I've been back in the U.S. since Tuesday afternoon, reconnecting with my family, dealing with jet lag, and learning that my injured finger is healing pretty well. And now I'm reflecting on the experience. I'm happy to report that despite the complications of near daily medical visits in my last two weeks in Belarus, I kept myself joyfully busy.
This included a chance to enjoy a front-row viewing of Madame Butterfly with Clark, Will, and Ace; and an invitation to present a new lecture, "Critiquing the American Technological Sublime: Alternate Futures Beyond The Gernsback Continuum," at the American Studies conference hosted by Minsk State Linguistic University as a plenary speaker. Even more importantly, I shared celebratory meals with friends from Epam, Belarus State University, and the Fulbright/English Language Fellow community before departing for home.
A highlight of those last two weeks was the chance to join Katya Sadovskaya and a large group of BSU students and faculty for a bus tour around northern Belarus. We visited towns and villages, stopping at monuments, churches, and ruins, and I got a chance to see northern parts of the country that had so far eluded me.
Along with a delightful ongoing conversation with Katya, I suppose my favorite part of the day was a brief breakdown near a small farming community, which afforded us a chance to walk through fields and small windy roads, photographing colorful village homes and joining some brave students determined to pet a cow.
I remember thinking, "It's just this sort of silliness that nearly cost me a finger on Victory Day," but I felt compelled to offer my healthy hand in hopes that the creature would be friendly. She was wary, of course, wisely so. But she allowed us to gently pet her, and then followed us a while before we boarded the bus. You never know how a new friendship can begin.
With all the final meetings, packing, and logistics, I was amazed at how fast the last days went. And then suddenly it was 4 a.m., and I was awaiting the embassy driver who would offer my final Belarusian handshake. I still feel somewhat guilty that I was so affixed on my phone that morning, sending a few more goodbyes and plucking some other weeds from my email, that I barely noticed our trip through Minsk on the way to the airport. I'd become so familiar with the road out of town, having taken it for so many occasions, that I nearly forgot to focus on the unfolding scene outside my windows. I'm glad I took lots of pictures!
Back in the States, one of my first tasks was to prepare a report of my Fulbright experiences. Here's some of what I wrote: Living in Belarus for four months provided me an opportunity to develop new curricula, travel to dozens of cities and villages throughout the country, and rethink what it is to be both an American and a citizen of the world. I presented courses and lectures for over 1,000 people, and I made many new friends along the way.
This experience boils down to an unofficial motto that guided me these past four months: "Always Say Yes." In other words, when the embassy asked me to develop workshops or prepare talks, I opened my calendar. And when representatives of schools, libraries, and businesses asked me to drop by, I did my best to oblige them. Because with every new conversation, I discovered new opportunities to improve my intercultural competence and learn something new about the world.
Living in Belarus was challenging, exhilarating, and surprising. I saw the limitations of regional and national stereotypes - and I hope to have complicated a few assumptions that Belarusians have about Americans. And now I look forward to a range of burgeoning collaborations. I plan to do some writing with at least one colleague at Belarus State University, and I will certainly keep in touch with my new pals. Best of all, I will return to this country if at all possible. I enjoyed Belarus so much, but left so much yet to see!