Sunday, March 6, 2011

Being a Citizen Ambassador

Quick update on life before the main post: I have left Dunedin, and I am now in Wellington for the next 6-8 weeks. I am here to study with a different professor before he heads overseas and also to meet with judges and lawyers here in the capital. I arrived just in time for one of Wellington’s well-known earthquakes, and it freaked me out a bit, but they happen all the time here (in fact, there was another one the other night), so it should become normal to me again soon. I must also say that I am so, so, so grateful to all of you for your love and support during and after the earthquake in ChCh. I am still struggling with my reaction to it, but it gets easier and easier every day. This post is not officially about that, but of course its message is exactly on par.

One of the “requirements” of getting a Fulbright Scholarship is to be a citizen ambassador. Senator Fulbright believed (I think rightly so) that the two best ways to create a smaller world and more understanding is through education and interaction. Thus, the Fulbright scholarship funds educational opportunities. It also, however, asks us to be citizen ambassadors. Basically, we are asked to represent the United States in whatever country we find ourselves.

I actually take this very seriously. I have lived and traveled abroad at some very precarious times, including when we started the war in Iraq and when we reelected President Bush in 2004. Of course, with the earthquake in Christchurch, perhaps I should stop traveling, but actually that has created an amazing opportunity of togetherness and connection, which is at the heart of the Fulbright. While a disaster, it has led to some deep connections (click here for my post about that on Is Yoga Legal).

Anyway, the Fulbright application is actually fairly basic – you need a research proposal, a personal statement, and three letters of recommendation. It helps if you have an affiliation in your host university as well. Specifically, in the personal statement, “Grantees are encouraged to get involved in cultural and/or community activities.” In my personal statement, I mentioned that when I lived in France, I joined a Brazilian percussion group and I hoped to do something similar to that or engage with the yoga community here in New Zealand during my time abroad.

Well, as you all can probably tell, these past few months have been sort of hectic. I got here, traveled, enrolled, traveled, got in an earthquake, and moved to Wellington – all in about 6 weeks time. I have attended one, yes one, yoga class since arriving. For someone who used to attend 3-5 per week, that is like losing a limb. But I was bound and determined to find a yoga community while in Wellington. It turns out that I found the Hare Krishna yoga community.

Sunday night is apparently a special night in the Hare Krishna community. In Tucson, I would often go to Govinda’s for their $3 dinners (thanks Anna and Jamie for starting that tradition!), and it was preceded by a service. I actually never attended the service, though to be honest, I am not sure why. Tonight, however, I attended a Krishna Fest – my first one. Of course, this involved a lot of singing and some dancing, and a talk, and a beautiful feast.

As I was chanting and swaying to the music, I wondered what Senator Fulbright would think of this. I had to smile. I actually think he would love it.

Being a citizen ambassador can mean a lot of things. It can mean attending Partnership Forums where political and business leaders get together to discuss the future of the partnership between two countries (the reason we were all in Christchurch), or it can mean teaching about your home community at a school or community event. It can also mean joining a community and being yourself. It means branching out in new ways, finding a new group of friends, and engaging with people in ways you may not if you were in your safe world back home.

Tonight I went to this event alone. That is a big step for me. But I chatted with people (few of whom were actually kiwis), and I had a lovely time. I may not become a Hare Krishna tomorrow, but I am going back to their yoga class tomorrow night. To me, the most important part of being a citizen ambassador is getting outside my comfort zone and seeing what life is like anywhere and everywhere. Of course, I have tended to find it is pretty similar everywhere. Sometimes, we just need to be jolted, literally, as the earthquake did, or metaphorically as moving to a foreign country does.

As it says on the Fulbright NZ website, “In Senator Fulbright's words, ‘the programme aims ... to bring a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs and thereby to increase the chance that nations will learn at last to live in peace and friendship.’” He may not have been thinking of his future recipients chanting and dancing, but I think the compassion, peace, and friendship aspect of the Hare Krishna evening is exactly what Senator Fulbright would have wanted.

As I said, this idea of being a citizen ambassador means a lot to me; in fact, I think it is far more important than what I will learn while writing my thesis (though of course that is also very, very important). I hope to be able to live up to Senator Fulbright’s vision of community and friendship one chant and yoga class at a time.

Namaste and Blessings!

© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved
This blog is not affiliated with Fulbright or Fulbright New Zealand, and all opinions expressed herein are my own.

No comments:

Post a Comment