Associate Professor Karen Barbour was one of only seven New Zealand scholars to receive a Fulbright Scholar Award earlier this year. The Award enables New Zealand academics, artists or professionals to lecture and/or conduct research in the United States for between three to five months.
The Fulbright programme of international educational exchange, initiated by US Senator J. William Fulbright from Arkansas, came about as a result of the belief that mutual understanding between different countries and cultures was crucial to ensure a peaceful future for the world. New Zealand was the fifth country to sign up to the Fulbright programme with the United States in 1948, with hundreds of exchanges between New Zealand and the United States since then.
As a lecturer in dance, Associate Professor Barbour was planning to focus her research abroad on investigating somatic dance practices and action competence in responding to environmental change. Her aim was to work with the community in Mississippi with fellow somatic dance educator from the University of Southern Mississippi. They aimed to investigate ways in which dance educators can help students to prepare and be better equipped to deal with taking action in response to climate change and natural disasters. Associate Professor Barbour proposed a dance research project, and one with a much bigger scope.
In hindsight, this was an unexpectedly appropriate research theme given the current global situation brought on by an unexpected, unwelcome and devastating pandemic that has literally affected the entire world, rich and poor, young and old alike. Although required to stay at home, Barbour reflects that national lockdowns and closed borders offer time for reflection on our local environment and our own embodied wellbeing. She suggests that as more people in the global community are developing competencies together in an effort to understand the relationships between the pandemic and environmental change, this may begin an era of more significant environmental action.
The intention was for Associate Professor Barbour and her family to embrace this wonderful career opportunity and travel to Mississippi for a period of five months from August until December 2020 in order for her to conduct her research. However as a result of Covid-19 her research travel is on hold until the same time next year in hopes travel is possible again (August – December 2021).
“I began with a simple question about how I might further fulfil my role as an dance educator in nurturing response-able citizens. I questioned how I might support the development of competencies in young people to act in the face of the inevitable environmental changes ahead of us. Whether I am able to take up the Fulbright Scholar Award in 2021 or not, I am grateful for the focus that applying for the award gave me in identifying this research trajectory.”