Most faculty members would be thrilled to earn one Fulbright scholarship. An educator at Marywood University, however, holds the distinction of meriting two different Fulbright awards—the Core Scholarship and the Specialist Scholarship. Alexander Dawoody, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Administrative Studies, recently completed his scholarly work abroad through the Fulbright Program.
Dr. Dawoody went to Baku, Azerbaijan during the 2012-2013 academic year as a Fulbright Core Scholar, then traveled to Tegucigalpa, Honduras in October 2013 to serve as a Fulbright Specialist. His main focus of teaching in both countries included the American system of government, public administration, and international relations. During each of these experiences, he was still able to teach his Marywood classes via Moodle, an online learning platform. The purpose of Fulbright, though, goes beyond teaching.
"Fulbright is not only about teaching, it's about building bridges between countries," explained Dr. Dawoody. "We go to promote friendship between the American people and the people of the host country and invite them to come to the U.S. to do the same thing."
In addition to teaching, Dr. Dawoody participated in U.S. Embassy-sponsored activities, served on panels, gave public lectures, and explored cultural aspects of each country and its people. While in Azerbaijan, he had the opportunity to meet with the U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Richard Morningstar. He toured several cities, including Baku, Lankaran, Salyan, Kurdemir, and Khachmaz, with embassy staff and lectured at embassy-sponsored events on the American system of government and the American presidential election. While there, he taught graduate and undergraduate courses in international relations and public administration at Baku State University and Qafqaz University, served on Fulbright and the International Research Exchange (IREX) panels to select scholars from Azerbaijan to visit and study in the United States, provided consultation on administration and development to businesses and NGOs, advised faculty and students on professional conferences, scholarly publications, human subject research, research methodology, forming alumni associations, and studying abroad.
The Fulbright Specialist Scholarship, which is a shorter-term assignment, brought him to Honduras in October 2013. Since Dr. Dawoody was approved and placed on a Fulbright Specialist Roster since 2010, he was selected by the U.S. State Department upon his return from Azerbaijan to see if he was interested in serving in this Central American country, which has been plagued by poverty, political corruption, and a flourishing drug culture. Education, Dr. Dawoody said, is an important part of turning the tide, which is why the State Department and Fulbright Program are vested in sending educators to this region. He explained that, in Honduras, 60 percent of the population lives in poverty; within that 60 percent, 21 percent live in extreme poverty, with an income of about a dollar a day.
"Despite the challenges they are facing, people in Honduras wake up every day with hope for a better day, strengthened by strong family and community relations to overcome incredible challenges" Dr. Dawoody observed. While there, he taught graduate and grant writing courses at UNITEC in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, consulted with several NGOs on capacity building, and devised a strategic plan for the Public Policy Institute on growth and development. He also had the opportunity to visit Mayan ruins in Copan, a cultural highlight of the experience, as well as visiting the cities of Valle de Angeles and San Jose.
Proficient in several languages in addition to English, including Arabic, Farsi (Persian), Kurdish, and Turkish, Dr. Dawoody also speaks Spanish well, if not fluently. He encourages interested educators to apply for Fulbright placements that utilize their professional expertise through a well-articulated purpose. Additionally, their language skills should be compatible with the host country.
"Fulbright scholarship is not only about teaching. Rather, it involves learning about other cultures and introducing the American culture and values to them. It is about building relationships that foster peace, cooperation, and shared values that will continue beyond the period of the scholarship," Dr. Dawoody emphasized. "Language proficiency is important since most people in the non-English speaking countries cannot communicate well in English, including both faculty and students. And, if you are not familiar with the host-country's language, show an initiative to learn it either before or during your scholarship. The more proficient or familiar you are in the language of the host country, the better. Remember, Fulbright is not about cultural supremacy, or proving to others that our culture is better, but rather it is about exchanges and learning from each other as members of the global community."
It's also important to go beyond the classroom and delve into the culture of the people. During both of his Fulbright assignments, Dr. Dawoody formed friendships with the people and celebrated their cultural events—from the Azeri New Year (Newroz) and Honduran soccer matches to weddings and family visits in each country. He also worked with host universities to cultivate reciprocal agreements between them and Marywood University, to allow for future faculty and student exchanges. These personal and professional partnerships continue long after the term of the scholarship ends, he said.
An Iraqi native and a former Kurdish refugee who was granted asylum in the U.S., Dr. Dawoody was particularly transformed by the broader lessons he learned through the Fulbright experience, which transcended scholarship and helped him to evaluate and appreciate what he now enjoys as a naturalized U.S. citizen.
"I learned the differences between students here in the United States and those I had taught in either Azerbaijan or Honduras. I was aiming at focusing on best practices and challenges facing us all," said Dr. Dawoody. "We live in the most blessed country on earth, with vast resources provided to our education system. We also enjoy the best system of government in the world, despite its many challenges. We need to cherish all that and build upon them, learn from others, and contribute as much as possible in order to make the world a better place for us today and for future generations," added Dr. Dawoody.
"Often, we tend to forget what we have and take it for granted, disabling our active engagement and participation in the democratic process through cynicism and clouding it with the culture of complaints," he said. "Yet, when we look at people living in countries that have much less than us in resources and much more than us in challenges, and we observe how hopeful they are to overcome the mounting levels of poverty, political corruption, dissipating infrastructure, and poor public service, it forces us to pause and set our focus on what ought to matter in life. To me, this was the most memorable and humbling experience."
Dr. Dawoody concluded, "Fulbright Scholarship and its experience are more than teaching and lecturing. It is about involving each other to engage in the human experience. It is what one of our nation's founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, had said: 'Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.'"
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