Beverly Penn | Fulbright Scholar
Art and Design
Received Fulbright Hayes/Spanish Government Grant for Research in Design
"I was a Fulbright scholar in Spain during my first year of teaching at Texas State (then Southwest Texas). I worked and taught at the Massana School of Art in Barcelona with some of the most important artists and designers in my field, who are still significant friends and colleagues to this day. I had no idea that the Fulbright experience would help me become part of a close knit international community for life, which has nourished my research and continues to support my work even though decades have intervened.
If truth be told, the start was somewhat rocky, and I had to make some significant adjustments in order to get work done. In preparation for the Fulbright, I had studied rigorously to meet the Spanish language requirement, only to find that in a passionate surge of post-Franco regionalism, Catalan was becoming the preferred spoken language in Barcelona, especially in artistic and academic circles, even to the extent that speaking in Spanish was considered to be in poor taste. Then there was the struggle to find a place to live. In some countries Fulbrights find their own housing, which can be both a blessing and a curse. My first apartment was right next door to the Barcelona prison, and through my kitchen window I was privy, at all times of day and night, to the sights and sounds of threatening exchanges between irate wives on the street, and their incarcerated husbands shouting back at them through the barred windows of the upper story cell blocks. Until I moved, it did a lot to dampen research at home base. When I worked at the Massana School in the Gothic Quarter, the studios were only open between 10 - 2 and 4 - 8. The school closed religiously each day for the required 2 hour midday meal at nearby cafes, where wine was free with meals, but the water cost extra. Even though I was on a limited budget it took me only a few days to realize I was going to have to fork out the extra cash if I was going to get anything accomplished at all!
Initial struggles aside, the Fulbright experience changed my life. Perhaps the most important, rewarding and life-changing aspect of the Fulbright is living inside your research rather than at the comfort of a distance. Witnessing first-hand is a vital pathway to understanding one's sources, and this is true in both work and in life. My Fulbright was in 1989 - 1990, a historic moment in world history, and my name was one of 3 lucky names picked out of a hat to represent the Spanish Fulbright contingent at the annual European conference, held that year in Berlin. Some images are forever etched in one's mind, and I will never, ever forget the life-altering experience of standing at the Brandenburg Gate with the Berlin Wall half in rubble, and half still standing stubbornly waiting for destruction.
Living in another culture and communicating in a language that is not your mother tongue is both humbling and invigorating - one's perspective is simultaneously that of the curious foreigner and of the confident native, with the heightened awareness of being both firmly inside a culture's vantage point yet outside of its natural predispositions. The Fulbright offers anyone, at any point in their life's work, an opportunity for "firsts", some planned for, and others a great gift of chance."