Rachel Wheeler

IU School of Liberal Arts
Associate Professor of Religious Studies
Fulbright Teaching and Research Scholarship
Germany, 2011-2012

What was your project about?
I received a Fulbright Fellowship for the 2011-2012 academic year and spent the year teaching in the American Studies Department at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. I also worked on a full-length biography of a Mohican-Moravian man named Joshua, 1742-1806, who lived through the religious revivals and wars of the 18th century.

How did you establish relationship or develop the project idea with the host organization?
Fulbright has a Distinguished Scholar in American Studies Program that offers one position each year. I contacted that person because he is somebody in my field and knows the American studies field in Germany. He recommended me to get in touch with the professors at the Johannes Gutenberg University. It turned out that a lot of my interests fit with their interests.

What were the benefits of the Fulbright project?
Making new contacts and improving my German was the best part of my Fulbright scholarship experience. My project involves German missionaries in America. I was not looking at the resources there because I have my own resources in microfilm format, but I wanted to be in the country. I had read German but never spoken it. I learned German to be able to do this project. The program encourages scholars to travel and give lectures, and the local universities invited me to give talks. These were good opportunities for visiting different places. I travelled around Germany, Luxembourg, Scotland and Norway.

What kind of challenges did you confront?
My daughter was four years old when we were there which was hardest part. The US offers more availability in terms of child care. All academic events happed in the evening, not something I recommend if you do not have someone who can devote his/her time to child care and other things like setting a bank account or cell phones.

What was your contribution to the host country?
I really enjoyed teaching there and the students were very good and well-prepared. The education system in German is student driven but more formal. I think the student’s appreciated a different style in the classroom. Other than the American Studies course, I was teaching them how to read the old German handwriting which is a very different style that Germans cannot read today. That was a fun project to work on. As a class project, we had a transcript a mission document and we are going to submit it to be published in a journal.

What would you recommend to the Fulbright applicants?
The more they connect with previous scholars in the country, the better it is. I learned about the budget cuts to German Fulbright Commission when I got there. They used to have intensive language course as a part of the program. Sharing conversations prior to traveling minimize any surprises.