanders travelled to the United States on a Fulbright Travel Award. Eric Budge explained:
"Advising students was quite a task at first. The University of New Zealand at that time set out in its calendar the overseas institutions, graduates of which would be granted ad eundem status automatically. For the United States there were four: Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Columbia. I saw nothing incongruous in this at the time.
The Embassy's collection of US university catalogues and publications listing institutions were available to me and before long were located in my office.
Initially most of the applicants were students in engineering and science. And although those with personal defects were excluded, it was taken for granted that in the university atmosphere they would be going to, those with high scholastic ability would fit in best.
They were mostly first class honours material and seemed to have little page 28difficulty in getting scholarships. There may have been a few but I can't remember any that we selected failing to get a scholarship or a teaching assistantship which suited those who had an academic career in mind.
I told them that institutions like Massachusetts Institute of Technology or California Institute of Technology received applications from all over the US and Europe and elsewhere so it would be wise to apply also to a few others. One student who had received the offer of a worthwhile scholarship from all ten to which he had applied, asked for help in the elimination process.
Virtually all of our early students did very well and this had fortunate results in various ways. I had no doubt that their professors would be very willing to have New Zealanders so I referred later grantees to them. And they would doubtless be writing back to their own student friends, and in due course those planning an academic career returned to their New Zealand institutions to teach.
There were broader advantages also.
The predominance of student applicants in science and engineering probably related to the fact that instruction and research in some fields in these areas necessitated extremely heavy expenditure in equipment which few countries outside the US could undertake.
As for other fields, it is necessary to remember that New Zealand got its educational background mainly from England, with some elements from Scotland. In 1949 probably most of the senior academic staff at the colleges of the University of New Zealand were British-born graduates of British universities or New Zealanders who had done post-graduate study in Britain.
When their most promising students asked for advice about advanced study overseas they would naturally suggest Oxford or Cambridge or one of a few other British universities rather than US universities, of which most had little knowledge.
However once the programme began with New Zealanders going to US universities and Americans coming from them, it became much easier for would-be applicants to get reliable worthwhile information, in most cases for themselves or else from grantees whose names and addresses were supplied by the Foundation.
Within a few years good quality applicants covered most fields.
While the scientists of the DSIR and the Department of Agriculture were eagerly welcoming the first US grantees, from whatever university they came, some senior university administrators needed convincing about applicants who had no connection with Harvard, Yale, Princeton or Columbia. However the policy of offering awards in areas in which we were strong made it easier to select first class candidates, and before long it was accepted that a Fulbright award almost guaranteed a successful visitor.
This reluctance now seems ludicrous. In 1949 the University of New Zealand was awarding a handful of degrees at PhD level, while US universities were awarding about 6400. Most states of the US had at least one university, page 29and some had several, which covered all fields of learning to a level at least as good as anything in New Zealand — and there were a few as good as anywhere in the world, including Great Britain. The young accepted this more easily than those of us who were older, and before long we were getting strong applicants in virtually all fields.
Previously, no encouragement had ever been given to give grants to applicants wanting to study a European language. The view was that French students should go to France, and so on.
Early in 1963 the State Department sent a letter to the Foundation to the effect that it was supporting the Seventh International Conference on Modern Languages and Literature, to be held in New York in August and if suitable applicants were available it would try to arrange for a semester's teaching for them at one of the universities. The Foundation nominated Dr Paul Hoffman, an Austrian born lecturer in German at the Victoria University of Wellington, for whom the State Department secured a semester at the University of Illinois, Urbana. Dr Hoffman expressed considerable interest in visiting German universities coming or going and was told that he could visit both ways if he could get extra leave and paid for any extra fare. After a very successful time at Urbana (he was offered a permanent post) he brought in his final report which stated that the teaching of German at Urbana was far superior to anything he had seen on his visits to Germany.
He was appointed Professor and Chairman of the Department of German at Victoria while he was at Urbana and a little later he expressed a wish to have a US Fulbrighter in his department.
The question of recognition of US qualifications came up when US graduate students expressed a wish to take a New Zealand degree, usually a Master's but in some cases a PhD. As few qualified under the Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Columbia criteria their cases had to be considered on their merits. I was asked to evaluate the particular university at first, but it was decided before long that Fulbrighters would be accepted unless there was some good reason to the contrary."
Alison Hanham, a Fulbright teacher in 1950, described the process from the other side:
"Applying for the Fulbright Travel Grant was daunting. Getting a visa was even worse. We had to be fingerprinted, solemnly swear not to overthrow the government of the United States by force or live by prostitution (what a hope!) and attest that we did not approve of Communism. There was a space on the form for one's police record, which was filled by a stamped ambiguous statement ‘police report not available’. A life-size negative of a chest x-ray had to travel with us and was on no account to be folded or creased. My fellow-passenger, Pauline Murphy, and I pinned them up on our cabin wall and were disgusted when finally a US customs officer threw the precious nuisances into a trash can with barely a glance."
One of those who flew to the United States was Connie Hall, who, in 1949, was one of New Zealand's first Fulbrighters. The Foundation had planned to send her by sea but because of a hitch in her visa application (despite the exchange of over 90 documents via the embassy) she missed the boat and had to fly. ‘Instead of sailing in a four-berth steerage cabin I flew for three days and nights to New York, in unimagined luxury with full sleeping accommodation of bed, sheets, blankets.’ The plane, a DC6, belonged to British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines.
‘You might be interested to know,’ she wrote, ‘that there was a dressing room for women in the tail of the plane, with toilet and, I think, shower, banquette seating, a large mirror and vanity stool.’ The female passengers repaired there before going to bed, changing into nightdress and dressing gown before sidling down the curtained corridor to their berths. ‘In the morning as I sat brushing out my plaited hair I was amazed to see it all rise in page 31the air to its full length, as in those hitherto improbable cartoons. Those planes flew a lot lower than today's airliners, and we had been through a severe electrical storm during the night. Static electricity in my hair kept it erect as I drew it back into its usual style. When I travel now,’ Connie added, ‘it's a nostalgic memory.’
Another New Zealander to fly was Margaret Ranald, who went in 1952. One of her stops was at Nadi in Fiji, where dinner was served Empire-style by Fijian waiters in black ties and formula sulus. In the middle of the night the plane refuelled at the tiny mid-Pacific atoll of Canton Island (‘How did the pilot find it in the dark?’) and then the entire complement on board the plane had a whole day in Honolulu, to give the flight crew the required break.
By whichever means the New Zealanders arrived, they found that taking up a day-to-day existence in the United States was like a trip forward in a time machine. Provincialism and post-war austerity were abruptly behind them, and they were faced with a bewilderment of side salads, iced water with meals (‘Americans must have the best-flushed kidneys in the world,’ wrote one Kiwi), tea bags, sliced bread, green peppers, supermarkets, fast food, soda fountains, sky-writing and squirrels. All the clothes they took were too warm to wear indoors in winter. One young Kiwi consulted a doctor in a state of alarm because her skin had gone so scaly. He diagnosed a down under reaction to central heating, and prescribed a bottle of bath oil. The machines alone were a revelation; as one New Zealander wrote, these dominated life in all its everyday aspects: ‘they would feed you, warm you, inform you and convey you.’
The American people were an equal eye-opener. Because her Fulbright travel grant allowed her to travel in a better class than she could have afforded herself, Alison Hanham met a steel millionaire on a train. When he heard her story he dug in his billfold and beamingly presented her with a 20 dollar bill. ‘I fully expected him to be a white-slaver,’ she confessed. ‘But he was just a generous American.’
‘Americans are foreigners,’ wrote one New Zealander, ‘who happen to speak English,’ but other New Zealanders would have debated that statement. Margaret Ranald was informed when she enrolled at UCLA that she would have to take an English proficiency test, because she was a foreign student — ‘With considerable difficulty I convinced officialdom that my native language was indeed English.’
One New Zealander, Bruce Ferrand, found out for the first time that ‘I had an accent’. It was dangerous, furthermore, for Americans and New Zealanders to assume that they shared the same vocabulary, when such words as ‘fortnight’ (two weeks) are unknown in the States. ‘Streetcar’ and ‘elevator’ held hazards, too, and grown men were apt to bridle if the ‘hood’ of their ‘automobile’ (car) was called a ‘bonnet’. ‘Cheerio’ was guaranteed to send the audience into fits of disbelieving hilarity. Even an effort to buy a ball of string was doomed — ‘String?’ one American was reported as saying, ‘Man, it's twine.’page 32
When Kenneth Cumberland was lecturing at the University of Wisconsin in 1951 a student complimented him on his ‘mighty good English’. Another New Zealander had communication problems when he filled out a form for a driving licence. ‘Weight?’ the clerk enquired, and the Fulbrighter ‘declared in ringing tones, "Eleven stone seven!"’ Then, in the contretemps that resulted, 14 pounds somehow became mislaid, and thenceforth he carried a document that declared he weighed no more than 147 pounds.
These hiccups in conversation were matched by other misconceptions. Alison Hanham found that she always seemed to be explaining that, ‘firstly, New Zealand was not under despotic British rule, secondly that New Zealand Maoris were not confined to the hills, and, thirdly, that an enlightened Social Security system did not mean that our government was rabidly Communist.’
American ignorance of the whereabouts of New Zealand also led to some strange and wonderful conversations. Mrs John Small stepped out into a street with a jaunty beret on her head, and was asked by an interested onlooker, ‘Do you come from France?’
‘No,’ she said.
‘From Germany, then?’
‘No. I come from New Zealand.’
‘New Zealand? Ah, I knew you were over from that way somewhere!’ and her questioner departed, looking complacent.
And Roderick Bieleski, a 1960 Fulbright researcher, has a marvellous story to tell:
"At that time, my only experience of ‘overseas’ was Australia, and of the USA was what one saw in the movies. Two weeks after I began working in my new Los Angeles laboratory, I was still goggle-eyed at being in the Centre of the film industry, living next to film-stars (this was 1960, remember, when that meant something). This particular morning, I was the only soul in the laboratory. I vaguely wondered why, but kept at work — no one had thought to tell me that the laboratory had been loaned for the day to a film crew. Well, of course when the camera dolly, the sound equipment, the lights and the director's chair were wheeled into the laboratory, I was damned if I was going to look like the country boy. This was Hollywood, right? You had to expect this, right? So I carried on doing things with flasks and beakers as if no one was there. I was jerked out of this unreactive state when I saw a couple of the gophers headed towards my collection of carefully-collected, carefully-washed glassware. ‘Can I help you?’ Yes, they wanted various bits of scientific-looking and photogenic glassware, so I led them to the wash-up sink and let them select from the dirty stuff. But my shield of isolation had been broken. Back they came. ‘Can you help us get a this? And a that?’ Certainly I could: I knew that was what an authentic Angeleno would do. But then things got a bit more complex. Did I know of page 33some solutions that would look scientific? After some discussion, and me showing them a few options, they decided that their needs were nicely served by the dramatic colour change which occurred when you tipped alkali into a bromophenol-blue-containing acid solution and stirred briskly. That should have been the end of it, but it wasn't. I'm not sure whether it was my rugged New Zealand features, or the freshly washed lab coat supplied by my wife that day, but when the Director said, ‘Fine, fine, fine’ it turned out he meant that he was not only satisfied with the visual impact created by my chemical magic, he was also impressed by my skill and panache in doing it. He didn't just want the chemicals, he wanted me. Would I, could I? I was damned if I was going to behave like a country boy. This was the movie capital of the world. It happened here every day. Stars were born every day. With an off-handed, manly, Kiwi shrug I said ‘Yup’, just like Coop. The lights were turned on, the cameras ground, I stirred photogenically, the solution changed colour (I didn't have to speak) and a satisfied Director let me retreat (slightly shell-shocked but not showing it) to my desk. Suddenly there was a flurry. ‘Migod, we've forgotten the release.’ Over came a very long document which, in a welter of fine print, assured the world that one Roderick L. Bieleski would have no claim whatsoever of any kind on the makers of the film, a very well known organisation. So died a career. But how many Fulbrighters, I wonder, have appeared in a publicity film, made by the US army, demonstrating the many fine opportunities available when you take a career with Uncle Sam?"
For New Zealanders, the American experience held as many humorous pitfalls as the New Zealand experience did for Americans, but there were other problems which had a much more serious impact.
Some New Zealanders found it hard to adjust to racial and social inequalities. America was a bad place to be a loser, several noted. The medical men disliked the inequalities of hospital care. Others had trouble adjusting to the pace of American academic life and the workload demanded. One complained of the ‘constant evaluation of what you were doing and saying and everything so damned serious’; another worked so hard that he came back with an ulcer. Other Kiwis, however, found that they were ‘very impressed with the work ethic of Americans generally, with its speed and drive’.
Racial problems could be upsetting. In 1957 Nada Beardsley went to a college that was ‘known for its integration policy and had many black students. While I was there the indoor basket team reached the All-American University semi-finals, held in North Carolina. Temple was asked to exclude negro team members — refused. The team was housed separately, and was booed by the spectators. One of my few sad memories is the sight of those tall fine men leaving the court in tears.’
Eileen Cuff taught at an American junior high school during 1952. The photographs show
her standing outside the school building and holidaying at Central City, Colorado.
The New Zealand Fulbrighters, despite their diffidence, were inevitably involved. John Watson, who was in the United States in 1962, noted that when his host country was embroiled in an international fuss interest in foreign visitors fell off. Further, during the Cuban crisis in the fall of that year, he found that his hosts needed constant reassurance and were much less interested in hearing about New Zealand. It was impossible not to be involved. In the 1960s many Kiwi students worked with social groups in school vacations; one of these, Christopher Withers, planted trees at a school for the blind in Mexico as a gesture of concern. Other New Zealanders met famous people — President Kennedy and Martin Luther King — and shared in the national grief when these men were killed. American triumphs were shared as well: the highlight for many of those who were there in 1969 was the exhilaration of putting a man on the moon.
Donald Wilson went to study in Chicago with the belief that the Capone era was over; like many New Zealanders, he thought that the stories of urban violence in America belonged to the movies. The Director of Admissions of International House asked him to visit when he arrived on the campus and he accepted the invitation as a kindly and hospitable gesture. Instead it turned out to be a kind of warning.
The Director sat Wilson down and said, ‘Do you carry a cosh?’
‘Why, no! I guess I never thought of it.’
‘Many people do, here,’ the Director said. In fact, he added, some carried swordsticks. Going out alone at night could prove most unwise. All times of page 35day and night were dangerous, and it was stupid to go out of doors at all with less than 10 dollars in one's pocket; 10 dollars, it seemed, was the minimum beat-up fee. ‘If I did not have this when robbed,’ Wilson recounted, ‘I could expect a pistol beating for not having made the effort worthwhile.’ Worst of all, perhaps, was the fact that the advice was kindly meant. Life in that part of Chicago really was dangerous. It was one of the aspects of his stay, Wilson said, that he did not describe in his letters home to his wife.
He did, however, have one experience that was as positive as this one was negative, when he was invited to a holiday camp for overseas guests. ‘During the evening,’ he wrote, ‘I found myself seated on a sofa in front of a large fire.’ A Scots girl sat on one side of him, and a Japanese man on the other. It was impossible not to remember the stories of World War II and feel very uncomfortable about it.
Then, after a very long silence, Wilson decided to tell the Japanese how he felt. The Japanese agreed that he did not feel all that happy, either. ‘Soon we admitted to each other than we had fought against one another during the war, and then discovered that we had been in the same place at the same time — on opposite sides.’ The two men became firm friends, and they were sorry to say goodbye when the Japanese returned to Tokyo, four months later.
Whatever the occasional problems, the rewards of Fulbright tenure were very great, and they included professional rewards, after scholars returned to New Zealand. The Reverend E. A. Johnson, who became Archbishop of New Zealand, says ‘my subsequent position in the Church was largely due to the American experience and the qualifications I gained.’ Helen Hughes, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, attributes her very successful career directly to the Fulbright travel award which allowed her to study at Vassar in 1952. It is interesting, then, to speculate about the effect of the various Fulbright experiences on thinking in New Zealand.
An example of the way in which New Zealand was affected by the Fulbright can be found in the unlikely field of law. Anyone who watches television drama must be aware that the court scenes in British or American programmes are very different. Nevertheless R. O. McGechan, the Dean of the Faculty of Law at Victoria, was granted a Fulbright in 1950 to go to the States and study teaching methods. He observed the organisation of the law schools, legal writing programmes, student legal aid services and libraries, the financing of the schools and students' extracurricular activities; he watched courts in session and talked with law deans, judges, university administrators and students — and he returned with inspirations that changed the entire method of teaching law in New Zealand. Where students once learned the law by rote they now study by the case method. Where they could once earn their qualifications by last-minute cramming the night before an examination, they now have to demonstrate conscientious attendance at lectures and discussions.
With this example, changes have happened as a direct result of a Fulbright grant or grants, but this is not always so. While it is logical that exposure to a foreign methodology will change the course of events, it is equally logical that the Fulbright Foundation cannot take sole credit, if only on the grounds that money had to come from other sources to finance a New Zealand Fulbrighter to the States in those first 20 years.
It must be remembered that the Fulbright then gave travel money only, although American Fulbrighters who came to New Zealand did get a stipend, in New Zealand currency, as Eric Budge explained:
"This was a maintenance allowance adequate enough to allow a grantee to live comfortably in New Zealand without being ostentatious. There was some feeling, including Embassy people and US grantees, that loud-mouth American tourists with too much money were a poor advertisement for the US.
As it was a maintenance allowance, the grant for lecturers, research page 37scholars and exchange teachers varied according to the number of dependants brought with them.
There was also an allowance for reasonable travel relating to their project and students' fees were paid for them."
New Zealand Fulbrighters, however, had to find other sources of income, as described earlier in this chapter, and this help was often considerable, outweighing by far the fare money given by the Foundation. Because of this it was difficult to separate the effects of the award from the benefits of the scholarship that had paid a living allowance. ‘The New Zealand Fulbright was only a drop in the bucket,’ wrote one scholar. Others felt that the Fulbright gave prestige (‘It looks good on one's Curriculum Vitae’) but averred that they would have gone to the States anyway, though it was handy to have the fares paid.
The main disadvantage, for many of the New Zealanders, was the stipulation that they return home and work here for at least two years. It was a condition of accepting a Fulbright, but some thought the penalty out of proportion to the money received. The Foundation, over the years, has had to field some criticism in this respect — although this is unfair, since the restriction was a condition of receiving a United States visa, and not of the Foundation's making.
Many of the Fulbrighters who agreed to the condition misjudged how hampering it would be later on, for their Fulbright experience had changed them, too. They became accustomed to the challenge of working in America, to what New Zealander John Harger described as ‘the intense method of professional debate that was systematically encouraged in the university system regardless of position occupied by those exchanging ideas’. Harger says that while his personal gains were enormous, his professional career in New Zealand was actually hindered, for no one here understood his qualification. He was forced to take a job in Canada.
This was certainly not part of the Fulbright philosophy; as one American remarked, ‘The Fulbright programme is not meant to finance emigration.’ So, while the New Zealand Fulbrighters who did come back found that their experience had helped their career, ‘for anyone who returns from working overseas is respected and encouraged’, many others were forced to break the terms of their contract, either through personal inclination or because of their careers. Many of those who came back left again as soon as the two-year requirement was satisfied. As one of them put it, they could not cope ‘with the small town parochialism’ of this country.
Meantime, Eric Budge and his secretary Doreen Galbraith were working away at the continuing development of the Educational Foundation in New Zealand, helped by the Public Affairs Officer at the United States Embassy.
"I've never found out why some things happened [said Eric Budge] but I expect it was due to a feeling that using a foreigner was pretty risky. Earl Dennis was there to establish the programme. Though he was clearly page 38American, he had Irish charm, and from a public relations point of view, bearing in mind the association with the universities and scientific organisations, he was an excellent choice as a front man.
When he left the Ambassador promoted the second in command to be Public Affairs Officer and Chairman of the Foundation Board.
Don Wilson was a newspaper man. He told me that his knowledge of education in the US was mostly limited to his own experience and that he knew even less about education in New Zealand, so he would have to depend entirely on me for everything related to the Fulbright programme.
And for the rest of my term, the Public Affairs Officer was never an educator and when there was an Assistant PAO he was not especially qualified in this area either. Evidently Wellington and Washington came to the conclusion that a foreigner could safely be left to run the programme without endangering American interests."
New Zealand Fulbrighter Roderick Bieleski paid tribute to Eric Budge, who did so much for the scheme in this country:
"One of the things that gave the Fulbright (in New Zealand) its special flavour was Eric Budge's attitude towards his Fellows. They were his family. He would get the old fellows together, once a year, to meet the new fellows; and I particularly remember the meetings in the old Grand Hotel in Princes Street, opposite today's Hyatt. His ‘piece de resistance’ always left the new chums weak at the knees. At some point in the proceedings, when things were really going well, with old friends and new acquaintances yabbering away indiscriminately nineteen to the dozen, he would clap his hands loudly and get everyone to settle in a ring. He would then go round the room, individual by individual, introducing each to the room, without any notes or any prompting. Spouses were introduced as well (though how would he go in today's de facto environment, I wonder?) and there were two-sentence potted biographies of what each had done and where each had been. It was not just an enormous feat of memory, extended as it was over more than a hundred people: it gave each humble Fulbrighter an idea of the true scope of a very fine scheme. Eric Budge was special."