Sunday, August 31, 2008

Shanghai Fulbright Orientation

Beijing Impressions: Beijing is big, as in BIG. (Think LA on steroids.) Renmin University is just outside the third ring road, which is a 14 lane road in the thick of the city. Distances are farther than they appear. Renmin University had been described as a “small” university, but it takes a solid 20 minutes to walk across campus. There are nooks and crannies that we haven’t begun to discover even after a week. Outings always involve walking a mile or two.

Shanghai: The Fulbright orientation was held in Shanghai from Aug. 24-27th. We awoke on the 24th and walked down to the east gate of Renmin (Dongmen) to watch the Olympic Men’s Marathon run by. A frissure of excitement went through the crowd as a helicopter signaled the imminent arrival of the runners. It was our one marathon event. Rick has run over 40 marathons and represented the US in two Goodwill games, so he had a special affection for this race and the masterful athletes who competed in it. We returned to our apartment to watch the conclusion, then met Ding Xiangshun and took a cab to the airport for our trip to Shanghai.

Shanghai is a huge, huge city, seemingly more densely packed than sprawling Beijing. We stayed at the Portman Ritz-Carlton (thank you Uncle Sam), which lived up to its name. The Shanghai protocol is not to allow 4 people in a room, so we had two adjoining rooms, slippers, robes, marble baths – the works. We had two lovely dinners at restaurants near the hotel. Both stretched our understanding of Chinese food. It isn’t like home. We’ll need to develop more flexible palates!

While the adults had a day and a half of very interesting meetings, the children participated in a children’s program. They saw more of Shanghai than the adults. We all had a shared outing Tuesday afternoon to a restaurant on the Bund (riverfront), then onto the Shanghai Urban Planning Museum. The museum contained a huge model of Shanghai of the future. It was breathtaking in scope. Then on to Yiyuan Gardens and market for a flavor of a 17th century (?) Chinese villa. In the evening we attended a reception at theU.S. consulate, which offered some fascinating conversation with Chinese nationals who had traveled to the US on the Fulbright program. Every day reveals more about the complexity and depth of this country. It defies generalization.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Settling In

We arrived safely and on time -- a mere 21 hours after we set out from Newton, MA! We spent 13 1/2 hours in a cocoon flying over the north poll. There were 9 seats across, each with an electronic babysitter to keep us controlled. We barely glanced out the window as we flew over bays I've never heard of and beautiful ice caps. That is a long time to be confined. (Note to self: Avoid chicken sandwich next time...) We were met at the airport by Ding Xiangshun, our faculty liaison, and a student. The came in a large van, ample room for the 8 checked bags we brought. (Our resolve to pack light did not hold....) Anna and I had our first exposure to Asian toilets at the parking garage of the airport. This will take some adjustments.... With one phone call (or text message?) Ding had another 3 students waiting for us at the building to help carry our luggage up to the apartment. With the tightened security because of the Olympics we needed to register at the foreigners office within 2 hours of arrival so Dings and I dropped Rick and the girls off at a restaurant and then went over to the registration office. This would have been impossible without his help! Another stop at a money machine and store and it was time to meet back at the apartment and REST. Jet lag has hit us each differently, so at any one time someone is asleep. Just found out that the wireless left by the past occupants works (bless them!). We would have written much earlier if we knew.

Our apartment is a 3 bedroom, fairly bright apartment on the 17th floor of a graduate student dorm. We'll definitely enjoy putting a personal touch on this home. Once we get settled we'll make a video and send it around.

Next steps:

- Find out how to get sheets. (When you are tired, they are not necessary!)

- How to turn on the hot water for showers.

- How to find the driver for our 9 am appointment tomorrow morning at the BISS school.

We were glad to bring a bag full of comfort food from home. It has helped to have familiar food around for this transition period.

Pre-Departure: Detritus

We were awash in a sea of “stuff” as we clean, sort and pack for our departure and prepare the house for rental. It was a perfect storm for clutter. Rick and I had married late (49 and 39), so we two households of stuff when we married. We, of course, culled only slightly when we married, instead putting boxes into the attic and basement. Add 14 years of marriage and 2 more children and two people with similar propensities to save and, voila, there were piles and piles of detritus. We embarked on archeological digs throughout the house, fully accepting that there is not going to be a biographer and perhaps we did not need to save everything. In the end we resorted to piling stuff into boxes and resolved that we will finish the project when we return. Our favorite found item: a lovely self-portrait that Julia had done when she was 8 years old.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tips for China Fulbrighters

Tips for China Faculty Fulbrighters

• Our first step was figuring out whether it was possible to take our daughters Elizabeth (11) and Anna (9) to China for the semester or a year. (Our oldest daughter Julia and son-in-law Jason are newly settled in Denver.) We explored it both on a personal level (would it be good for our children, opportunities, etc.) We brainstormed, explored the schooling options, talked with John Garvey, the dean of BC Law School, and the Pat Deleeuw, Vice Provost for Faculties at Boston College. It turns out our Dean and Boston College were incredibly supportive of applying for a Fulbright. That made the process much easier.

• Accept that there is a fair amount of uncertainty in the Fulbright China application process. I tried to get more specific information from the CIES folks (e.g., how many applicants, what is the likelihood of getting past the fall review committee, how many of the faculty whose profile is sent to China are actually rejected by China, etc..) Nothing, nada. They played it close to the vest.

• Assuming you pass the US committee, which we heard about in November, your application is sent to China for their review and approval. We did not receive a final confirmation of the Fulbright Award until March 14. (Yes, that deep into the spring semester!) It was helpful to know that the China awards often are made in March. Thankfully I alerted our Academic Dean in the fall so that he knew there was the bubble of uncertainty in the schedule. At the end it was a real burden on the school to have to wait to finalize the first year law school schedule.

• The March 14th notification only told us we had received a Fulbright Award to China. The university placement occurred in May. That was actually a good outcome for our family. We had a chance to think about China “as a whole” and study the map, track where other Fulbright professors had taught, and get a sense of the options.

• We trolled websites (like the one we are posting to) and found it very helpful. Once we knew our institutional placement we made contact with the Fulbright professor who was at the University. In our case, Anne Donohue, a journalism professor, was teaching at Renmin University in Spring 2008. She was invaluable in sharing her experience and advice. Her blog,, shared the ups and downs of her experience. That helped manage our own expectations. Since we are going to live in the same apartment that she stayed in, we were able to purchase many of the household items that she used to make her apartment a home. (She, in turn, had a similar arrangement with the professor who taught at Renmin in fall 2008.)