Fulbright Senior Scholar, Moldova
In May 2006 I traveled to the Republic of Moldova on a Fulbright Senior Scholar Grant. A former Soviet Republic, Moldova is a small nation located north of the Black Sea, between Ukraine and Romania. Although it faces many of the same economic, political, and social struggles that challenge other post-Soviet nations, Moldova’s situation is particularly difficult. It is the poorest nation in Europe. The eastern part of Moldova called Trans-Dnistrya (across the Dniester River) has been operating as a quasi-independent breakaway republic for the past twelve years and is widely known to be a regional center for trafficking in drugs, slavery, and mass weapons. Moldovans hope someday to enter the European Union (EU), as their neighbors to the west are doing, but they recognize how much needs to change before they can do so. The higher education system is undergoing reform in attempts to align with the Bologna Agreement that aims to provide for consistency among European universities.
My gracious hosts at IRIM (the International Relations Institute of Moldova in Chisinau, the capital city) set me up with multiple opportunities to lecture and meet with students on topics related to conflict, negotiation, and communication. I attended a student-organized conference on Moldova’s prospects for joining the EU. I met with the faculties of International Relations and Germanic Languages to discuss their curricular reform efforts. IRIM is expanding the depth and breadth of its offerings in communication, conflict, and negotiation. These subjects appeal strongly to many students and faculty members, in part because of Moldova’s recent history and current political situation.
As a faculty member in Emerson College’s Department of Organizational and Political Communication, my teaching concerns the central role communication plays in resolving conflicts and building productive relationships. As a Fulbright Scholar in 1995 in the Czech Republic I had previous experience with post-Communist educational institutions. My wife Liliana is from Moldova, and from previous visits I had some acquaintance with the country and its people. Liliana accompanied me to most lectures and meetings, and it was truly helpful having her contributions and insights. Most Moldovans are bilingual speakers of Russian and Romanian; I speak only a bit of Russian. Fortunately, most students understood English well, and interpreters were provided when needed.
Other activities included lectures at Moldova State University (Chisinau) and the State University at Cahul and attending an American Studies Conference. One of the highlights of the trip was meeting with staff members from Helsinki Watch Cometitul Moldova. We learned about their important work in monitoring human rights issues in Moldova and began exploring ways I could help provide educational opportunities to further their efforts.
The Fulbright trip was brief, but it opened doors for further exchanges of information, visits, and scholarly collaborations. It gave me new perspectives on my own teaching and research, especially greater sensitivity to how core concepts in conflict and negotiation are shaped by cultural and historical contexts. Moldovan students and faculty, like their American counterparts, are keenly interested in learning alternative ways to resolve differences. They see their nation clearly as needing new relationship paradigms, from the interpersonal to the international levels, and they are committed to helping bring about positive change. Although the challenges are great, it is an exciting time.