I finished my studies in economics at the University of Innsbruck with the doctoral degree in 1967, and subsequently applied for a Fulbright scholarship for postgraduate studies in sociology at Fordham University in New York. The Austrian Fulbright Commission granted me a scholarship and on August 30th 1968, my wife and I traveled from Le Havre to New York on the ocean liner SS United States. Since we had just got married on August 16th, the Fulbright Commission surprised us with a special gift on board: a cabin with a view.
In the three years that followed, not only did I complete my postgraduate study of sociology, earning a PhD in 1973, but I also got to know America, its people and their way of life first hand. I began to understand my homeland better by comparing it with American society and by finding out what keeps these societies functioning and what makes them change. The Fulbright arrangement even made it possible for me to apply for a one-year visiting professorship at an American university.
I went to the University of Oklahoma in Norman for the academic year 1971–72. Our daughter Sandra was born in Oklahoma and, as some friends predicted, we became acquainted with the real America. Part of this real America was to get to know many friends – friends with whom we and our children are still in close contact.
Indeed, my wife and I experienced and profited a great deal from America’s welcome culture. Just to mention two examples: As we arrived in New York, we could not yet move into our apartment in the Bronx. A university friend and his wife, Michael and Nancy Lanier, offered us to live with them in their apartment for several weeks. My wife, a nurse, who had not yet work permission in the state of New York, got a child care job with the Laniers, baby sitting with their one year old son, David. David is now Secretary of Labor for the State of California. We have continued to be in close contact with all the Laniers through visits, phone calls, and correspondence.
Part of our exposure to American culture included Fulbright’s program of visiting guest families all over the country. For example, in 1970, we visited our guest family, William and Lucy-Anne Brobst, near Washington, D.C. We have also kept close contact with them. The Brobsts visited us in Austria and Germany and we met them again in Washington and at their holiday chalet in Kitty Hawk, NC. Just recently they moved to a residential care home near Washington, D.C., and we are in close contact with them by e-mail and phone calls.
In sum, being a Fulbright Student mattered a great deal to me in many ways: having the chance to get to know the United States by establishing lifelong personal friendships, by making professional contacts regarding research projects and publications, by supervising and evaluating students' and other professional work, and by participating in international meetings. Upon my return to Austria in 1972, the Fulbright scholarship pushed me to the career trampoline at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Vienna. In the late 1990s, when Harold Kerbo one of my first M.A. students at the University of Oklahoma, and I were doing research for a book on Modern Germany, we discovered that his father and other GIs had occupied my hometown, Altenmarkt im Pongau, in 1945. His father was one of the GIs from whom I got my first chocolate candy. This experience inspired me to record the story under the title “When the Candy Man Came” in my autobiography, Die Erschaffung meiner Welt: Von der Sitzkueche auf den Lehrstuhl (2nd ed., Amazon / CreateSpace, 2015).
Dr. Hermann Strasser was an Austrian Fulbright Student to the University of Fordham, New York, in the field of sociology in 1968–1969. Photo courtesy of Dr. Hermann Strasser.