The 25 April and Vasco da Gama bridges play an important role in both Lisbon and Portugal. They are also a metaphor for my experiences as a Fulbright Lecturer.
Wires and cables transmit and allocate tension to keep the bridges working effectively. In Portugal, economic and political tensions are present and, indeed, essential. I spoke with many business persons who worried about the impact on their companies that EU membership would have. Others struggled to find a balance between the views of socialist entitlement and democratic entrepreneurship. Such tensions are not to be minimized. They should, in fact, be valued. The “wires and cables” education and dialog will transmit and allocate the tensions for increased efficiency.
The 25 April and Vasco da Gama bridges rise above the waters that separate and isolate. The warm friendship of colleges, students, and local residents similarly created unity and belonging. Their willingness to share food, wine, conversation, perspective, life histories, and struggles, created bonds that exemplify the essence of the ‘Fulbright experience’
Throughout Portugal I saw numerous other structures that bridged the gap of space. From Evora to Sagres and from Porto to Faro, there are dozens of via-ducts, archways, and aqua-ducts. Each one serves as a reminder that what is on the other side is enriched by what passes over.
So, too, in my experience as a Fulbrighter. Exchanges in classrooms at the University of Evora challenged students to transfer new ideas and acquire new skills just as the instructor was challenged to see, feel, and live the Portuguese experience. Consultations in the ships and parks of Lisbon deepened the understanding of both business person and Fulbrighter of how product marketing plays a big role in local, regional, national, and trans-European business.
The building of the ‘25-A’ and ‘Vasco’ bridges was preceded by extensive planning. I am grateful for the efforts the Fulbright Commission in Portugal and the host institutions put into planning the experiences of each Fulbright lecturer and researcher. Their attention to times and places, work loads and relationships, yields the dividends of learning and understanding.
Another, and a final, portion of the metaphor is that of foundations. Each bridge that tens of thousands of residents and visitors traverse each week has numerous foundations. Each was carefully laid; the construction of each took great efforts; and each plays a critical role in the ongoing effectiveness of the bridge.
Each of these characteristics is true of my time as a Fulbright scholar. Numerous and deliberate foundations of supporting constituencies were important.
And other foundations, though yet to be laid, will be important. New university partners throughout the country will enhance the contribution of and from the Fulbright Commission in Portugal. Companies and organizations that contribute funding, the time of executives, and intellectual capital play a crucial, though often unseen role in the current and ongoing impact of the Fulbright exchange program.
The Fulbright experience is a combination of some of the best elements in life: challenge, growth, friendship, communication, struggle, peace, diversity, and ideas. All participants benefit when these elements bridge our differences and unite our purposes.”
Fulbright Scholar at Universidade de Évora, AY 2001/2002