For many years now, Clarkston, Ga., has been known for its ethnic diversity. The January 2017 issue of Atlanta Magazine even titled its article about the town’s center as the “Ellis Island of the South.”
Warren St. John’s book ‘Outcasts United’ and his articles for the New York Times gave the town global renown. In his book and articles Mr. St. John brings to life the story of a soccer team of refugee boys and their coach. The book and articles also depict Clarkston’s transition from “a sleepy Southern town” on the outskirts of Atlanta and how it has been “upended by the process of refugee resettlement.”
A lesser known legacy of Clarkston’s refugee population is the weight gain they experience after living a decade in the United States.
Solveig Cunningham, associate professor of global health at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health, has been studying the phenomenon, saying that when immigrants first arrive in the U.S. they tend to be in good health, but a decade later they reach the same obesity and diabetes levels as native-born Americans.
The perfunctory conclusion assumed by researchers is that the weight-gain is the result of their exposure to unfamiliar fast- and processed-foods. But Dr. Cunningham discovered that immigrants to Belgium also develop higher rates of obesity and diabetes despite the fact that its childhood obesity rate is the lowest in Europe.
While conducting her study to discover why and researching the stress that immigrants experience, Dr. Cunningham learned of grants offered by the Fulbright Scholar Program while attending an informational lunch hosted by Emory University’s Office of Global Strategy & Initiatives (GSI).
“…I’m at a stage in my career where it’s nice to have a bigger perspective in terms of long-term research, the opportunities for collaborations and global impact,” she told the Emory News Center about her decision to move to Brussels once she was chosen to receive a Fulbright grant.
“GSI really put this opportunity on my radar,” she said, adding that she was drawn to moving to Belgium because of Europe’s refugee crisis.
With the encouragement of GSI, which has increased support for direct faculty exchanges, she is collaborating with Hadewijch Vandenbeede of Vrije Universiteit Brussel, whom she met through the Fulbright process, and Bruno Schoumaker of the University Catholique de Louvain.
Her experience with both French and Dutch-speaking institutions in Belgium raises the value of her research and heightens her approval ratings at Emory because internationally co-authored publications are cited many times more often than those with only a domestic focus.
The inconvenience of moving to another country was outweighed by the professional benefits of doing so, she asserts.
In her case, there has been the added benefit of acquiring firsthand the experience of adventure and challenge of such a move. “It’s the overlap of the actual experience of being an immigrant and studying immigration,” she said.
Shannan Palma, communications manager at Emory’s Office of Global Strategy & Initiatives, told Global Atlanta that Emory also seeks to attract scholars from overseas.
As an example, she cited Ralph Buchenhorst, a visiting associate professor from Germany in Emory’s philosophy department, who received a grant from the German Academic Exchange Service.
Dr. Buchenhorst researches memory discourses related to the aftermaths of genocides and is teaching a graduate seminar on critical theory and an undergraduate course on representations of the Holocaust.
“In Germany, for the first 15 years after the Second World War, nobody was talking about the Holocaust. It was simply taboo,” he said. “The most important issue right then was to reconstruct the country. But it’s important to show that history is not only made by the victors. It’s also made by the victims.”
Kalani Medagoda, a Sri Lankian lawyer who spent the fall semester at Emory studying the American legal framework for disability rights, also is a beneficiary of a Fulbright visiting research grant.
Ten percent of Sir Lanka’s 20 million inhabitants are disabled as the country experiences an aging population. As an assistant legal draftsman for her federal government, she writes access rules that form the basis of laws passed by the Sir Lankian parliament.
She credits visits to the Shepherd Center, which offers spinal and brain injury rehabilitation, and conversations with Emory professionals, with making her think more broadly about disability rights.
“If you don’t teach young people to be passionate about disability rights,” she says, “the law can’t do anything. It has to be part of the educational system.”
The Georgia Council for International Visitors will be hosting 140 Fulbright scholars this year. If you are interested in providing a dinner for any of the scholars, please contact Emily O’Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org or 404-832-5560 x 15.