Програма академiчних обмiнiв iменi Фулбрайта в Українi

8 серпня 2014

Ashley Bigham: “The Fulbright experience has shaped the way I view the world and my own role it in”

Ashley Bigham: “The Fulbright experience has shaped the way I view the world and my own role it in”

Bigham, Ashley
U.S. Fulbright Student 2013-2014

Yale University, New Haven, CT
Art and Architectural History | Cultural Fortifications of Western Ukraine
Center for Urban History of East Central Europe, Lviv
01.01.2014 - 01.10.2014

A few years from now people will still be asking me about my experience as a Fulbright Fellow in Ukraine.  What was it like?  What did you learn? Or even more specific questions: What do they eat? It is nice to imagine that I will have the perfect answers for all of those questions neatly packed in short anecdotes about the everyday mishaps of living in a foreign culture: the time I asked for a "purse" instead of a "bag" at the grocery store, the time I missed my train and almost ended up crossing the border into a neighboring country, the many times I unknowingly ordered a delicious looking salad only to find a key ingredient was beef tongue. Instead, I hope to share the triumphs along with the trials: the first time I was able to buy train tickets speaking only in Ukrainian, hearing locals recount their childhood memories of visiting Ukrainian castles, watching as my colleagues listen to their first Johnny Cash song.

I came to Ukraine to study the revitalization of castles and fortresses. I quickly found that each Ukrainian has his or her favorite castle, and I was encouraged to visit them all. I quickly realized there were so many; I could never visit them all. Instead, I focused on the castles in Western Ukraine that are interesting in their architectural history and those that also play a role in the modern life of Ukrainians. I researched the multi-cultural influences that created Ukrainian castles and ideas about how the public can connect with this history in the future. Working with The Center for Urban History in Lviv, I taught a seminar for university students entitled "Cultural Fortresses: Reconsidering Preservation and Memorial Architecture." I participated in an international architecture workshop in Kyiv, studied the Ukrainian language, presented my work to other researchers, and of course, traveled to many castles. I still have three months of my grant remaining, and I hope to publish a small book of my research findings before I leave Ukraine.

With all of the triumphs, there have also been moments of sadness. This year was momentous for Ukraine. I watched my Ukrainian friends struggle to understand the rapidly changing world around them.

As the entire world focused on Ukraine, I suddenly saw the greater importance of the Fulbright Program. This year's Ukrainian Fulbright Students were given the unique ability to share with Americans what was happening in Ukraine from our first-hand experiences. We were able to cut through the media rhetoric and recount our everyday encounters to Americans who were just beginning to take an interest in Ukraine.

There were times of uncertainty, of course. But overall I was encouraged by the thousands of Ukrainians, young and old, who were committed to improving their country. When my city of Lviv saw destruction of government property during a public protest, volunteers returned to the site the next day to organize a cleanup. Time after time when faced with impossible circumstances, Ukrainians showed great courage, discipline, and humanity.

The Fulbright experience has shaped the way I view the world and my own role it in. I still don't know exactly what it means to be Ukrainian. Instead, I am discovering what it means to me to be American. Looking at my own country through the eyes of Ukrainians has shed new light on something I thought I already knew. Ultimately, my future will be shaped by my experiences, connections, and memories from Ukraine. And for this I am very grateful.