Tuesday, May 12, 2009
What Did I Learn in Ukraine?
Before I left Ukraine, I had several people ask me what I learned from Ukrainian museums--and since I've been back, I've had even more conversations about what it was like, what museums are doing, and if living in a different country is hard. It's taken me a little time to begin to consider what I learned. I'll try and reflect on my entire experience in a series of short posts, rather than one very long one.
First, I encourage everyone to consider some sort of international program. My time in Ukraine was as a Fulbright Scholar--if you want to learn more, check out information for Fulbright Scholars and the Fulbright Scholar program for students. These programs send US scholars and students internationally and bring international scholars and students to the US. Most Fulbright Scholars are faculty members, but there is room for non-academics like me as well.
I've also been lucky enough to participate in two other international exchanges. Long ago, I partnered with a museum in eastern Hungary as part of the no-longer existing International Partnership Among Museums program of AAM and ICOM. That's resulted in a continuing strong tie with a colleague--we'll be presenting together at a conference in Germany this fall.
And, a program worth considering for all young professionals--Rotary International's Group Study Exchange Program sends teams from individual Rotary districts for five week experiences in other Rotary districts around the world. Current Rotary rules specify that you must be under 40 to participate. I was lucky enough to spend five weeks in Mumbai, India and have other colleagues who were part of GSE teams to Brazil and West Africa. This program isn't focused on museums, but the chance to stay with families and experience everyday life in another country is not to be missed.
Why do I think these experiences are so important? In Ukraine, I found that many of the most forward looking people were people who had had the opportunity to study or travel to the US or Western Europe. And I think that's equally true for Americans as well. The world knows much more about us than we do about them. As museum people, we think about aspects of culture every day. It sounds simplistic, but an experience in another country really does provide different views on the value of culture, cultural norms, and the meanings we draw from history and a sense of place--all of which can help make us more reflective both in our work and in our communities.
It's also a very good thing to spend some time as an outsider in museums--where you are the person who can't figure out how to pay admission, who can't read the labels, who isn't sure if that special program is meant for them. I came back with a renewed commitment to making museums as accessible as possible, to as many people as possible.