Ten years after her Fulbright in Rome, Lea Cline is advancing that mission by founding a study abroad program to Italy for her students.
Where and when did you complete your Fulbright?
I received a Fulbright U.S. Student award to Italy for the 2006-2007 academic year. At the time, I was a doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin.
Please describe your project.
While in Italy, I completed the initial research for my dissertation, Altars and Empire: Studies in Roman Altars and Divine Kingship (c.300 B.C.- A.D. 96). My dissertation project examined a ubiquitous form in Roman architecture – the sacrificial altar. I examined the means by which the emperor—or dictator in the case of Caesar—used the altar form to at once avoid direct assimilation with the gods (which was, strictly speaking, against religious norms) while simultaneously establishing the veneration of divine powers unequivocally associated with him. It was a huge project and one that required substantial time in Rome seeing the monuments in question (not just for a quick visit but over, and over, and over again while I formulated my ideas) and many late hours in that city’s amazing libraries. The Fulbright allowed me to immerse myself in this work.
How do you believe your Fulbright experience changed your work after you returned?
It is true and expected that I say that the Fulbright year allowed me to make substantial progress in my dissertation research. It did. But, something else happened, too. I lived in Italy for a full year (for the first time, as I would repeat the experience a few more times). I learned what it feels like to be a Roman, outside of the tourist areas, though no less enmeshed in history. I met real Italians, became a regular at a coffee shop, and made friends. I became, in a sense, a little Roman myself. That is what will stay with me forever.
Travel can be referred to as the gift of the unexpected. What was the most unexpected thing you saw or experienced?
Living in a country means confronting some seemingly mundane tasks that, because you are used to doing it a certain way at home, can become little adventures. For me, it was the need to purchase a long-handled lighter (for my gas stove/oven that lacked an automatic starter). After visiting a tobacco shop, a grocery store, the hardware store, and a kitchen supply store, an exasperated shopkeeper informed me that I should look at the electronics store. Didn’t Americans know that lighters for the kitchen were only sold in electronic stores? The logic: the lighters with long handles operate with a battery. Thus, they are electronics. That little lesson cost me nearly a day of honest frustration. But, I have never forgotten the lesson that, to really understand Italian culture, I had to learn how to NOT be (and think like) an American as much as I had to learn to be (and think like) an Italian.
Have you returned to the country where you served your Fulbright award? Had it changed? Had you changed?
I have been to Italy many times since my Fulbright year, living there again while researching and excavating. Italy has a wonderful and frustrating ability to not change. Many things of ephemeral nature change but the spirit of Italy, what makes it ‘tick’ as a nation, is eternal. Among the greatest accomplishments of my life has been creating, with my colleague Dr. Kathryn Jasper (ISU History, Fulbright to Italy 2008-09), a study abroad experience to Italy for ISU students. The Fulbright has a mission to create sustained cultural exchanges. Dr. Jasper and I are living the mission of Fulbright with our students now, introducing them to the country that hosted us as students.
What do you most wish people could understand about the Fulbright experience?
A Fulbright award represents a gesture of profound trust in a person, by their government and by their host country. Fulbrighters, as much as we become engaged in our own research and experience, go abroad for the greater goals of fostering openness among countries, promoting intellectual freedom, growing mutual understanding, and, eventually, making peace among the peoples of the world a nearer possibility.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of applying for Fulbright?
Don’t let the prestige of the award scare you away. Apply!