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Fulbright in New Zealand

Chapter 5 — A Return Air Ticket — and a Little Prestige

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Chapter 5
A Return Air Ticket
and a Little Prestige

" T oday the United States has many very generous and very comprehensive aid programmes operating in various parts of the world. The need for these is beyond measure as is often the value. But real support for the United States and its people only comes from understanding and understanding needs direct experience — a hands-on situation. The Fulbright exchange programme provides just that. The other side of that particular coin is also important, i.e. United States understanding of other nations and their people. Sometimes I think that the sheer power and prestige of the United States makes this latter consideration even more critical. I am reminded of a quote I saw somewhere —'The test of courage is when you are few, the test of tolerance is when you are many.' The Fulbright scheme has in my view achieved extraordinary success in providing both understanding and tolerance." Sir Wallace Rowling, New Zealand Ambassador to the United States, from remarks made to a luncheon gathering of Fulbright selection committee chairpersons on Monday 8 September 1986

"Getting this award changed my life. It has led to many things since: a PhD, a great job, but, best of all, I feel so good about ME. I was an older woman, with children, no money and pretty insecure. You should see me now! The butterfly has emerged — and it's beautiful." Maris O'Rourke, Fulbright graduate student 1979, and ‘woman in her own right’

"I recall being reluctant to ask the chairman of the department whether I could have leave to attend a large conference in Washington DC. But when I mentioned this problem to some colleagues they said, ‘You're in America now — don't ask him, tell him."’ Frank Evison, Fulbright lecturer, 1963

Throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s New Zealanders became, perhaps, a little less naive and wide-eyed about the scene in the United States of America, for New Zealand had ‘caught up to’ the States in many particulars. There was still, however, the unexpected, the surprising and the problematical. American speech, for instance, might have become more familiar to film- and television-watching Kiwis, but Americans were just as page 66
Black and white group photograph of five male participants of the 40th Anniversary Fulbright Conference.

Group of participants at the 40th Anniversary Conference, Washington DC, 1986. New
Zealand Board member Bill Renwick is second from right.

baffled by the New Zealand accent. ‘They listen to your accent and not the words,’ said one New Zealander.

There were still the bonuses. The cultural opportunities — the art galleries, the theatres (and the ‘theaters’, which are different) and the operas — were occasions to be treasured. Supermarkets were still a novelty, in their size and comprehensiveness. American courtesy when driving was a most pleasant surprise, although learning to drive in the snow was nerve-wracking for some. One New Zealander described the trouble he had in getting insurance for his car. First of all he was told that if he'd had his family with him it would have been easier, but later the truth came out. There was a group of New Zealand airforce staff stationed at a nearby base, and their driving and drinking habits had become notorious.

Another Kiwi found that his habit of taking a daily walk was considered eccentric. ‘Is walking an un-American activity?’ he enquired. There were subtle differences in standards of clothing too. When one American was in New Zealand he found out why New Zealanders wear shorts, after four days page 67of tramping in pouring rain on the Heaphy Track. A New Zealander on campus at the University of Alabama found that his very conservative New Zealand dress of shorts, shirt, tie, walk socks and polished shoes was considered not only eccentric, but also unacceptable.

American celebrations were a special pleasure. Being in America for the moonwalk and the bicentennial were much appreciated privileges. In 1976, one New Zealander remembered, ‘Washington turned on an international extravaganza.’ Everyone had heard of Thanksgiving, but the first turkey dinner with pumpkin pie and ‘all the fixings’ was always memorable. One Kiwi and his wife went to a ‘potluck’ Thanksgiving, and his wife's contribution was a trifle, New Zealand style. To their disbelief the trifle was put beside the turkey and eaten with the bird! There were other ‘culture shocks’ as well; the same Kiwi noted, ‘Perhaps one of our most silly mistakes was seeing a McDonald's in San Francisco and thinking "What a nice little restaurant".’

‘My highlight,’ wrote one American who had come to New Zealand, ‘was my first pavlova — before I bit into it.’ New Zealand Fulbrighters and their spouses became quite accustomed to making pavlovas. Food, after all, is one of the differences between cultures that are fun. Geraldine McDonald, a Fulbright researcher in 1981, made this comment in her diary ‘For those who want to know what it was really like in New York’:

"My first [pavlova] was a flop and I ate it for breakfast, but I've mastered the art now, and have equipped myself with a bowl, an egg-beater and a spring- base pan and all the ingredients. The pavlovas have been very popular and I put kiwifruit on top. I've been making 9-egg ones so they are quite big but seem to disappear in a flash. It also provides a good conversation piece, as they say in the women's magazines."

One New Zealand couple had so many invitations to dine that in the end they were accepting invitations to breakfasts.

The small problems were many and various. Frank Evison had to cut down his appreciative consumption of American coffee when he finally realised just what was keeping him awake. A few had problems with beauracracy, mainly because of ignorance of the local rules. One had trouble getting back into the States after a short spell in Mexico, but the border guard ‘had been stationed in Paekakariki during World War Two and had fond memories of New Zealand.’

Another found a hitch when he tried to re-enter the States after a short stop in Canada; a call to the Fulbright headquarters in Washington was needed to solve that one. ‘To enter the United States,’ wrote one Kiwi who had the usual J 1 visa, ‘we had to prove we had enough money to support us. To allow my wife to get a job we then had to prove we did not have enough.’

Nowadays credit cards can help out in monetary difficulties, but in the 1960s and 1970s credit cards were still a novelty to New Zealanders. Some who travelled widely on Educational or Vocational Development Grants page 68travelled overnight by bus, to save accommodation costs. A graduate student and his wife kept themselves by babysitting; taking over the care of houses and families for one- or two-week shifts, they earned $15 a day (in 1972) and their keep.

Illness could be frightening for someone accustomed to a government health care system. Those with comprehensive insurance were glad of it. ‘The bills were quite staggering,’ one Kiwi remembered. Another was told by his insurance company when he got back to Palmerston North that his child's illness in the States had used up the entire year's profits for that particular branch.

Some ‘enjoyed’ quite bizarre experiences. ‘I was in the washroom of a bar in Washington, washing my hands and minding my own business when a smartly dressed young black came in carrying a small brown paper parcel. He gave me a big friendly smile. Then he unwrapped the package,’ wrote Gordon Smith, who was travelling on a Vocational Development Grant in 1979. The package held an efficient looking hand gun. Smith didn't wait to dry his hands, or even turn off the faucet. ‘I didn't want to find out whether the smile was for his pleasure in his new purchase, or the finding of a use for it so quickly.’

In 1978 another New Zealander was ‘stopped at traffic lights right beside a motor cyclist who was shooting away at a truck that had forced him off the side of the road.’ Other New Zealanders remarked that doing fieldwork in the woods during shooting season could be extremely hazardous. For many New Zealanders the realisation that, by living in the States, they were virtually living in a prospective war zone, was unexpectedly upsetting. One remarked on it as ‘a heaviness in the blood’, and Maris O'Rourke wrote, ‘I hadn't felt that way before. It was frightening, and I felt so powerless.’

Of all the problems, however, the most frequently mentioned was loneliness. Americans were friendly and hospitable, but many of the New Zealand Fulbrighters worked so hard that they did not have time to make social contacts. Belonging to a church or service club could help a lot. (This applied to Americans in New Zealand as well. One American in Otago became so involved with his church, because of his need for companionship, that he abandoned geology and studied for the ministry instead. This, he said, was the everlasting benefit of his Fulbright grant.)

Many of the New Zealanders who answered the questionnaire sent out as part of the preparation for this history, stated that they wished the Fulbright organisation had done more in the way of hosting while they were in the States. ‘The organisation tends, in my experience, to leave grantees largely to their own devices, concerning itself largely with visa regulations and the like,’ wrote a 1976 grantee. ‘More could be done to bring the Fulbright scholars together while in the host country.’ A 1962 Fulbrighter remarked that he thought ‘Rotary Clubs do a better job of promoting mutual understanding’. Others commented that, because they worked with multinational organisations and lived in International Houses, they met mostly non Americans.

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Black and white group photograph of participants in the Fulbright Regional Conference in Santa Barbara. Two men in the foreground play guitars. The group are standing against a grassy background

Fulbright Regional Conference, Santa Barbara, 1977.

It has been a matter for concern throughout the programme. It has been recognised from the very beginning that contact with the ‘ordinary’ citizens of the host country pays off best in fulfilling the aims of mutual understanding. If everyone who had been in the States went home and shared his or her insights into American culture and character, then mutual under standing must surely be furthered. The best propaganda for the United States was the personal reminiscences of the warmth of ordinary American families.

Accordingly, the Council for International Exchange of Scholars (CIES) has several programmes to further personal enrichment activities. Scholars are ‘urged to consult with your faculty associates and other colleagues at the university, preferably before departing from your home country, to page 70identify professional meetings and conferences that will take place during your stay in the US. Attendance at such gatherings is, of course, an excellent way to keep abreast of developments in your discipline as well as to meet colleagues from other institutions.’ The grantees are given funding support for this, on application.

Others are encouraged to apply to give occasional lectures, and thereby spend two or three days on different campuses, through the Occasional Lecturer Programme. Financial assistance may be given for this, as well.

Others are invited to attend conferences for Fulbright scholars which are held each year, usually in the spring, at Washington International Centre of Meridian House International. CIES also organises ‘special events, both professional and recreational in nature, for Fulbright scholars in four metropolitan areas: Boston, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.’ As its 1986 Guide for Visiting Fulbright Scholars points out, CIES also belongs to the National Council for International Visitors: ‘The NCIV, of which CIES is a member, is a federation of community organisations that assist academic and other professional visitors from abroad to learn more about the United States. The organisations can arrange home hospitality, sightseeing trips, and visits with professional colleagues.’

Many of the American universities have more informal schemes, setting up host family arrangements or orientation weekends, all of which seem to be very successful. Alan Jamieson, who was in the States in 1974, listed examples of most of these efforts as his highlights: ‘Attendance at the Fulbright Scholar Conference, Ohio, March 1975; presenting seminars as representative of the University of Illinois at University of Mississippi and Toronto Universities; developing our relationship with our host family.’

Those New Zealanders who were able to take spouse and/or family along were often not as lonely as those who were young and shy and single. Some of the Fulbrighters had been to the States when single, and they all remarked that going with a family group made the award different, more full of possibilities, more interesting. They were older and more confident, of course, which must have been a factor in the improved experience, but many also noted that the most significant social contacts were made through spouse or children.

Given the youth of many of the Fulbrighters, it is not surprising that so many who embarked on their experience in a single state emerged from it married. One wrote that he ‘applied as a single male, went as a married man, and returned as a father’, while Angus MacIntyre, a graduate student in 1972, said: ‘My wife is Californian, now living in New Zealand. My major professor introduced us to one another. I have many things to curse him for, but for his match-making I continually thank him.’

The questionnaire sent to former Fulbrighters was divided into three broad sections. The first had the aim of establishing the quality, quantity and value of the social contacts that the Fulbrighter made during tenure. The final question in this section asked whether any of the friends made during tenure became a spouse or partner. There were ‘yes’ and ‘no’ boxes to be page 71ticked, and three lines for comment, if needed. These lines were often filled in; it seemed that those who ticked ‘no’ liked to say why, and those who ticked ‘yes’ enjoyed the opportunity to express remembered happiness.

Many of the ‘no’ comments were most entertainingly frivolous: ‘Not for want of trying!’ was a favourite. Some gallant Americans added, ‘This is not to say there weren't some jolly attractive Kiwis!’ Another remarked, ‘Given more time, who knows what would have happened?’ There were hints of glasses of wine shared by candlelight. ‘Only one thing stands out clearly. But I wouldn't dare describe it. She wouldn't appreciate the publicity.’

Others ticked ‘no’ because they were married already. ‘Already spoused,’ wrote one, and another, ‘Already committed.’ One ungallant Kiwi boy friend was flown out to meet his girl's parents at their cost — and married one of her friends instead. However, more than 60 of the 662 Fulbrighters who responded ticked ‘yes’, indicating much romance along with the other rewards of Fulbright tenure. There is even one case of an American Fulbrighter marrying a New Zealand Fulbrighter — during tenure — which seems surprising when one considers that they should have been going in different directions.

In the days of the ‘boat people’, some met their future spouses on the ship going out or the ship coming home. Nowadays, with the speed and induced numbness of air travel, this does not happen so often. A surprising number indicated that they met their spouses in libraries. Others married fellow students; one married her professor. ‘I met my future wife a week after arriving in the States,’ wrote another, ‘and remain as infatuated with her now as I was then.’ Many of those who married during tenure cited the wedding ceremony as the highlight of their time, and some even declared that their marriages fulfilled the Fulbright aim better than the award itself.

One American Fulbrighter met his future wife on a blind date organised by a fellow American Fulbrighter — and his friend met his future wife on that date as well: ‘A rather productive evening for two bachelor Yankee Fulbrighters.’

Many scholars formed partnerships in the host country and afterwards. Many collaborated in the writing of research papers, and others co- authored books. A 1971 scholar, James Coxon, was appointed Adjunct Professor of Chemistry of the University of Florida in 1986, a recognition of the collaborative studies conducted between Florida and Canterbury in the years since his Fulbright award. Some law firms formed more businesslike partnerships, and at least one Auckland firm now makes a habit of sending a partner to Harvard each year for study and observation with the opposite firm in Boston, because the original Fulbright exchange of one of the partners was so very productive. There were many research partnerships set up too; new tomato varieties now grown in New Zealand were the result of co-operative Fulbright studies. ‘As a result of a visit to Lincoln College I was able to establish an undergraduate exchange programme between Lincoln and Oregon State University,’ James Oldfield wrote. Five or six students travel annually because of this partnership.

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Another space for comment on the questionnaire aroused a great deal of interest. This was in the question that asked the age grouping of the Fulbrighter at the time of tenure. The men and women who replied often commented, spontaneously on what they considered the ideal age for receiving a Fulbright award. Louis Smith, a 1974 Fulbright researcher, wrote:

"The timing (of the Fulbright award) was propitious on several grounds. The year caught me mid-career. I had been at my university for almost twenty years and I had another twenty to go. I had my professorship, had written several books, gotten research grants etc., and was in the middle of a classical Levinson-style mid-life questioning if not crisis. At times I feel like I should have taken the lotusland alternative, for the intellectual turmoil, while exciting to the point of exhilaration, has just about worn me out. In an important sense the Fulbright set up the last half of my career. And that seems no mean accomplishment for any kind of intellectual programme or experience.

President Reagan, in a speech at the White House on 24 May 1982, spoke of the ‘flickering spark in us all which, if struck at just the right age ... can light the rest of our lives, elevating our ideals, deepening our tolerance, sharpening our appetite for knowledge about the rest of the world. Educational and cultural exchanges, especially among our young, provide a perfect opportunity for this precious spark to grow, making us more sensitive and wiser international citizens through our careers.’

Most of the graduate students were in their early twenties; some said they thought this too young. Overawed by the experience, they immersed themselves in frantic study, and then became lonely. They were often shy. Many commented that when they went the second time they gained much more, though of course factors other than age were working here. In 1978 the Foundation in New Zealand recognised this, and removed the age limit of 35 years for graduate student awards.

Age also affected personal expectations of what the Fulbright award would bring. The young thought it would be the ‘open sesame’ to a brilliant career, while older scholars were more realistic.

The comments of those who had been in their thirties when they took up tenure seemed to indicate that they were happy with their age. One wrote that he ‘was ideally placed to obtain new ideas, fresh input’. Another said that, at that time of life, the award was ‘a refresher’. Yet another com mented ‘I still believe this was an excellent age to have gone — too old to be swept away by the superficial gloss, mature enough to look "underneath" — and still plenty young enough to have a wonderful time.’ ‘An excellent dis tancing from our system to give me better perspectives,’ was the verdict of one scholar who thought that, with promotion still ahead, the Fulbright benefits could be fully realised.

‘I received the award at a time when I felt I needed some new experiences page 73to help me look objectively at my job and the way I was doing it,’ wrote one who had gained a Fulbright when he was in his forties. Another remarked that that age was ideal because his family was ‘old enough to come along and young enough to enjoy the experience’.

Another who had been in his fifties saw his award ‘as a reward for long and faithful service’. ‘It was a wonderful summing-up visit, at a crucial time in my work. It staved off thought of retirement for several years,’ wrote another, who added: ‘I'm now, at sixty-one, ready for another injection!’ One of the Fulbrighters who was in his sixties during tenure did not agree with him: ‘Too old to get new ideas.’

One scholar wrote, ‘Age seems irrelevant to ultimate results.’ Was he right? It is interesting, perhaps, that so many did make such spontaneous comment. There are two factors here: the value of the Fulbright to the individual in a social sense, and in terms of his or her career.

One Fulbrighter wrote that his experience ‘opened up a completely new range of possibilities and at the same time broadened my expectations of what constitutes a "good job".’ Another called it ‘a significant credential’. If this is the aim of the Fulbright scheme, then it seems logical that a scholar should be as young as possible, because the prestige of having had an award leads to better jobs and more promotion. But is this the purpose of the exchange?

Senator Fulbright and the other men and women who established the programme in 1945 saw it as an agent for social interaction for international understanding and peace. ‘I wish to suggest,’ Senator Fulbright said in 1976, ‘that we should consider trans-national exchange not solely or even primarily as an intellectual or academic experience, but as the most effective means — in the words of Albert Einstein — to deliver mankind from the menace of war.’ Wilbur Switzer, a 1974 Fulbright teacher, had a similar opinion: ‘Fulbright grants (or exchanges) should not be a basis for job upgrading. The experience is reward enough; being able to share it is a personal and professional responsibility. If one is job-hunting, the programme will be short-changed.’