The Influence of Fulbright on Family

Liz Bergey, Fulbright Alumni Ambassador
Associate Professor of Biology at University of Oklahoma
October 2007 - April 2008, Fulbright U.S. Scholar to Thailand

Being a Fulbrighter has definitely been the highpoint of my academic career – It brought on the challenges and stimulation of teaching and doing research with new colleagues in a new environment, with the bonus of my children getting to experience living in Thailand. My Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program grant was not my first trip to Thailand. Twenty-five years before, I was a Peace Corps volunteer working with fish farmers, and I had always wanted to return. As a Fulbrighter, I was hosted at Chiang Mai University, in the north. I met my close colleague Dr. Porntip though the Internet, where I found her lab’s website and we corresponded. I received a teaching/research position for six months and it was a busy time, especially with my six- and nine-year-old children. My remembered fragments of Thai were helpful in traveling and at markets, but not so helpful in an academic environment (where English is generally understood, if not spoken).

I taught a full graduate course in Medical Entomology and incorporated active learning, with students making frequent presentations in English. Teaching undergraduates was more of a challenge because of their limited English and I developed highly pictorial PowerPoint presentations, which were available to students before class from a campus copy shop. In Ecology, Dr. Porntip annotated my two presentations, but in Invertebrate Biology, I was the sole instructor for four weeks.

My last two months, during the university’s academic break, were devoted to research. It was a tremendous pleasure working with such a large, diverse group (including my children). We spent a week in cottages in a national park, and colleagues and graduate students came and went as their schedules allowed (faculty have academic duties throughout their breaks). We had long days, starting before dawn, studying the streams in a beautiful landscape. This week was followed by many hours in the lab counting aquatic organisms.

My children attended an international school. My daughter thrived, and I hired a graduate student to tutor my son. They learned some Thai, made friends, enjoyed the food, befriended a stray dog, went on an overnight train trip, went bamboo rafting, elephant riding, and participated in festivals (imagine the pleasure of releasing a mini-hot air balloon into the night sky) and didn’t get behind in their schooling.

My Fulbright experience was particularly meaningful for the linkages it created. My colleagues and I continue to collaborate. We’ve traveled back and forth on visits, giving lectures and attending conferences. We’ve published together and continue to do so. My favorite post-Fulbright collaboration is serving as a co-advisor for a Thai graduate student, who recently spent six months in my lab. My daughter loved Thailand and is currently there as a high school exchange student with the Kenndy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Abroad Program, which like the Fulbright Program, is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. She’s making plans for additional overseas adventures with the eventual goal of an international career.