When I think back on my Fulbright experience, it’s not easy for me to focus on just one way in which the program has impacted my life for the better. My two years in Innsbruck with a Combined Student Grant were formative for me in so many ways. My career, my personal life, it’s all hard to imagine without the opportunities afforded to me by Fulbright Austria.
My Fulbright experience began in the fall of 2002 when I received a Combined Student Grant to pursue a historical research project and serve as an English teaching assistant in Innsbruck. I had applied for the Fulbright with the vague idea that I might be interested in pursuing a graduate degree in history, and with the much more concrete idea that I wanted to somehow get back to Innsbruck. I had spent my junior year in college there studying through a program run by the University of New Orleans, which has a long-running partnership with the University of Innsbruck. During that time I became extremely attached to the city and especially the surrounding mountains. I could not believe my luck that Fulbright was allowing me the chance to return. It turns out I got way more than that.
The experience set me on my current career path of becoming a historian. My research project—which focused on the role that a well-known military unit of the Habsburg army had played in the development of Tyrolean identity in the early twentieth century—was my first real taste of doing history. I got hooked. I learned the thrill of locating a fascinating source in an archive, and it became clear to me that I wanted to make this my career. Using the paper I produced during my Fulbright as a writing sample, I was accepted into a PhD program in history at Georgetown University. There, my continuing fascination with the Alps and their impacts on Tyrolean culture and society led me to the insight that I wanted to become an environmental historian—a historian who studied the relationship between Europeans and nature in the past. I wrote a dissertation on the transformation of the Alps due to hydroelectric development in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. My experiences in Innsbruck and their influence on my career trajectory proved to be the decisive factors in qualifying me for my new position as a history professor at the University of New Orleans. Beginning in 2017 I get to teach courses in Central European history at the same university that originally brought me to Innsbruck and led me to seek the Fulbright in the first place! I will also contribute to the university’s Center Austria—an institution designed to facilitate academic exchange between Austria and the United States—and help coordinate the partnership between New Orleans and the University of Innsbruck. The deep relationships that I formed during my Fulbright with the university, city, region, and culture are huge assets for me in my job.
Even more important than the professional doors that Fulbright opened for me have been the ways in which the program has enriched me personally. It’s not difficult to pinpoint the decisive moment in this respect. About two months after arriving in Innsbruck I met a lovely young woman from South Tyrol at a party in the dormitory where we were both living. I promptly invited her to a Thanksgiving party being thrown by a group of Americans living in Innsbruck. For the longest time I was convinced that she agreed to come because my talk of the Fulbright grant and my research on the formation of Tyrolean identity had thoroughly impressed her. In yet another example of how historical events can be interpreted so differently by different parties, it turns out that she was mostly interested in trying pumpkin pie for the first time. Regardless, her acceptance of my invitation was the beginning of what has proven to be the most momentous intercultural relationship established during my Fulbright grant. In 2008 we married. In 2012 and 2014 we welcomed a son and a daughter to the world.
My career, my family, none of it would have happened as it did without the Fulbright program. My student grant also helped put me in a position to be able to return to Innsbruck fourteen years later with another Fulbright, this time as a scholar. This fall I am the Fulbright-Botstiber Visiting Professor of Austrian-American Studies at Innsbruck’s Institut für Geschichtswissenschaften und Europäische Ethnologie. Now the Fulbright program is providing me the time and resources I need to complete my book manuscript on the Alps and to explore the historical relationship between the United States and Austria with Innsbruck students. I have so many reasons to be grateful that a senator from Arkansas had the bright idea to finance an international exchange program through the sale of US Army surplus abroad. I can’t imagine what my life would be like now if he hadn’t.
Prof. Marc D. Landry II was a Fulbright US Student Combined Grantee at the University of Innsbruck in 2002, and the Fulbright-Botstiber Visiting Professor in Austrian-American Studies at the University of Innsbruck in 2016.