We sat down with Dr. Rodica Mihaila, Executive Director of the Romanian-U.S. Fulbright Commission, and asked her to share some of the exciting opportunities available to Fulbright U.S. Scholars in Romania.
Dr. Mihaila’s path to Fulbright began as an undergraduate student studying English literature at the University of Bucharest, when she took an American Studies class with a visiting Fulbright professor. At the time, there were no other courses offered in American literature or culture in Romania. Inspired by this experience, she pushed for the introduction of courses in American literature and civilization after the fall of the Romanian communist regime in 1989. She later founded the first American Studies Program in the country, along with a group of enthusiastic PhD students.
"Given the long-standing cooperation between the Fulbright Commission and the program in American Studies at the University of Bucharest, I accepted the Executive Director position seven years ago and consequently helped make the impact of the Fulbright program visible in many universities across Romania," Dr. Mihaila says. "Energizing the Fulbright exchanges in Romania has been on the most important - and cherished - accomplishments of my career."
Read on to learn more about Fulbright in Romania!
Romania offers Fulbright Scholars the opportunity to pursue new avenues of research, along with opportunities to make tangible change to the university system and introduce new teaching methodologies. Here, U.S. Scholars discover beautiful places and landscapes, friendly people and unforgettable experiences. We at the Commission are impressed with the very positive impression that our U.S. Scholars have of Romania and with the way they maintain professional and personal ties with their Romanian colleagues and students for years after.
- How is life in Romania unique, or different from American culture? What can Fulbrighters expect when traveling to Romania?
Romania is still a largely ‘undiscovered’ country, which offers many pleasant surprises to its visitors. A majority of Romanians cling to traditions, but at the same time they are eager to learn and absorb new cultures. Many Fulbright grantees have found their contacts with Romanian students to be among their most rewarding teaching experiences. Grantees may expect a very friendly and welcoming atmosphere and an attitude of curiosity and openness on the part of the locals. Indeed, this is a country that repays understanding, flexibility and openness with intense and enriching professional and personal experiences.
- How does the Commission support Fulbright scholars once they are in country? What kinds of activities do you coordinate?
The Commission is in permanent contact with the Fulbright scholars starting several months before their arrival, during the grant and in many instances, for many years after. A considerable number later return to Romania for another Fulbright grant or as Fulbright Specialists. The Commission brings together the U.S. grantees in the country for a variety of orientations, workshops, roundtables and networking events.
- What can Fulbright Scholars interested in teaching and research find in Romania that they cannot find elsewhere?
In many respects, academic life in Romania is in the process of a complete transformation. Romanian institutions are launching new disciplines and new approaches to interdisciplinary work, and reshaping the relationship between the theoretical and practical aspects of teaching. Fulbright Scholars in Romania have the chance to participate directly in this ongoing process and have a part to play in helping it unfold.
- What advice would you give applicants?
Target under-explored teaching and research areas. Be flexible and open to new experiences and local initiatives, and be in good contact with your Romanian colleagues. Last but not least, make the most of available opportunities to participate in the lives of Romanians – not only in the universities, but also outside of academia.
- Looking back on the last few years, what are some of the most interesting projects that have been conducted by Fulbrighters in Romania? Have you seen a local or global impact?
There are too many to do justice to them all, but one particularly innovative project that comes to mind is the conference series "Transatlantic Mountain Cultures: Appalachian and Carpathian Perspectives" organized by several U.S. alumni in cooperation with Romanian colleagues in various countries in the region. The conference examined how landscapes - in this case, the Carpathians and the Appalachians - influence the people and cultures embedded within them, and the little-known synergies between these two very special regions of the world.
It has also been wonderful to see U.S. Fulbrighters play a part in designing new graduate programs in cooperation with their Romanian colleagues. One recent example: Roger Hamlin, Emeritus Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at Michigan State University and current Fulbright Scholar at Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, developed a technical-assistance program at the Faculty of Political, Administrative and Communication Sciences, initiated partnerships, assisted in course and curricula creation, mid-career training for public officials, and joint research. He has been a long-time supporter of the university, and has contributed greatly to the development of higher public administration in Romania.
Fulbright has been present in Romania since 1960, bringing durable changes to the country on its path to progress and democratization. The Romanian-U.S. Fulbright Commission was inaugurated in May 1993, with the support of the American and Romanian Governments, based upon an agreement between the U.S. Department of State and the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Since 1960, more than 3,200 Romanians and Americans have participated in Fulbright exchanges, benefitting from funding for graduate studies, research, university teaching and cultural exchanges in general.