Michelle Morkert has had a long-standing interest in how diverse groups are represented in society and culture and the rich perspectives they bring to the world.

These are valuable areas for students to engage in because they help prepare them to be critical thinkers. And in an ever-shrinking world, this will be important because they will become more aware of the different populations they will be engaging with.

It’s that perspective that Morkert brings into the classrooms at Concordia University where she teaches literature, as well as women’s and gender studies courses.

The coordinator of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, the 43-year-old Morkert will be bringing that perspective into classrooms as a Fulbright Scholar this fall at the University of Zadar in Croatia. It is located in northern Dalmatia on the coast of the Adriatic.

Always interested in the program, she had applied in and had been an alternate, but the program was cut during federal budget battles and sequestration period. She reapplied in August 2013 and found out just this May she would get the award. She leaves in mid-September on her one-semester Fulbright.

Morkert will teach two courses as part of that university’s American Studies program, and both of them will be conducted in English. One will be a classical theory course about gender studies in the US and how that has played out in key points of this country’s history, such as the abolition movement and women’s suffrage, and politics. Interrelationships between men and women and issues related to class and race also will be blended in.

The second course will be on pop culture, including art, music, television and film. Among other topics, the course will concentrate on media representation of gender and race and class and how that affects people, among other issues.

“They are interested in learning about us and they are accessing a lot of films, television and music. They are watching CSI so they are consuming U.S. media. That’s a good way for us to have conversations about what’s happening in this country and do some media analyses,” she said.

Morkert is curious about the perceptions and realities that people there have of the United States and if they are curious about America. Students will get a birds-eye view of this country from an American, and that will be invaluable to them – and to her. One avenue that will bring about that exchange will be brown-bag lunches, which she hopes to start among students and faculty.

“To hear what people think of us will be invaluable…it will open our eyes,” she said. “It will increase our spheres of understanding. It’s a cultural exchange, and I hope to be a conduit for that.”

Morkert became interested in Croatia when she learned about the conflict in the Balkans in the 1990s as a Ph.D. student. A relatively new member of the European Union, with a long history of identity politics, Croatia is coming into the 21st century but in a lot of ways retains an old world culture.

Once a part of Yugoslavia, Croatia declared its independence in 1991, which led to civil war and the first cases of genocide in Europe since the Holocaust. Morkert learned more about the conflict and the aftermath from a close friend who went there as a doctor.

As a woman whose expertise includes gender and militarization, she said she hopes to connect with and learn from the victims of the conflict who testified at the International Criminal Court in The Hague about their experiences. Gender has come to the forefront because of the country’s experiences, she said.

She will be blogging about her rich experience while she is there and will encourage her students there to do the same. She hopes to “virtually” connect her students there with her students and fellow faculty at Concordia.

Morkert will be encouraging her two children – a 15-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son – to blog as well about their school experiences and travels in Croatia.

After she returns in January, 2015, she hopes to conduct some public talks about her experiences and encourage others – students and faculty alike – to consider the Fulbright program.

“If they meet someone who has had a Fulbright they may be more likely to want to take part in it,” she said. “It’s a fantastic experience for our students to apply and go.”

The U.S. State Department oversees the Fulbright program, which began after World War II. According to the university, other Concordia faculty and graduate students who have received Fulbrights from Concordia are:

  • Astrida Cirulus, Latvia.
  • Anita Breidis (faculty emeritus), Latvia.
  • Brenda Graham, West Africa.
  • Akesha Horton, Australia
  • Rekha Rajan, India (deferred but will take it).
  • Kurt Stadtwald, Austria.

In all 325,000 faculty and students have participated in the prominent international exchange program since it began after World War II, according to the Fulbright website.

Who was Fulbright?

William J. Fulbright was a Democratic senator from Arkansas. In 1945, his first year in the senate, he proposed a post-World War II student exchange program to create good will among nations. President Harry Truman signed the program into law in 1946. Eventually, the program came to be known as the Fulbright Scholarship.

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