By STEVEN NALLEY
Richard Raymond’s students in Albania loved “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
Before becoming English department head at Mississippi State University, Raymond went to Albania on a Fulbright scholarship in 2003, teaching American literature to undergraduate students. Raymond said it made sense when Twain’s story of a boy and a slave seeking freedom appealed to Albanians who, under communism, were deprived of many freedoms Americans take for granted. He said while many of the students he taught were born after communism ended in Albania, corruption remains a problem, with former communists in charge of both political parties.
“In many ways, the American story is similar to their story,” Raymond said. “They had this hunger to learn about what it means to claim liberty, particularly after one has been oppressed. It was a life-changing experience for me. I guess I’m renewing that experience in Kosovo.”
Now awarded the second Fulbright of his career, Raymond will spend the spring semester at the University of Pristina in Kosovo teaching American literature again, this time at the graduate level.
Raymond will also teach a class on research strategies and help Pristina faculty with curriculum development. Raymond said many Kosovo universities suspended operations during the ‘90s as a centuries-old feud between Serbians and Albanians in Kosovo heated up, leading to the Kosovo War.
“In Kosovo, the ‘90s were pretty much devoted to civil war and ethnic cleansing on both sides,” Raymond said. “Things pretty much shut down in the 90s, as far as universities. It’s exciting to me to be in on this, to not only help reinvent their country but also their university system. I’m just excited to go over there and see if I can help.”
Raymond will also conduct research on literacy histories in Kosovo, interviewing professors and students on how they learned to read and write Albanian and English. He said he hopes these stories will show whether or not Kosovans view literacy and education as a path forward for the country.
“I’m trying to see if I can connect their histories of learning language with the history of their own country and the future of their own country,” Raymond said. “We usually believe we cannot progress as a country without literacy. I’m trying to find out if they still feel that way or if they’re less hopeful about the future of their country. My hope is I will write a book about these interviews.”
It would not be Raymond’s first book about a Fulbright experience. Using experience from Albania, Raymond wrote a book for fellow teachers called “Teaching American Literature at an East-European University: Explicating the Rhetoric of Liberty.”
In Albania, Raymond said he asked students to write many essays as well as a journal, a task many students were unaccustomed to.
“Thinking critically and writing research papers was a totally new experience for them,” Raymond said. Nobody ever asked them to write anything because nobody cared what they thought. Under communism, they were used to taking orders but not making their own decisions.”
During Raymond’s absence, MSU associate professor Kelly Marsh will be taking over his duties as department head.
“As a Fulbright scholar, Dr. Raymond has been chosen to represent the U.S. and its academic tradition abroad; at the same time, he will be representing MSU in the research, teaching, and service he does there,” Marsh said. “He has been chosen for his expertise and vision to help as a newly independent nation builds its own university programs, and when he returns he will be able to share that experience as well as the scholarly project he works on while he is there.”
Marsh said Raymond’s innovative, committed teaching approach has been an asset at MSU, just as it was in Albania and will be in Kosovo. She said Raymond has instituted several successful changes since his arrival, including a required course on reflective writing for English majors, changes to the composition program, and growth in the department’s linguistics and Teaching of English as a Second Language programs.
“He established the university’s Writing Center, which is a major advantage for MSU students in all majors,” Marsh said. “He also inspires faculty and encourages our ideas for change, as well. He has reached out to off-campus students by teaching on-line and teaching at Parchman Penitentiary.”
Stephen Cottrell said he has identified 14 faculty and administrators who have received different types of Fulbright scholarships since he became MSU’s faculty representative for the Fulbright program.
Some scholarships are as short as 2-6 weeks, he said, but a “core” scholarship like Raymond’s Kosovo scholarship can last one or two semesters. These “core” scholarships are limited to two in a lifetime, he said.
“I have no statistical data on the percentage of all repeat Fulbright awardees, but I am certain that it is rare,” Cottrell said. “Those on our campus who have had the privilege of receiving this honor are outstanding representatives for MSU and excellent good-will ambassadors for our nation.”