Fulbright Scholar Anna Palliser Says Farewell to JWU

Anna Palliser

I am the first Fulbright Scholar from my home institution of Southern Institute of Technology, Invercargill, New Zealand, where I teach Environmental management at Degree and Graduate Diploma level. I am also the first international Fulbright Scholar that Johnson & Wales University has hosted and consequently it took them a while to decide whether to host me. However, eventually they invited me and agreed to my research proposal, which was examining Rhode Island local, urban food system from the perspective of food sovereignty and food security. Once they had invited me, JWU Faculty then began to host me in an exceptional way, providing support before my arrival and many wonderful opportunities during my stay with them.

I found my own accommodation in Providence, using the US website Furnished Finder, which finds furnished short-term accommodation of at least three months duration at reasonable prices. The only problem was finding a way to get the deposit to the landlady. However, Assistant Professor Christos Dimos stepped in and paid the deposit until I arrived and could pay him back, which I consider amazing as he had never even met me at that point!

I was quite nervous when I arrived in Providence in mid-August, two weeks before the start date of my Fulbright research period and ten days before my husband Leo joined me. By the time my husband arrived I had begun to settle in and was really enjoying the great weather and the energy of living in such a multicultural district.

Views from the bike trail

The buses here in Rhode Island are brilliant. For $2 you can get a bus journey anywhere in the state (although it is a very small state) and for $70 a month you can get unlimited bus travel anywhere in the state. You can also put your bicycle on the front of the bus and catch a bus to wherever you want to cycle. We went everywhere in the state, during the week my husband would travel around finding all the good places to go and then at the weekend, he would take me. We bought a couple of old bikes from a flea market the first week of Leo’s stay here and have explored some of the fine range of cycle trails in Rhode Island. Professor Laura Gabiger introduced us to the cycle paths, taking us one fine September for a wonderful cycle ride on the East side of the state.

Just before the start of my research, I met with Dean Michael Fein, who kindly took an afternoon to orientate me into the university campus. He helped me obtain my ID card and showed me the office and computer that had been arranged for me prior to my arrival. It was exciting to finally sit at my new desk and computer in my new office and begin doing desktop research into the Rhode Island urban food system. Dean Fein also invited me to several of the meetings arranged for faculty at the beginning of the new school year (which in the USA is in September rather than in February as it is in New Zealand). At one of these meetings I met Assistant Professor Mark Hengen, who took me to his home for lunch, introducing me to his lovely dog and garden. Mark became a valued advisor during my research, calling round regularly to my office and helping me to see the context of many of the things I was learning.

September was devoted to desktop research on Rhode Island Local food system. I discovered this system to be complex and large and it took me a while to decide where I needed to focus my energy in terms of non-profit organizations and other initiatives in the region. During this period faculty were so kind and welcoming, bringing me snacks I may not have tried before, pictures to decorate my office, folders and files to help organize my work and even perfume samples to help bring a bit of calm and frivolity to my days! Assistant Dean Rory Senerchia, who was my key Fulbright JWU advisor before I arrived, continued her support throughout my stay. In September she took me over to the other JWU Rhode Island campus, Harborside, where I was also given office space (as it was very near my home). At Harborside she introduced me to chefs who enhanced the experiences Leo and I had in Rhode Island immeasurably. Chef Brandon Lewis and Chef Neath Pal kindly took us to Operation Standown, where we helped them and their students prepare meals for veterans who were facing hard times. This was an awesome experience for us and really helped us to learn so much about American culture and people.

Palliser and her husband, Leo, at Operation Standown

Chef Lewis kept in regular contact with me throughout my time at JWU, inviting me and Leo to several of his cooking labs, where we enjoyed wonderful three course meals prepared by his trainee chefs. Also, in September, Professor Dorothy Abram invited me to meet other faculty members at a pot luck supper at her home, where we watched the democratic debates on TV. This was also an amazing introduction to American life and culture, and I met some lovely people including Assistant Professor Kevin DeJesus. Also, in September I was invited to the home of Assistant Professor Christos Dimos for a meal, where I met his lovely family.

In October I began interviewing people connected to the Rhode Island local, urban food system and traveling around Providence, Cranston and Pawtucket (all urban areas in Rhode Island), looking at community gardens and farmers markets in these areas. During this period, I was invited for a meal at Bistro 61 by Professor Evelina Lapierre. This is a facility where culinary students can practice their skills while serving amazing lunches. Evalina and her husband also took us to Scituate Arts festival one stunning fall day, where I was introduced to the best popcorn in the world as well as to apple dumplings. Also, in October, Assistant Dean Rory Senerchia kindly invited Leo and me to a meal at her home in October, where we met her lovely family, including her father (of Irish descent) who prepared a typical Irish meal for us, which was much appreciated by my Irish husband. Another noteworthy event in October was being guest speaker at a one of the classes of Assistant Professor Johanna Church, who was teaching a class on climate change and film. I really enjoyed my time with this class. It was great to be with students again and to get some insight into US students and classes.

One of my first interviews was with a couple of members of the Narragansett Tribe, who had spent several years developing the Narragansett Food Sovereignty Initiative down near Charlestown in the far South of Rhode Island. Professor Marian Gagnon lives near Charlestown and she took me there one evening, accompanied me to a wonderful seafood restaurant in Narragansett and put me up in her beautiful woodland home so that I could get to my interview in the morning.

Palliser and Professor Marian Gagnon enjoying a meal in Narragansett

JWU marketing department met me early on during my stay and interviewed me, which resulted in a feature on the  website. They also organised a table for me at the JWU study abroad fair so I could promote my institution to JWU as a study abroad venue.

November was a time of intense interviewing for my research, and to date I have managed to complete 16 interviews with several more booked for the next couple of weeks. Most of my respondents have agreed to come to a meeting late December where we can discuss the results of my research. In November I also took three days to visit the University of Maine as a guest of Assistant Professor Joline Blais, who found out about me from Professor James Brosnan of JWU, who met Joline at a conference. This visit was wonderful! Each evening was spent in a beautiful house which is held by the university for sessions connected with sustainability and permaculture. Several students also live there. I met several other members of Faculty from the University of Maine and two classes of students studying sustainable communities. My first evening was spent giving a talk followed by a three-hour long discussion with these students. In November was also an invitation to an evening reception in Boston, courtesy of Fulbright where we met many other Fulbrighters who were mainly studying in Boston.

The people of Rhode Island have been very supportive of my research, although everyone is very busy and it can take a while to organise an interview with people. In hindsight four months is rather short for completing this kind of project. It takes at least a month of solid desktop research to understand the location and the local food system. This then leaves on two months to connect with people and meet them to do the interviews, because time at the end is needed to analyse the results and give feedback to participants, etc. A six month stay would have resulted in a project that was not so rushed and had more depth I believe, especially as one of the important roles of a Fulbright Scholar is to be an ambassador for NZ and to make the most of opportunities to connect with people apart from research participants.

Despite wishing for more time, my Fulbright experience has been one of the richest experiences of my working life and much of this is because of the faculty of JWU, who have made this experience so warm and exciting. I have made friends who I will certainly stay in touch with and have been able to complete a research project which I believe will really be of value to New Zealand. I have so enjoyed doing the research, meeting wonderful people and getting to know the smallest (and I am beginning to think the best) state in the USA!