Elizabeth Klein, professor, health behavior and health promotion, College of Public Health, reflects on her Fulbright Distinguished Chair Award to Adelaide, Australia in 2021. Klein delivered this reflection at the annual Fulbright and Fulbright-Hays Reception on April 5, 2022.
My Fulbright experience was inexorably linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. From the rigorous application process to enter Australia as a foreigner, to the strict two-week hotel quarantine after arrival, it didn’t seem that my family and I would ever begin. We arrived in country in July 2021, we became accustomed to the startled reactions when our American accents sounded shocking after a year and a half without tourism. Once we were cleared to our final destination of Adelaide, I felt compelled as an epidemiologist to host discussions with researchers, physicians, and frankly everyone about strategies to combat vaccine hesitancy and lessons learned. I had both formal and impromptu discussions about the state of the United State versus Australian pandemic response, the messaging campaigns about vaccination, current concerns about waning vaccine efficacy and more. I was happy to be able to serve as a friendly neighborhood epidemiologist domestically and abroad.
My Fulbright grant felt like when a new friend invites you to a dinner party that is populated with a diverse and incredible collection of people, wonderful food and drink, where powerful conversations take place. That’s the Fulbright experience – an amazing opportunity is made available, but those who engage as Scholars must show up ready to listen, learn, and be open. When we have Fulbright Scholars at our institution, it means we are hosting that dinner party, asking questions, engaging in meaningful conversations, and sharing the obvious and obscure wonders of our country.
Cultural exchange programs like Fulbright help to facilitate experiential learning about a place. I am grateful that my husband and two sons were part of this experience, as we all fell in love with Australia. I have no doubt our time there was impactful: my 13-year-old was hand feeding Eastern Grey kangaroos in an open range wildlife park, when he looked straight at me and said, “Mom, this is life changing.” And despite the strict restrictions within South Australia that limited interstate travel to much of the rest of the country, we adventured. We camped in safari tents in the Outback, we attended an Aboriginal smoke ceremony to welcome and hear origin stories, we snorkeled with 80 wild dolphins in the Southern Ocean and watched as many beach sunsets as we could. My children attended school, made friends and also learned about American stereotypes as well as Aussie slang. The depth of these experiences came from the energy and time we spent listening, learning, and exploring.
All in all, I cannot say enough about the profound experience my time as Distinguished Chair in Applied Policy had on my professional, personal, and family life. My son was right, this experience really was life changing.
Klein wrote a blog about her Fulbright experience: Kleinskotter travels.