BU GRADUATE CARRYING OUT FULBRIGHT RESEARCH IN BANGLADESH
Fulbright Recipient: Anders Bjornberg
Graduate Student, Historical Sociology Program
Article Written by: Tasfia Rahman, Class of 2014
Anders Bjornberg, a graduate student in the Historical Sociology program at Binghamton University, won the Fulbright Research Grant to carry out field research on border conflicts in Bangladesh. His interest in the country goes back to his time as an undergraduate, when he was a History major and carried out an honors thesis on the partition of the Indo-East Pakistani borderlands.
Anders also worked as an undergraduate Research Assistant in the Bangladesh National Archives and as a fieldworker in rural Bangladesh for the "Improving Microcredit Programs: Listening to Recipients" project under the Goldin Institute. He and a partner designed the project to test the functionality of microcredit programs, which are supposed to provide entrepreneurship to the poor through small loans. Bjornberg discovered that these programs were becoming exploitative, to the extent that the recipients were losing their assets when they could not pay back the loans.
Anders continued his interest in Bangladesh, expanding his perspective to include Sociology. "The Sociology program here is very historical. I did not imagine myself as a Sociologist, but this program is such a good fit. Sociology is about structure and history is about agency. Both are on a continuum; you cannot have one without the other." On his current research, he says, "Only now, do we have truly world integrated economies. The border between Bangladesh and Burma is more invisible and South Asian and Southeast Asian specialists are not willing to cross it. Coming from Binghamton and having this world perspective, I can look at this area for what it is."
The Fulbright Research Grant provides a chance for Anders to understand the displacement of the Rohingya people from Burma to Bangladesh. Before he applied, he had to consider the controversial and political aspect of his project. On the application process itself, he admits, "Applying to fellowships, grants, and scholarships is very difficult. Some will reject you and some may accept your proposal. Projects can change from proposal to proposal, which is why it is important to have a very good design."
For his application, Anders had invaluable support from his faculty advisor, Shelley Feldman from the Sociology Department and William G. Martin, department Chair. "To prepare, you need a group of people to help you by reading your application. But in the end, it is up to you to use the criticism without radically changing your original ideas."
Not only does Anders have research experience in Bangladesh, he also has the language skills. In the summer of 2012, he received a Critical Language Scholarship to Bangladesh, an intensive immersion Bangla language program. This experience combined with the considerable amount of time he spent in the country and the contacts he made there over the years makes it is easy to see why Anders won the Fulbright Research Grant.
For students planning to apply in the future, he advises: "No effort is wasted. Even if you do not get it, the process will have prepared you for the next application. Writing about yourself and convincing people about the importance of your ideas is an invaluable skill set."