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Focus on Fulbright: Q&A with Aaron Pitluck

To celebrate Fulbright alumni at Illinois State, Aaron Pitluck of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology recounts his days in the program and the impact it made. #Fulbright@ISU #FulbrightPrgrm

headshot of Aaron Pitluck

Aaron Pitluck

Where and when did you complete your Fulbright?
I held my Fulbright scholarship as a graduate student in Malaysia in 2001-2.  It was an interesting time to be a Muslim-majority country.  For example, I first learned about the 9/11 attack when visiting a Malaysian anthropologist in his office.  It was a surreal conversation.

Please describe your project.
I conducted an ethnography of the Malaysian stock exchange in order to understand professional investor behavior in an emerging market.  I interviewed professional investors, their brokers, retail investor brokers, and market regulators.

How do you believe your Fulbright experience changed your work after you returned?
I do not know who I would be if I hadn’t gone to Malaysia to conduct my dissertation research.

Travel can be referred to as the gift of the unexpected. What was the most unexpected thing you saw or experienced?
In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attack, I received such warm concern from new friends, colleagues, and strangers.  There was immense empathy for Americans, even among those who disagreed with our government’s policies in the Middle East.  I also saw youth wearing t-shirts with Osama bin Laden’s smiling face, much like youth wear a jersey of their favorite sports team.

Have you returned to the country where you served your Fulbright award? Had it changed? Had you changed?
I’ve returned multiple times, in 2006, 2012, and 2013, although not as often as I’d like.  My son was born in 2008, so he’s accompanied me on the last two trips. He has fond memories of Malaysian playgrounds and the apartments we stayed in.

What do you most wish people could understand about the Fulbright experience?
One of the wonderful aspects of Fulbright is that it is a government-to-government organized grant.  This means that the host country specifies the research topic or skills requested of the American Fulbright grantees.  It also means that Fulbright grantees have access to State Department and Consulate resources.  Moreover, Fulbright has a long history in many countries, and so by receiving a Fulbright, you join a history and a social network.  All of these resources helped immensely in making my fieldwork a success.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of applying for Fulbright?
In many countries (although I suspect not all), you need to have an institutional affiliation in the country in order to apply for a Fulbright (or at least to have a competitive advantage).  This is a catch-22 phenomenon where students need a Fulbright to gain experience overseas, but need experience overseas to have a competitive application.  Use Internet research and contacts of people you’ve met from the host country to overcome this.

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