My Fulbright Adventures in the USA

Olga Shabalina, Associate Professor of Marketing at South Ural State University
2012-2013 Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence at Mount St. Mary’s University from Russia

My Fulbright story started in 2009 when, together with Professor Sandra Sjoberg from Mount St. Mary’s University, we launched a virtual joint class “International Marketing”. The class was a great success, helping to develop a long-lasting friendship between our two universities, American and Russian faculty, and students. In 2011, the School of Business at Mount St. Mary’s University applied for a Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence award for me to teach “International Marketing from Non-Western Perspective”. The grant was awarded and my marketing adventures began.

My life changed completely from the start. I was in a permanent state of excitement! Legendary American brands that I often referred to in my Russian class were now tangible and I was consuming them side by side with Americans. I travelled by Greyhound buses; ate Quaker oatmeal, Campbell’s tomato soup, and Green Giant peas; and drank Minute Maid and Starbucks coffee. I drove to work in a yellow Ford together with Mustangs, Jeeps, and Chevrolets. Apart from familiar brands, I discovered a lot of new brands that were even more exciting. I got so excited from an abundance of excellent marketing ideas that I decided to share them with my Russian students who live in a poor marketing environment.

I began by sharing my reflections on marketing in the United States on Live Journal, but writing the long posts were time consuming and impressions were piling rapidly every day. I got the idea for a scrapbook after a visit to the Andy Warhol museum in Pittsburgh. It coincided with the stylistics of pop art and my intention to popularize marketing rather than theorize about it.

The scrapbook, entitled My Fulbright Adventures in the USA, has 50 spreads grouped in four seasons and each spread consists of two parts. The first part, a photo-story, briefly describes one of the marketing adventures I experienced accompanied by a central photo and other ethnographic material collected during my Fulbright – newspaper clippings, ads, photos, comics, postcards, lyrics, quotes from famous American books, tickets, and more. The second part reflects on one aspect of marketing (described in the photo-story) from a cultural perspective. The reflections are based on my personal experience as a buyer or seller of goods or services. Among them: a professor at a university, a student of the Motor Vehicle Administration’s driving license tests, a tenant, a host, a volunteer in Soup Kitchen, a purchaser of a Ford vehicle, and a fan of the Baltimore Ravens to name a few. For instance, boarding a plane according to the number in the boarding pass reminded me of a row of ducks and provoked discussion on the linear thinking of American consumers, and my experience of ordering a checkbook led me to reflect on individualism and customized marketing.

The final spread of the scrapbook is called “Good-bye America or Great Depression”. In fact, it’s about my life before and after Fulbright. Before: relatively low self-esteem, limited network of peers mostly living in Russia, pessimism, and dull marketing environment. After: self-confidence, independent thinking, large network of inspiring peers all over the world, and international projects and conferences.

The pilot version of My Fulbright Adventures in the USA was launched in April 2016 after I won a 2015 Fulbright Alumni Small Grant through the Fulbright Program in Russia. From the start, the project has been an exciting adventure that involved lots of people both in Russia and the United States. They gave advice, helped to test ideas and content, improved photos, discussed design, and gave recommendations on printing and publishing. There were tears, laughter, minutes of happiness and frustration, but throughout it all ‒ a permanent state of excitement like my Fulbright experience in the United State three years prior. This emotional engagement and interaction helped to form an awareness of Fulbright among those people who have never heard of the program.