Fulbright Award Taking Dr. Bush To Ukraine

BLUFFTON, USA -- It is not an exaggeration to say that his selection as a Fulbright scholar is a dream come true for Dr. Perry Bush.

Dr. Perry Bush

“I’ve been dreaming of doing a Fulbright for 20 years,” says the Bluffton University history professor, adding that he thought about it even before that as a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

The prestigious award, whose recipients have included 43 Nobel Prize winners, will take Bush—along with his wife Elysia and eighth-grade daughter Cassidy—to Zaparozhye in southeastern Ukraine next January.

He will teach American studies at Zaparozhye National University during spring semester 2012.

While the Fulbright program is highly competitive, Bush says, he was encouraged to pursue it several years ago when his Bluffton colleague, Jeff Gundy, a professor of English, was chosen for a spring 2008 Fulbright lectureship in Salzburg, Austria.

Gundy also taught American studies—a history-literature hybrid that host overseas institutions both want and need, Bush was told by Fulbright representatives at a workshop in 2009.

Applying to the program a year ago, he wrote that he was looking to lecture somewhere on the intersection of politics, economics, religion and culture in 20th-century America.

Among his qualifications, he cited his 20 years in higher education—now including 17 years of teaching American history at Bluffton—and involvement in local politics as, for example, former chair of the Allen County Democratic Party’s Central Committee and a continuing member of its executive committee.

He also noted his forthcoming book on deindustrialization of the Midwest, specifically the city of Lima’s successful effort to save the former British Petroleum oil refinery there, and his familiarity with the evangelical world.

He was raised in that subculture, says Bush, whose father was an Old Testament professor.

He was hoping for an assignment in Eastern Europe—“a fascinating place,” Bush says, where he and his wife spent three months in Poland with 13 Bluffton students in spring 1995.

A Fulbright staff member he emailed about that possibility “strongly recommended” Ukraine, the former Soviet republic which has been an independent state for only 20 years and offers emerging democracy as well as rich culture, he explains.

As a Mennonite scholar, Bush also knew Ukraine to be the ancestral homeland of many current North American Mennonites, including some at Bluffton.

One large group came to the United States from southeastern Ukraine in the 1870s and another after World War I, but about 30,000 died in Stalinist purges of the 1920s and ‘30s.

A monument to those victims was dedicated two years ago in Zaparozhye, he points out, noting that the Mennonite Central Committee was born from famine relief efforts in the area in the early ‘20s.

In preparation for the experience, language is a key issue for the Bluffton professor, whose first cross-cultural travel—to Jerusalem for six months as a 15-year-old—gave him a world focus and so “had a revolutionary effect on my life,” he acknowledges.

“I really want to work on language,” says Bush, who is taking Russian lessons this summer from Dr. James Satterwhite, a Bluffton professor emeritus of history and political science and a Fulbright Scholar in Poland in 1989.

He doesn’t expect to be fluent in the language by January, and will need a translator in class, but would like some ability in Russian because little English is spoken in southeastern Ukraine and not speaking the native language, he says, means being “shut out of culture.”

“I’m really thrilled to be going,” adds Bush, who earned his Ph.D. in history from Carnegie Mellon in 1990. “Whatever we see and experience will be more than I thought I would ever do.”

At the same time, he wants to be “a cultural ambassador,” in keeping with the Fulbright Program’s primary purpose of increasing mutual understanding between people of the United States and other nations. “I feel a sense of duty,” he says.

Chair of Bluffton’s history and religion department, Bush is also the author of the university’s centennial history, “Dancing with the Kobzar,” and is working on a book about C. Henry Smith, an early 20th-century Bluffton professor and prominent Mennonite historian.

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