What Does a Fulbright Specialist Do?

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The Fulbright Specialist Program links U.S. academics and professionals and their counterparts at host institutions overseas. Qualified academics receive grants to engage in collaborative two- to six-week projects at host institutions in over 100 countries. International travel costs and a stipend are funded by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Participating host institutions cover grantee in-country expenses or provide in-kind services.

Communication sciences and disorders professionals are among those who participate in the program. In this post, I (Robert Goldfarb) and my colleague Florence Ling Myers recount our experiences in it.

Florence was a specialist in education and worked at the University of Hong Kong in 2011 for two weeks. She received approval for the five-year placement on the specialist roster. I was a specialist in applied linguistics/TEFL at Universidad Pedigogica Nacional in Bogotá, Colombia for six weeks, with the latter half of the commitment completed online after returning to the United States.

Our experiences were different enough to provide a sense of what a prospective Fulbrighter can expect.

Florence’s experience: Fluency disorders and returning to my roots

My mission in going to HKU was to reinforce the importance of fluency disorders in the family of speech-language pathologies. I gave workshops to students and professionals on cluttering, cluttering/stuttering, and stuttering. I met with academic and clinical faculty and reviewed curricula. Of particular interest was learning the problem-based learning paradigm used by faculty. The pedagogical philosophy is that students need to acquire critical thinking and problem-solving skills, to pose clinical hypotheses based on independent library research and come up with evidence-based therapy approaches for various case studies.

I had the pleasure of co-mentoring a senior thesis in stuttering. The student was bright, responsive and competent. HKU is definitely a high-power university, with great expectations for faculty and graduate students to publish in premier journals.

I also had a personal mission: to return to my roots and give back to my motherland. I escaped to Hong Kong as a refugee from mainland China in 1949 with literally nothing but the reassuring hands of my mother. I took not so much a “slow boat from China,” but a creaky leaky junk under the blackened nocturnal skies from Canton. I now wonder if I had been an illegal child alien. My dad was already in the United States to earn his doctorate in physics from the University of Missouri. Much has changed in Hong Kong since the 1940s, yet there is still this undefinable yet undeniable human spirit—to survive and thrive—among the people there.

Having been in the United States for nearly 60 years, I, too, have changed, though there is still very much a Chinese core in me. Whether or not one is from the East or West, the common bond that motivated me to return to my homeland as a Fulbright Specialist was a passion for cluttering and stuttering, and to instill this passion in the next generation of speech-language pathologists in China.

Robert’s experience: Helping with research methods/professional writing

I committed to teach two intensive graduate courses in research methods and in academic writing to advanced students working on thesis projects. In preparation for the visit, I arranged for my publisher to send some relevant books I had authored, and added others I thought might be useful. In addition, I prepared course packs in English and Spanish (with the help of a graduate student from South America) regarding local idioms. I learned, for example, that people in Colombia expressed something very positive as “the last Coca-Cola in the desert.”

Students also received feedback on their research projects in various stages, from proposals to data collection. Another commitment was a keynote address, called the Foro Fulbright, to local universities and other Fulbright scholars in the country. The students and young faculty were all bright, hard-working and dedicated, but their exposure to research design and international perspectives was provincial. Most students and faculty were open and eager to learn what the global academic community had to offer.

Not all experiences were positive. I was given Thursdays off, because it was known as “riot day,” when vigilantes stormed local universities. Sure enough, on the first Thursday of my visit and the Wednesday of the second week, I was ordered out of the office I shared with colleagues as vigilantes bombed the institution for hours. These events were followed by riot police storming the university. The tear gas they discharged lingered in the air for days.

Finally, on the Sunday before I left for home, I was robbed by a policeman while walking to the supermarket. The executive director of Fulbright Colombia called it a perfect storm of crime and civil unrest, and approved my decision to teach the remainder of my courses online.

Ongoing ties

Our students continue to keep in touch. I have helped several students write master’s theses of which they could be justifiably proud, and the thesis that Florence co-mentored was published the following year in the International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology.

Working as Fulbright Specialists allowed us to interact with colleagues and students abroad, while serving our country as ambassadors of scholarship. While there were some unwelcome experiences for me, we have many positive memories. We encourage you to apply to be on the roster, but note that you will need a bodyguard in some countries.

 
Robert Goldfarb, PhD, CCC-SLP, is professor of communication sciences and disorders at Adelphi University. He is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 2, Neurophysiology and Neurogenic Speech and Language Disorders, and 4, Fluency and Fluency Disorders.

Florence Ling Myers, PhD, CCC-SLP, is professor of communication sciences and disorders at Adelphi University. She is an affiliate of ASHA SIG 4.

Healing the Stuttering Self

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It’s a question so simple, so common, yet so terrifying to someone who stutters:

“What’s your name?”

It’s the first chance to make an impression on someone, and you’re forced to perform the most difficult of tasks because there are no words to switch. Your name is your name. And sometimes it can be hard to say.

The “D” sound was problematic in my name because it began with a plosive. I blocked on the D, and built up so much muscular tension in my tongue tip that the word would get stuck. The more nervous I was, the more tension would develop. This happened hundreds of times throughout my life, each instance chipping away at my self-esteem and adding to my anxiety in social situations.

Facing that question is difficult for me even now, at the age of 44, long free of the burden of caring what others think of me. Even though I am a fully-licensed speech-language pathologist, the question,“What is your name?” still triggers an immediate response of fear, paralyzing my throat and stopping my breath. Sometimes, if I’m caught in the moment, unaware that my name will be asked, I can get it out easily, without thinking twice about it. My fluency is automatic now. However, it’s different when I’m anticipating that I will have to say my name—when my fear of speaking has the time to surface.

Stuttering runs in my family. I began to stutter at around four years of age.

At first, I don’t recall having any difficulty with my speech. I remember sharing a thought with my first-grade teacher one day, the content of which was not significant enough to recall. But I remember the feeling of spontaneously talking because it was one of the last times I would speak freely at school, or anywhere. My stuttering got progressively worse as I began to struggle against it.

The teasing started in second grade, when I was mimicked by classmates, and even my own friends. I would hear laughter when I struggled to get the words out when reading aloud in class. One time in third grade, I was teased about my stuttering by a girl in my class. I cried so hard that other kids came over to see what was wrong with me, thinking that I must be physically hurt because I was wringing my hands in anger.

On the first day of home economics class in my first year of high school, I was unable to say my name during the usual introductions. Every day after that, the table of football players mockingly chanted my name every time I walked into class. By my third year in high school, I spoke so infrequently that I was often asked, “Do you ever talk?”

I had gone through the Precision Fluency Shaping Program when I was 12. I remember the machine I had to speak into to learn gentle onset of voicing. A green light would illuminate when I got it correct. I did hundreds of drills with that machine. I also learned how to take a diaphragmatic breath and to prolong the first sound or syllable of a word. All these techniques finally gave me the tools to speak fluently, but they never dealt with the underlying fear of speaking that had built up over the years. Saying my name was always difficult.

As a graduate student in speech-language pathology, I was mostly fluent, but I still had episodes of stuttering. My fluency disorders professor told the others that I had “exquisite gentle onsets.” I was offered the job of answering the telephone in the department office as a way to practice my fluency techniques. Unfortunately, I had to say “department of communication disorders” when I picked up the phone. I blocked on the D sound, and soon realized that accepting the job was a huge mistake. There were professors and students in and out of the office, so it was hard to concentrate on my fluency techniques.

I had so much difficulty that I began having anxiety attacks. I was made to go into speech therapy, but not allowed to discontinue the job if I wanted to remain in the program. The pressure was too great, the stakes too high. Somehow I got through the semester, but I developed such a fear of the ringing phone that it was three years before I was able to answer the phone even in my own home.

As I learned about the causes and mechanics of stuttering in my course of study, I became aware of the feeling of discoordination between my breath and the muscles in my mouth. I increasingly gained control over my speech with the knowledge of the disorder, but the fear never went away. Since I never processed the fear, I suppressed it.

Now, when the fear grips me, it’s not fear of certain sounds or words, as it was when I was a child. It’s the fear of speaking itself. It’s not a simple discoordination that needs to come under conscious control by employing fluency techniques. The fear goes straight to my vocal chords and locks them.

What I’m finding helpful in those instances, is to take a diaphragmatic breath through my nostrils and exhale gently, then begin vocalizing. If I can do this, the words come out more easily. Another tactic I employ when I know I will be asked to say my name is visualizing myself doing it easily and successfully, over and over, before I actually go into the situation.

To process the feelings that have built up about stuttering, I have begun to examine some of the more damaging experiences from my past and think about them. I replay the situation in my mind, feeling the emotions that were present, then I imagine what I would say to my younger self in that moment. By reframing memories in this way, I can begin to heal them and let them go.

Most importantly, when entering a speaking situation that I suspect may be challenging, I tell myself, “I can do this.” This is what people who struggle with their fluency need to hear. They need to know that stuttering need not define them, and that the ability to gain control over their speech is within their grasp.

Donna L Marland, MS, CCC-SLP, is a pediatric speech-language pathologist who spent many years providing services in public schools. She specializes in language and fluency disorders in her private practice.