Interview with Dr. Martha Bohachevsky-Chomiak, Director of the Fulbright Scholar Program in Ukraine

Section: Human Resource Management
Posted: September 01, 2001
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"Management: Methodology and Practice" is pleased to interview Dr. Martha Bohachevsky-Chomiak, Director of the Fulbright Scholar Program in Ukraine. Dr. Bohachevsky-Chomiak was 1976 Fulbright Scholar in Poland, 1992-1993 and 1997-1998 in Ukraine at the Taras Shevchenko National University and Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. Her research fields are History and History of Ukrainian Women's Movement.
"Management: Methodology and Practice" ("MMP"): First of all, Dr. Bohachevsky-Chomiak, thank you for agreeing to talk about the Fulbright Scholar Program here in Ukraine. As you know, the magazine "Management: Methodology and Practice," addresses the needs of professionals who are faced with business management issues at companies or who work with these issues in education, consulting and in other areas. So our readership is rather broad. Could you tell us about the opportunities the program offers?

Dr. Bohachevsky-Chomiak: The Fulbright Program is for scholarly exchanges that promote mutual understanding, peace, and eradication of war, that sort of thing "officially." But it's become the most prestigious of the exchange programs. And what makes it very interesting is that it's generally self-managed. The money comes from the United States Congress Appropriations each year. And whenever they try to cut the money, the Alumni Lobby of former Fulbrighters in the United States is so strong that they raise a fuss.

We have three programs:

1. The graduate student program focuses on humanities subjects for beginning graduate students. Anybody with a degree or rising seniors can apply for one to two years of study in the United States. This is a brand new program for Ukraine. It's been in operation since the 1940's but in Ukraine this is the first full year that we're running the competition.

2. Another program is the regular Fulbright Program. This program supports scholarly research and lecturing; Ukrainians in the United States, Americans in Ukraine. The Soviet Union never joined the program but it existed as part of the cultural exchange of the 1970s. The program was initiated in Ukraine in 1992-1993's and is run by the United States.

Essentially what Fulbright supports is an opportunity for scholars to pursue their projects. Most of the Ukrainians who go to the United States do research, or they can sit in on courses, etc. In other words, they pursue their projects. Very few of them actually teach in American colleges although some do. Americans who come to Ukraine generally come on a lectureship. They lecture at American cost. They do not get paid, although technically they should be getting funding from the universities. I think I was the last person who obtained anything. And very many of the Americans who come do so in the field of Business Administration, Economics, Advertising. The Ukrainians who go to the United States for the most part are humanities types. This is an annual competition. The deadline is October 31, 2001 for Ukraine and it's for between four and 11 months. We usually have about 21-24 Ukrainians who go to the United States and usually an equal number by now, though smaller, of Americans who come here.

3. The third program is not really a Fulbright program, it's called the Junior Faculty Development Program. This is for teachers, for people who have taught at least two years, who are under 40 years of age and who go to the United States either to study a different subject or to develop new methodologies of teaching. There we have people in Economics, Business Administration, etc., but specifically "teachers" of these subjects. The deadline for applications is December 12, 2001. They go for nine months' study, two months' of internships. They go as a group and they are placed individually at various universities. They can take their families but only after the first three months. The funding is not as much as in the Fulbright Program.

Also, this program is administered not by the Fulbright Committee but by the United States State Department and ACCELS. In Ukraine it's come to be known as the "Junior Fulbright," but this is an informal title probably because it's just administered from this office. The goal is to try to change the manner of education in Ukraine, to encourage more innovative approaches, and to give a chance to educators to become more familiar with different teaching styles and different subjects. In Ukraine the tendency is to push specialization. One of the things our experience shows is that teachers, and even highly specialized teachers, need to have a broader view not only of education but of the world. So we tend to stress a broader approach.

"MMP": Would you say that this is an opportunity for exposure to other issues that impact teachers' effectiveness once they come back to Ukraine? They will not become specialists in other areas but they will know what resources are available and where they can turn to broaden their views.

Dr. Bohachevsky-Chomiak: Yes. For example, Literature majors may want to take courses in Psychology to be able to have a better grasp of the resources and research in that area. This is especially good for such subjects which have not been developed for various reasons under the Soviet System, for example, Sociology, Psychology, Literary Criticism, and the like.

"MMP": I understand that Fulbrighters from the United States also come to Ukraine. Could you please tell us how that works?

Dr. Bohachevsky-Chomiak: We also have two programs in which Ukrainian academic institutions, including management institutions, may invite American specialists to teach at their institutions. These positions are for a semester or for a year. The institution invites either a specific person by name, or by subject area without a name. For example, an institution could write, "I need a Marketing specialist," or "… somebody who does Advertising," or "… somebody who can teach Economics," or "... Gas Production," for example. Either a specific direction or just a generalist.

For instance, Zaporizhya has two or three institutions and nobody was teaching Marketing there. So, they got together and asked for a Marketing specialist who now teaches the same course or similar courses at two different institutions. The institution fills out the form, it comes to us, and we send the form to Washington. If there is somebody available who fills that profile and is willing to come to Ukraine, then we pay for that person to come here. We try to fit the people who apply for a Fulbright to come to Ukraine with this request so that we can place Americans at the Ukrainian institutions that want Americans. Not all Ukrainian institutions, as you know, want Americans.

So this is how to invite a Fulbright professor. The deadline for submission of invitations by Ukrainian institutions is December 1, 2001 to our office here in Kyiv. It must be an institutional invitation, that is, it must come from either the dean or rector or from some reputable person in some organized entity that we know is serious.

Last year we introduced a new program. It does not have a deadline and you can ask any time you want to invite an American specialist to lecture for a period of two weeks to three months. The United States picks up all costs except local travel and we ask the host institution to find a place for the specialist to live at the institution's cost. Specialists receive per diem and salary but we would like the host institution to show its commitment to the program by providing some kind of support, such as local travel for example.

"MMP": We've learned a little about the goals of the Fulbright Program, its history, etc. I think our readers will be able to conclude about the value of these different programs by reading the literature about Fulbright. What, in your opinion, is the value that the Fulbright Program has for Ukraine?

Dr. Bohachevsky-Chomiak: The major value of the Fulbright Program is that Ukraine has a direct link to the outside world through the Program. Exchanges under the Soviet Union were often limited to the capital cities and very few people from Ukraine made it. One of the problems also that Ukraine has in all fields is that it was cut off from the world and Fulbright gives the chance (for connections).

Another advantage that the Fulbright offers is the chance to do something different. Teaching and scholarly activities can be stultifying, as we know. We frequently get asked why would Americans want to come here? Well, because any change is good if you're teaching the same courses or teaching in the same place. So this gives a chance for variety and getting used to variety. In the modern world if there's anything we can teach children it's how to accept change and how to make choices in that change. The Fulbright Program enables people to learn more about the rest of the world.

And a third important factor, as I mentioned, is that the Fulbright Program has an informal lobby and there are Fulbrighers all over. Unlike other exchange programs, the Fulbright operates in about 140 countries and has been operating since 1946-48. So there's a Fulbright community. And there's a certain type of person who becomes a Fulbrighter -- a little bit scholar, of course, intellectually curious. If you look at some of the Fulbrighters, some of the best journalists, for example, Sylvia Perjoli started out as a Fulbrighter in Italy and never came back. Ukrainians who go on any of these programs have to come back and work in Ukraine and not go back to the United States for at least two years.

For Ukrainians the Fulbright Program has an added advantage; it's the Seal of Good Houskeeping. It certifies that this person has reached certain goals. The Good Houskeeping Seal is particularly important for Ukrainians because the system of education was so different here. We have now had two or three Fulbrighters who were one of the first Fulbrighters here in the early 90s and who have been invited to be visiting lecturers. One was from the University of Missouri, I believe, and one of the reasons this person got that offer is precisely because he had a Fulbright. It's a known entity. So that's another monetary incentive of the Fulbright.

The Fulbright Program lets you take your children. It is a marvelous lifetime opportunity, available for Ukrainians and for Americans coming here. The whole family is involved. Last year we had a Fulbright family with four or six children between the two of them. But it's actually a win-win program. The United States wins because we get exposure to other societies. People who are Fulbrighters get to know the United States, at least parts of the United States. For instance, one of the Fulbrighters last year saved her money, bought herself a bus ticket, and took an unlimited bus ride around the United States. So it has the advantages of the exchange program with the added advantages of the scholarly aspects.

"MMP": I would guess that some people may be timid in applying. They're afraid that the selection is so strict that they would not qualify or they're afraid of being rejected. Maybe some are intimidated by the paperwork or by the application and selection procedures. Could you please comment on that?

Dr. Bohachevsky-Chomiak: Not only that, not only are Ukrainians intimidated but the society is not used to applying. The society is not used to being able to take a chance. Very many people are ashamed that they'll apply and if they should be rejected, the acceptance of rejection is an issue.

But it's the same thing the American scholars have to deal with. My experience has been that if you come from a smaller institution and usually do not apply for things, and then apply and are rejected, you consider it the end of the world, you never apply again and you hide it. In the United States we have a large enough staff and people can usually ask why they were rejected. You can try again, it's not a stigma. We keep stressing that just by the mere fact of applying you already get an advantage. First of all, you have to formulate your project more precisely, you get it reviewed by two reviewers at least, etc.

"MMP": And you get valuable feedback!

Dr. Bohachevsky-Chomiak: Well, eventually. If you make it into the semi-finalist stage you get experience in interviewing, you get some peer review. A lot of people in Ukraine feel that you need to know somebody to make it. Interestingly, all of the people who have gone on the Fulbright Program, first of all, they applied on their own, and they were just flabbergasted that they were able to make it, from small towns and larger institutions. So the Fulbright Program in Ukraine has an excellent reputation for being above board.

"MMP": Would it be correct to call it transparent?

Dr. Bohachevsky-Chomiak: Well, yes, as transparent in as much as any type of competition can be transparent. Certainly decisions have to be made. Decisions are very hard and the way the Fulbright decisions are made are based on certain criteria. Significance of the project, for example. We look at the project, the topic, the relationship. Is the person who is submitting the project really qualified to pursue the topic? Is the topic "doable?" Can it be done in one year? Can the person explain the broader significance of the topic? How well can the person write? How articulate is the person? What would be the impact when that person comes back? Will he or she be able to share their experience? Etc.

Now, a sort of outgrowth of the Fulbright has been the establishment of the Fulbright Association which I'm using as a resource to help Ukrainians, first of all, learn about the program and, secondly, to be able to apply to the program … to learn how to write the proposal. Americans don't know how to write a proposal either. In Ukraine an additional difficulty was the political and cultural situation. The tendency of writing was to hide ones' thought, not to elucidate it, whereas we in the United States try to be concise. The tendency here is to be flowery in one's prose.

"MMP": So again this is an opportunity to experience other discourse patterns, how other professionals communicate scientifically, academically, etc.

Dr. Bohachevsky-Chomiak: Yes.

"MMP": Dr. Bohachevsky-Chomiak, I understand that you have worked in Ukraine for several years already. Are there any significant trends in research or education that you've noticed that suggest propulsion, or momentum, that we're moving in the right direction?

Dr. Bohachevsky-Chomiak: Definitely not backwards. It depends on what ones' perspective was in 1991. I'm a historian. I specialized in 19th century Russian History and the level of development there. Ukraine was cut off from the world and Ukraine lived almost in a closed universe. So I can't even begin to say what changes have occurred since except that there is tremendous change and unbelievable development in all areas. Now in Ukraine there is ostentatious consumption. The sciences are suffering. But it's now a more balanced society with more opportunities available, educational opportunities.

But in life today you must make decisions, you must be able to make choices. Ukrainian Fulbrighters who go to the United States are faced with this sometimes very painfully if they don't know how to do that.

"MMP": Dr. Bohachevsky-Chomiak, as Director of the Fulbright Program in Ukraine could you please tell our readers what are your Principles of Leadership?

Dr. Bohachevsky-Chomiak: I don't consider myself a Leader. From my experience, a collegiate approach does not work here. It gets abused. I end up having to do everything. But I will say this, my mandate is that we support but we do not control. A Fulbright grant is not a contract. If you don't do your work I just won't fund the rest of your project. It's a trust-building exercise.

"MMP": Would you consider the Fulbright Program as a vehicle for change, and if so, what in your opinion is the responsibility of Fulbright Alumni who return to their countries to act as "agents of change?" Is this happening in Ukraine? Is research being integrated into university teaching?

Dr. Bohachevsky-Chomiak: The idea of the Fulbright Program is not so much integration of change as it is encouraging people from all over the world to try to understand how different societies adjust to continually changing situations. The Fulbright itself is not a change-oriented program. The purpose is to broaden understanding and deepen learning. True learning, true understanding, true wisdom does not produce answers but it does help us to situate ourselves, to deal in the different configurations we find ourselves, to make the best of the circumstances there are. Sometimes it is easier to see yourself from the outside.

The value of the Fulbright Program is both for the host and for the visitor. Sometimes Fulbrighters find themselves the only foreigners in a city, so there's a certain degree of loneliness. They must rely on their own stamina, their own strengths. The program aspires to achieve the Greek condition of wisdom, "to know oneself." You get a year to know yourself, to interact with people in a different way, in a different place. People don't know who you are, they have impressions of you as a foreigner. Stereotypes are sometimes favorable, sometimes not. So the Fulbright Program of course helps change the world, but its own goal is not change for change's sake. You can argue that the world is not really developing, that development is cyclical, etc.

If you want to reduce the whole thing to one Greek and one Renaissance goal I would say this: The real goal is to know yourself, and to do so you must see the surroundings you are in. A second goal is to be able to say, "I am human, and nothing that is human is foreign to me." (Erasmus from the Latin). "And nothing within the human sphere is foreign to me." And to be able to know what is in the human sphere you have to learn what the human sphere is.

The whole idea of the Fulbright Program can not be reduced to a particular strategy or specific goal. But I like to think that in our hearts people are basically good. And the more we know about people the more we cull forth that innate goodness. Of course, if people are all bad than I'm off!

On the basis of my 40 years teaching experience I am going to generalize and say that academics are among the most tradition-bound group of people, even those of us who promote innovative methodologies of teaching and approaches. Basically we're creatures of habit and it's difficult for us to admit that there may be other ways of looking at things. And this is the world all over. We want to have a codex of great books, a system of education that will solve all problems of education once and for all. We want to have a syllabus, we want to be teaching our courses, and we don't want anybody butting in the way we teach them. And each generation produces another group of academics who know what should be done, and why the syllabi we used were all wrong, and the approaches were all wrong, and we go on.

And the truly great scholars, the truly great people who influenced society for the good, are those who can playfully engage themselves and others in the pursuit of truth and not in the explication of truth. In other words, knowledge is in the searching …. once found, it becomes faith. Once you stop searching, once you stop questioning, you produce the ideal computer and you do not move into the next generation of computers.

The Eastern European approach, or the standard academic approach that was used in Ukraine for a long time, was to look at the student as a vessel, an empty sheet of paper on which you have to write words of wisdom. And because the society was always threatened, or the regime always felt itself threatened, there was a fair amount of pressure to teach in one way or to teach a particular set of subjects. However, in societies which are not threatened by the government or by outside forces, by the Tartars or the soviets or by globalization or by modernization, in societies where we espouse these changes, we tend to trust the child more to learn.

"MMP": Do you mean to say trusting the child to learn on its own?

Dr. Bohachevsky-Chomiak: Well, on its own with our help, but to look at learning as play, as effective play. There was an influential historian, Huizinga, who defined "Homo Ludens" (Latin for "the playful person"), arguing precisely this approach to education. And most of us went through education looking at knowledge and learning as something sacred and very serious. Einstein, who we all love to quote, liked playing with numbers. Mathematicians play. Mathematicians are artists. They play games, game theory. They find numbers fun. They find music in numbers. And sometimes those of us who deal with words …. well, I see as these heavy, plodding hoof prints on a sodden, muddy ground.

And when they speak of the "musical spheres of the mind," or when you meditate, or when you read the mystics, you'll notice that they're light, they're airy. But they were grounded in something. And they were able to become light and airy without becoming "airheads" because they were grounded in a core of solid information.

"MMP": Would you say that this "grounding" consists of "assumptions?"

Dr. Bohachevsky-Chomiak: Well, tested assumptions. Even the most closed minds tested their assumptions. So the better prepared you are to test your assumptions the more likely your assumptions will be correct.

The problem with Ukrainian scholars, especially with those in Ukrainian history, both Diaspora and Ukrainians in Ukraine, is that Ukraine was so threatened that we tended to view history as a God-given testament where little could be changed for fear of losing everything. We did not study the history of Ukraine properly. We look at what was written without looking at what was done.

What I found in working with women was that women and minorities tend to write in the language which they learned. So you look at the 19th century memoirs and what they stress is structured almost in the same way Medieval Lives of Saints were structured. In a particular village nothing was going on, no one could read, no one could write, no one knew they were Ukrainian, nobody knew what was to be done. Suddenly, somebody brings light and understanding and oops ….. a "prosvita," a school is built, and light comes.

Looking at programs of economic development, Prosvita, for example, women organized sewing, they chipped in, and women would buy a sewing machine, a thermometer to measure children's temperatures. They learned how to sew, to cook, so that young women could go and get jobs in the city, cleaning, etc. But when reports were written by the wives of the priests who were writing these reports, the work was presented in terms of cultural enlightenment, not in terms of economic development.

So, if you study the history of Ukraine, there is a disconnect with Ukrainian history, between what was being done practically and how it was being interpreted. And this contributed to a stress on ideology. If you look at contemporary Ukrainian national culture, it's heavy, it's serious, we want people not to read romances or mystery stories. If you want to read in Ukrainian you should be reading the corpus of the 19th century. Official Ukraine publications are aimed at the serious public.

"MMP": Dr. Bohachevsky-Chomiak, as you know economic development and life in Ukraine are hard. People in positions of leadership, enterprise managers for example, must make very difficult choices, political and social choices. They must decide who stays, who is fired, which jobs will be changed or even disappear. It's hard to be "light and airy" when the situation is very serious and there's not enough time to do everything, not enough time to consider all the options.

Dr. Bohachevsky-Chomiak: Life for academics is hard. You're never good enough. If you think you're a good scholar you're not. Academics also have to go into administration and let people go. You realize that not every student has the potential. You realize that you can not help everybody with their lives. Academics feel that part of the country has to be listening to them. But a lot of what we know is not necessary for other people to know. It's like structuring a conversation. You are not going to say everything you know when people ask, "How are you?" You must assess the existential situation and answer appropriately. But within the Ukrainian context, the tendency is towards pontificating. And that's what I mean by not having "lightness of being."

"MMP": Could this also be a matter of discourse structure and culture?

Dr. Bohachevsky-Chomiak: I'm addressing the discourse structure and the subject matter. There are hard choices but, in a sense, this "housing project" that was the Soviet Union was a cocoon for some people. Even those who opposed it, their opposition made sense. Their opposition preserved them from existential grief. Their opposition gave them a sense of meaning of life. And now that Ukraine is essentially responsible for itself, there is no cocoon for Ukrainians. They now have to take responsibility. And responsibility means choice, and it means letting some people go. Not everybody is going to be well off. It means you will have to be making decisions like, "will you be warm or will you pay your life insurance?" Nobody in Ukraine under the soviet regime had full responsibility either for budget or structure or anything. The problem is this pushing off responsibility on higher and higher levels.

Essentially, a well-educated person is one who knows how and when to take responsibility and to what degree. Take it, delegate it, make it work. Or admit, "I can't do this, I can do other things." But it will not be possible for Ukrainians to be at the same time, leader of the nation, poet laureate, composer, and in general, a genius.

"MMP": Could you tell us how you came to these conclusions?

Dr. Bohachevsky-Chomiak: Two things in my life made me think about these issues.

First, very early in my career I was setting up an administration of a Master of Arts and Humanities Program for some liberal arts college in the United States. It was geared originally towards women who had a college education, dropped out of the job market, raised children, and then wanted to become intellectually engaged again. So, at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York, the idea was to enable these people to take advanced courses part time, eventually get an advanced degree, and move on to what they wanted to do. But what we found was that an increasing number of executives getting ready for retirement started taking these courses. You'd get a banker always interested in art who would take art appreciation courses, etc. So we established an association of liberal arts colleges where we tried to devise some kind of standards to make sure that these courses do not deteriorate into "coffee club" courses. And this association is growing and functioning today. It's called the Society of Liberal Arts Colleges.

The second thing (which caused me to think about these issues), in the 1980s I was running a translations program at the National Endowment of the Humanities. The goal was to fund English translations of significant works from other cultures. The definition of "significant" we put on the shoulders of the applicant. At first, the director at the time thought of having a list of works from other cultures that should be translated, but nobody could come up with it. The task is a minefield. You cannot make a list of what is significant the world over.

So, this is how we solved the problem. Each applicant, in addition to everything else they had to do, had to provide a one-page succinct statement of why the work they were proposing to translate ought to be translated into English. And all of the scholars who submitted their proposals, all of them, thanked me for this exercise. It forced them to see themselves, to see their work, within a broader context. And it made it possible for us to decide -- should we give money for translation of the complete works of Mao Tse Tung or for the corpus of Ancient Ukrainian Literature?

For me this particular job was very useful because I got used to feeling comfortable in making painful decisions, in telling people "no, you did not make it" for this or that reason, for cutting budgets, etc. If I have $4 million, and requests for $40 million, should I just give everybody $10 and say, "Do with what you have," or convene a committee, go through the necessary review process, and then recommend a decision for the authorities to make to support this or that recommendation? And I now feel very comfortable in Ukraine in making decisions like letting people go, etc.

"MMP": Is this because you have defined your set of criteria?

Dr. Bohachevsky-Chomiak: Well, because I myself was once let go, or because I couldn't go somewhere because I had to stay at work and finish something, or maybe because I got used to it. Different reasons. And because I did not show that these decisions were hard, this does not mean I did not take them seriously. I will joke, etc., but if I don't moan people think I don't take it seriously.

Some people say the secret of survival is to be like a duck: paddle like crazy underneath the water but appear smooth and calm as you sail on it.

September — October, 2001

"Management: Methodology and Practice" would like to thank Dr. Martha Bohachevsky-Chomiak for her time in sharing her insights about the Fulbright Program and for her personal views on history, education, and other issues.

Information about opportunities through the Fulbright Program and application forms are available on the website

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