Hargrove: Five Fulbrights and 50 years later

Editor's note: The following is part two in a series of short articles by Mississippi State faculty and administrators about their experiences in the Fulbright Scholar Program. For additional information about the program, contact MSU Fulbright Ambassador Stephen Cottrell at wec3@msstate.edu.


By Nancy Hargrove
William L. Giles Distinguished Professor Emerita of English

The Fulbright program has had an enormous impact on both my personal and professional life as well as the lives of my husband, children, and grandchildren. In the spring of 1963, I returned to Agnes Scott College from spring holidays to find a thick letter in my mailbox informing me that I had received a Fulbright Fellowship to study French Literature in Grenoble, France during the coming academic year. Quite simply, that year determined the course of my life. I fell in love with France and French culture; I learned to speak and read French fluently; and I met a Fulbright Ph.D. student in voice named Guy Hargrove, whom I would marry two years later and with whom for 50 years this October I have shared a love of France and numerous European countries.

Having both attained Ph.D. degrees -- he in vocal performance and literature and I in American Literature -- and gotten positions at Mississippi State University, our next Fulbright adventure came when I received a Junior Lectureship to teach at the Centre Universitaire de Savoie (as it was then called) in Chambéry, France for 1976-7. With our two children, aged eight and five, we spent a wonderful year there. I taught five courses(!), we made life-long friends, our children attended a French school and learned to speak fluently, and we learned to ski, quite an accomplishment for a family from the South of the United States.

In 1984-5, I received a Senior Lectureship to teach at the Universiteit Bruxelles in Brussels, where I taught American Literature of the 1920s, and at the Université de Liège, where I taught two graduate seminars, one on William Faulkner and the other on Tennessee Williams. We lived in Brussels, where we appreciated all the advantages of a cosmopolitan city. Our children, then 16 and 13, attended a French-speaking school in Waterloo, not far from our neighborhood. We were chosen to go to a week-long Fulbright conference in West Berlin, a highlight of our year.

My next Fulbright came in the spring semester of 1992, when I taught at the University of Lund, Sweden. There we made many friends, including the major Swedish Eliot scholar (with whom I will participate at the T. S. Eliot Summer School in London this July). We went almost daily to the morning coffee hour in the English department, where we learned to drink coffee that was so strong that “a spoon would stand up in it,” as our Swedish colleagues told us. I taught four courses, Guy and I gave several special programs in the department, the favorite being “Language of the American South,” which included a skit using many Southern expressions, and Guy gave several vocal concerts. Although our children were young adults and did not accompany us, both came to visit.

Despite -- or perhaps because of my previous Fulbrights -- I received the Fulbright Distinguished Chair Award in American Studies at the University of Vienna for the Fall semester of 2005, and we set out for Vienna just hours before Hurricane Katrina struck the Mississippi coast. Again I taught four courses and, as always, was very impressed with my students. I also learned at the end of the first class that Austrian students knock on their desks if they enjoyed the lecture, a wonderful custom that I loved. I was gratified when the students in my Modern Poetry course asked if I would do an out-of-class presentation on Sylvia Plath, and Guy and I gave a program for the department on American Literature, Art, and Music, which had standing-room only. We attended many musical offerings in Vienna and, along with other Fulbrights, got to attend one of the famous Viennese balls.

So my Fulbrights took us to many countries, contributed to all three of my books and numerous articles, and gave us many enduring friendships and an appreciation of various cultures. We believe that we served as ambassadors of good-will for the United States, often in somewhat trying times. Although I can never fully repay the Fulbright program for all it has given me and my family, we “pay it forward” by serving as mentors and friends to international students in our community and the university and by giving numerous programs on our Fulbright experiences.

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