Pioneer Spotlight: Richard Garrett and Catherine Douillet
Dr. Richard Garrett, a senior English lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, and Dr. Catherine Douillet, lecturer of sociology at UW-Platteville, taught in Moldova’s capital city of Chisinau from September 2013 through January 2014. Garrett taught at Moldova State University and Douillet at the Free International University of Moldova.
Garrett and Douillet were each awarded Fulbright Scholar grants through the United States Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in August 2012, which made the teaching opportunity in Moldova possible. The core Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program provides approximately 800 teaching and/or research grants to U.S. faculty and experienced professionals in a wide variety of academic and professional fields.
Douillet taught Gender and Options for Equality to graduate psychology students and Sociology of Communication to undergraduate students majoring in economics. She taught the latter course in French, her native language. Garrett taught academic writing to undergraduate and graduate students, American Literature to graduate students and British Literature to undergraduate English majors.
What were the students in your classroom like?
RG: My students in Moldova were, generally, similar in the classroom to UW-Platteville students – quiet, respectful, and polite. One of the interesting differences, however, was that the Moldovan students typically did less homework and were less prepared for class than American students, yet at the same time, were generally more knowledgeable about the world. If I asked questions about or made references to historical events or figures, current world events, other countries or languages, world literature, art, music, philosophy, etc., my Moldovan students always knew what I was talking about. American college students are more pragmatic – they read what they are assigned, while Moldovan students are interested in knowledge for its own sake, and read books instead of assignments.
CD: The students were very welcoming to me. They were open, intellectually curious, and eager to learn.
What are similarities and differences between American students and Moldovan students?
RG: Both are very interested in Western and American popular culture (TV, movies, etc.) The country is poor and many students do not have access to technology. Technology in the classroom is almost non-existent. Despite having less technology, they are more knowledgeable about the world. Moldovan students also work a lot because they are poor, and the economy is poor, too. Because of that, they miss a lot of classes. They also do not prepare for class as well as American students do. Moldovan students are not lazy; it’s just that they must provide for their basic needs and living expenses and care for their siblings and families.
What do you miss most about being in Moldova?
RG: What I probably miss most is the vibrancy and richness of the city. We lived in Chisinau, the capital and largest city of Moldova. Our house was in a fantastic location, in the center of the heart of the city. We could step out our front door and be within a few blocks of numerous universities, museums, various music halls, theatres, the opera and ballet theatre, the Cathedral, Central Park, incredible restaurants, outdoor cafés, embassies from around the world, etc. But probably the most interesting place in the city is the “Piatsa Centrala,” the giant, outdoor, central market where one can buy almost anything. Living in a European capital is a heady experience.
CD: I miss Moldova's vibrant cultural life. Even though it is the poorest country in Europe, it greatly values arts and culture and provides its citizens with many cultural events and activities, such as concerts, operas, plays and festivals.
What is one of the unique features of Moldova?
RG: Probably the most unique feature I saw in Moldova is the Orheiul Vechi cave monastery, about 30 miles from Chisinau. The monastery was carved by Orthodox monks into a huge limestone cliff, overlooking a river, in the 13th century. There are still a few monks inhabiting the monastery today.
CD: The Moldovan people are torn between an allegiance to Russia and an allegiance to Romania. This political tension translates linguistically to verbal tension, as Moldova is the only country in the world that is bilingual with Russian and Romanian languages and there is a difficult competition between the two.
What did you like most about being a Fulbright Scholar?
RG: Being a Fulbright Scholar in Moldova was an incredible experience. As a Fulbrighter, you do much more than teach classes at a university. What I liked most about being a Fulbright Scholar was being able to form deep friendships with a few of my students. I organized an English conversation group with six or seven students, both undergraduate and graduate, and we would go out to restaurants or cafés once a week, talking about anything they were interested in. My family and I even had a few of these students at our house to celebrate an American Thanksgiving.
CD: I am very impressed with the Fulbright Scholar Program. As an American citizen, I am proud of this program that is helping advance global understanding on a very personal level. It was wonderful to explore a new country and make friends from other countries, such as Sweden, France and Moldova. It opened up all of our worlds so that we could enjoy what another country has to offer. The fact that we spoke different languages didn't matter. I felt part of something much larger than myself.
This program builds long-term, professional and personal friendships between scholars and citizens. I am currently collaborating on a project and co-publishing an article with a faculty member I met during in Moldova. We can learn from each other. I am proud that the U.S. government is actively engaged in this program. Now, I can share my Fulbright experience in Moldova with people at home in America. Fulbright Scholars are ambassadors. It is amazing how much I learned.
Interview conducted by Laurie Hamer and Connie Spyropoulos, College of LAE.