Balancing Work and Family as a Fulbright Scholar to Argentina

Anna Larsen, Fulbright Alumni Ambassador
ssociate Professor of Chemistry, Ithaca College
2010 Fulbright Core Scholar to Argentina

My Fulbright U.S. Scholar grant to Argentina made it possible for me to work with a group of top-notch organometallic chemistry researchers in the oldest Argentine academic institution, La Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA).  It also made it possible for my family and me to live in and get to know the culture and people of Argentina.

I met my future Fulbright host, Professor Fabio Doctorovich, at a Gordon Research Conference in 2007.  He gave a very interesting presentation, related to my field of research, and we had a good chat there.  When my sabbatical application was due, I contacted Fabio with an idea of collaboration. Fabio responded that he would be delighted, but that Argentina lacked any funds for U.S. visiting scholars.  The Fulbright grant was our only hope. We put together an application and by January 2010, our project was approved for funding.

Working on my papers on the balcony in Buenos Aires

In August 2010, my family was on a plane to Buenos Aires. Within the first two days, I discovered how difficult living in Argentina could become with my close-to-non-existent Spanish.  I needed to ride buses around Buenos Aires, which requires talking to the driver at the entrance. After a week of intensive Spanish classes, I got down a few of the most necessary expressions and, to my astonishment, became functional in everyday life.  I cannot imagine this happening anywhere but in Buenos Aires; the porteños (locals of Buenos Aires) are some of the friendliest and most helpful people on Earth!

At the university, I was able to lecture in English and quickly became familiar with Doctorovich’s laboratory and chemistry department.  I became involved in new, fascinating research on the chemistry of nitroxyl, a molecule with a crucial effect on cardiac function of living systems.  Our paper on this subject was published in the highly respected Coordination Chemistry Reviews Journal in 2011 and there is currently a related book in preparation, which I helped with at the inception stage.

I also had a rare opportunity for a hands-on experience with the state-of-the-art single crystal X-ray diffractometer.  My students at Ithaca College prepared a crystalline sample, whose structure we studied and solved in Buenos Aires, with publication in an Acta Crystallographica journal.  We are continuing the collaboration on crystallography. In May 2014, during my short visit to UBA, we solved another crystal structure and are currently preparing it for publication. This research contributes to the development of new conducting materials for safer, more environmentally-friendly electrical batteries.   I am hoping to develop opportunities for my students to connect with their peers in Argentina. So far, one of my Argentine colleagues has visited and gave a presentation at Ithaca College.

My children with a map of Argentina

My children attended a local school full time, making many friends and learning so much, sometimes in unexpected ways. My high-energy, nine-year-old son started speaking Spanish and discovered a passion for calligraphy using a fountain pen, which is mandatory in Argentina.  He is still very much into Spanish and taking it at school. My daughter, who was 13 at the time and entering an awkward teenage phase, is now 18 and has been accepted to college where she plans to continue studying Spanish and will major in Biology. She is still in touch with friends from her 8th grade class in Buenos Aires.

Through my recent involvement with the Fulbright Alumni Ambassador program, I connected even more with a community of Fulbrighters from the United States and other countries. In the spring of 2015, my college hosted a Fulbright Visiting Scholar from India, who gave a talk on organometallic and inorganic chemistry and had lively interactions with our students and faculty during his visit.

Also, during the Northeastern Regional Meeting of the American Chemical Society, I was involved in organizing and chaired the “Fulbright Scholarship in STEM fields” event, which attracted about 40 interested participants and seven Fulbright Alumni Scholars from the New York area, who shared their Fulbright experiences in Turkey, Slovenia, Costa Rica, and other countries.

Experiencing Argentina as a Fulbright family was truly unique and invaluable.  Besides expanding one’s own horizons, living in a foreign country is a unique way to better understand yourself and your place in the world.  Discovering and building new world connections, via collaborative work and person-to-person interactions, is what the Fulbright Program is about.  It feels like my connection to Fulbright brought more of the world to my home institution.