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U.S. Fulbrighter reflects on his Fulbright experience

I have been involved in professional collaborations with colleagues in Russia for more than 20 years. During my time as a Warner School of Education doctoral student in the late nineties, I was actively engaged as a member of the board of directors of Linkages, a not-for-profit organization promoting people-to-people connections between the people of Rochester and those of our Russian Sister-City, Veliky Novgorod. Even earlier, as an undergraduate student at the University of Rochester, I completed the certificate in Russian Studies program, writing my senior thesis on what was then Soviet psychology in which I explored the work of key people in the field. Little did I imagine that 30 years later, thanks in large part to the Fulbright organization, I would have the opportunity to work at institutions where some of these luminaries had worked.

My Fulbright-sponsored research in the capital city of Kazan, Tatarstan–one of the numerous republics of the former Soviet Union–proved to be an ideal location. Given that I hoped to study what local experts in another culture considered to be key nutriments for children’s psychological well-being, Kazan was ideally situated: roughly 50 percent of its population were ethnically Tatar, religiously Muslim people, and roughly 50 percent were ethnically Russian, religiously Russian Orthodox people. It allowed me to tap into the perspectives of two important and fairly distinct cultural groups.

Kazan Federal University (KFU), which hosted me during my Fulbright year, is one of the leading universities in Russia. Kazan is an ancient city filled with a rich history and many cultural opportunities, from museums to the performing arts. Among the greatest of Kazan’s cultural treasures is its very location, along the storied Volga River.

From my Fulbright experience, I gained a better understanding of the Russian higher education system, and the realities of doing scholarship in Russia. These connections and contacts have led to numerous new ventures, opportunities, and collaborations.  No fewer than four co-authored publications, not to mention conference presentations, have emerged from the partnership forged during my Fulbright year with KFU professor of psychology, Nailya Salikhova. As well, for several years I have been in contact with Dmitry Leontiev, a psychologist from Moscow, who is well-known internationally for his work in the areas of positive psychology and existential psychology. Leontiev has visited the University of Rochester’s Warner School three times, most recently in March of last year when he spent several days as my guest and a guest of the Warner School. Following up on my Fulbright experience, which ended in May 2015, together with Leontiev and several other key colleagues, we established the International Laboratory of Positive Psychology of Personality and Motivation in 2015, based at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, in Moscow, Russia.

During the winter 2018 semester, I hosted a visiting doctoral student from Leontiev’s laboratory at the Higher School of Economics, a nearly semester-long visit that was coordinated through the University of Rochester’s Office of Global Engagement.

At the nomination of Leontiev, I became a member of the Dissertation Council in the Department of Psychology at the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Moscow. To my knowledge, I am the only non-Russian, voting member of this 25-member council. The position is noteworthy not only for the honor that it represents, both for me and for the Warner School, but for the potential for impact on upcoming generations of scholars in Russia.

For me, these partnerships reflect an extension and a deepening of my work to promote the development of the mental health professions in post-Soviet Russia, which was given a remarkable boost by the Fulbright teaching and research award.