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Monday, August 17, 2015

My 2010 Speech at the 50th Anniversary of Fulbright-Romania

Here is the talk I had intended to give at the ceremony in Bucharest on 3 June 2010.  As it happened, I lost the printout in my briefcase, and ad-libbed my part of the program. (I am told that the gist came through.)

Professor Duncan McDougall:

It was an unexpected honor that, on my six week holiday in Europe, which I am taking in recognition of my semi-retirement from Plymouth State University, I would be invited to speak in this distinguished company.  I am humbled. I will attempt to relate a little of my sense of the importance of Fulbright in my life. My tone will have a personal touch, like that which I heard from the minister of higher education earlier this morning.

I was in Florida in the summer of 2007 attending to my 91-year-old father, who was in his last months, when I received a telephone call from my University asking me to apply for a Fulbright scholarship to teach in Romania. When I told my dad about it, his words were: “Oh my God, son, Romania! Isn’t that wonderful?” So, my Fulbright experience began blessed, and it has, indeed, been blessed.

I knew very little about this country when I applied for the Fulbright. I knew that Romania had suffered under 40 years of communism, I knew that it was still, by reputation, among the poorer of the European nations, and I knew that it had recently become part of the European Union. That’s pretty much all I knew. I also was aware of a cooperative agreement between Plymouth State University, where I teach in New Hampshire, and Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj. And, some of the professors who had come back from visits to Babes-Bolyai had spoken of Cluj as a very beautiful city. So when I was asked by my vice-provost to apply for this Fulbright, I did so willingly.

Now, I’m going to bring my perceptions into the present.

One of the things I learned in Cluj was that my Romanian students (contrary to the conventional wisdom that they would expect their professor only to lecture, and would not want to speak in class) responded with enthusiasm to my method of teaching, which is based on my multiple years as a student at Harvard Business School.  My teaching is heavily case-based, wherein the students read case studies of real business situations, do their independent analyses of those situations, and in class discuss the cases. In this pedagogy, participation and dialogue between professor and the students, and among the students, is absolutely essential. I learned in my first class as I read a short case, in segments, from the podium, that the students were eager to participate, and that they enjoyed doing so.

During my Fulbright year, I also did a bit of touring around Romania, and in the process learned a good deal more about your country.  To illustrate, let me ask you, how many of you have accounts on Facebook?  As I thought, there are a good number of hands in the air. On Facebook, how many of you are aware of the “Let’s Improve Romania’s Image” cause? [Only two or three hands are raised.]  Well, shame on the rest of you!  There is such a cause, it is run by a gentleman in Brasov named MORARESCU Claudiu. On that cause’s page I recently read a post by one Vincent Kuiper recommending that Romania emphasize its “beautiful girls and cheap beer” to attract student visitors to the country, whom he feels may one day become investors.  In response, I posted the following message:

“Vincent Kuiper may have more marketing insight than I, but as a 66 year-old American who spent the 2008–2009 academic year teaching in Cluj-Napoca, and travelling throughout Romania, I have another perspective.

The Romanians are hospitable. The Romanians are diverse. The Romanian countryside is spectacularly beautiful. Romania is rich in both culture, and cultures, having had in its history influences of the Greeks, the Romans, the Mongolians, the Turks, the French, the Germans, the Russians, the Serbs, the Austrians, the Hungarians and God only knows how many others. Rural Romania, especially in the North and Southeast is characterized by family farms still being farmed with human and animal muscle. The haystacks and stork’s nests are models for the illustrations I saw as a child as my mother read to me from Grimm’s Fairytales. Romanian education is excellent. My university seniors, in the English line at Babes-Bolyai University were well-read in the classics, competent in mathematics, and a delight to work with. If Romania has a long term problem, it is that the country’s business community is not yet large enough to employ all of the qualified graduates of its many fine universities. Talent-seeking foreign companies would do well to invest in such a country.

Romanian culture is colored by the religious traditions of the Romanian Orthodox Church as well as by the Roman Catholic Church, and this fact has lent a strong sense of values to the majority of Romanians. The 40-year nightmare of communism was unable to kill the Romanian spiritual core, hence Romanians appreciate their freedom, perhaps more than do we who grew up taking for granted freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free elections and freedom of religion. Romania still has its share of problems, of course, but in my view it is about to soar into prominence as a productive and culturally advanced member of the European Union in which old Europe’s charm and work ethic still prevail.

Yes, Vincent, the Romanian women are self-assured, confident, and many of them are very lovely. And yes, a bottle of Ursus Dark is only one dollar in a pub.  But those facts are but surface decorations on this emerging jewel of a nation.”

(Delivered in Bucharest, Romania, 3 June 2010)

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