WMU News

WMU hosts Fulbright Scholars from Hungary, Algeria

March 29, 2001

KALAMAZOO -- Curiosity about a common weed and the U.S. Constitution brought two scholars halfway across the world to WMU.

Mohammed Manaa, an associate professor of foreign languages and translation at the University of Annaba in Algeria, and Gabor Gullner, a senior research specialist at the Plant Protection Institute at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest, Hungary, have both come to the University this year as part of the Fulbright Scholar exchange program.

Manaa, who left on March 12, arrived in September and spent the past six months researching the U.S. Constitution and system of government. An instructor of American studies in his home country of Algeria, Manaa admits that being in America during the past presidential election was an unforgettable experience.

"Algeria is a young democracy," he says. "We look at America and are amazed at how the United States can have the oldest constitution in the world and that it never changes. At the same time, however, my students don't understand the Electoral College and how a candidate can get the most votes but not be elected president. This last election may make it even more difficult to understand."

Manaa says he is fascinated and impressed by how the governmental transition between presidents and parties has occurred. "The transition has gone on smoothly and without disruption. Even as the nation debated the political matters surrounding the election, the most important thing was that the country kept functioning."

Manaa will use his experiences and research here to create a study guide on the American constitutional system of government.

This is not the first time Manaa has been to North America. He lived in Canada while attending Laval University in Quebec and attended a summer institute in Boston in 1994. With three children and a wife back in Algeria, Manaa admits the separation was hard. Without a lot of international news available in American media, getting news about the world outside Kalamazoo and the borders of the United States, especially about Algeria, had been a challenge for him.

One aspect of communication in America, however, did captivate his interest: the easy accessibility of telephone service. While most Americans take for granted that most of their apartments and homes are wired for phone service and many carry cellular phones, that access is rare in Algeria. Telephones there are expensive and the infrastructure is not in place to allow most people the luxury of having telephone service in their homes.

"In my country, if you need to speak with someone, ask a question or get information, you have to physically go to them in person. You learn to wait," he says. "I like the fact that if I needed to ask a colleague here something, I could just e-mail them or call them and not have to go find them in person."

For Gullner, the other visiting Fulbright scholar, Americans' reliance on the automobile, long distances between places and ethnic diversity have been the things about this country that surprise him the most.

Gullner, who arrived from Hungary in January, is visiting the United States for the first time. He will spend the next five months conducting research with Alex Enyedi, associate professor of biological sciences, on plant defense mechanisms.

Currently living on WMU's campus, Gullner has quickly found that for Americans, traveling somewhere usually means taking a car. Accustomed to using the extensive public transit system in Hungary's capital city of Budapest, he relies on his feet and the Kalamazoo area's bus system for transportation. However, the majority of his time is spent doing research and working in a lab.

"Doing biochemical research is the most important of my activities as a Fulbright scholar. I am very interested in looking at the resistance mechanisms that arabidopsis has to pathogens like viruses and bacteria," says Gullner. While it sounds exotic, arabidopsis is actually a commonly found weed and the only plant to have its genetic makeup completely mapped. It's a model system for agricultural research on other plants like corn and wheat.

Gullner has the opportunity to do research at WMU that he couldn't conduct easily back in Budapest. "There are some experiments and work I'll do here that can't be done at home because of the lack of equipment," he says.

Like Manaa, Gullner has seen many changes in his home country in recent years. For him and the institute he works for, the changes have been for the better.

"Twenty years ago when I started there, the institute had mostly obsolete instruments and there wasn't much money. The financial conditions are much better now," he says. "Hungary has a 10-year-old democracy and has had three elections. We are more closely tied to the European Union now and, as a result, we are involved in European projects and are making more international contacts."

One of those international contacts, Alex Enyedi, is partly responsible for bringing Gullner to Kalamazoo. Familiar with one another's work, the two sparked an e-mail correspondence that resulted in Enyedi supporting Gullner's application for the Fulbright exchange.

"This is such a good opportunity for not just myself but for the institute I work for," Gullner says. "I am looking forward to transferring some of the benefits I have gained by being here through sharing this knowledge and teaching my colleagues."

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 616 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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