Forest Park resident Brooke Reavey was sitting in a plane on a tarmac in Mexico City in March, anxiously checking her email while her phone reoriented and searched for a cellular signal.
Reavey, a professor of marketing at Dominican University in River Forest, had applied for a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship about a year earlier and had made it through the first round of selections in December 2016. She and her husband were in Mexico on a spring break trip.
After landing and checking her phone — “a bad habit, I know” — she saw the first line of an email from the Fulbright Association but the rest of the message wouldn’t load. The organization had made a decision on her application; she just didn’t know which way they decided.
“I had to turn my phone on and off,” Reavey said. “It was the most infuriating few moments. My husband was sitting next to me and we’re both staring at my phone, waiting for it to come on.”
Finally, the message came through. Reavey had been selected for a one-year research and teaching position at a university in Bucharest, Romania.
“We just couldn’t believe it,” she said. “We had to get through customs. As soon as we got to our hotel, we went straight to the bar to celebrate.”
The news capped a year-long process, which began after a pregnant Reavey, sitting in her office, got an email from a colleague that included a list of Fulbright opportunities. She decided to apply.
Reavey — along with her husband, 14-month-old son and 8-year-old family dog — leave on July 31. According to Dominican University officials, she is the first faculty member selected for the Fulbright Association’s long-term, core program. She just finished her fourth year teaching at the university.
She’ll be collaborating with colleagues at Bucharest’s National University of Political Science and Public Administration and conducting a three-stage research project investigating the attitudes of Romanians toward engagement and financial support for non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
Romanians, Reavey said, along with residents in other former Eastern Bloc countries, are less generous in their support of NGOs, in part because of the legacy of Communist rule.
“Generally speaking, there’s some lack of trust going on when someone contributes money; they just don’t know where it is going to go,” Reavey said. “That’s a marketing problem.”
So through assessments of current NGO marketing strategies, in-depth interviews with Romanian millennials — a particularly socially conscious and tech-obsessed demographic — and a country-wide survey, Reavey will attempt to better understand that lack of engagement.
“I’m trying to determine, from a marketing standpoint, what we can do,” Reavey said.
Domestic NGOs, Reavey said, are too dependent on international funding, which can be sporadic. Better marketing strategies to help Romanians overcome their hesitation to provide support will benefit society at large. A robust NGO and nonprofit sector, as Reavey wrote in her project proposal, can spur job growth, build trust between the governments and citizens, and help address social ills.
“It is vital to explore how levels of support toward NGOs in Romania can be increased,” she wrote.
While the Fulbright scholarship offers Reavey a valuable professional opportunity, uprooting her family and moving abroad, albeit temporarily, is not without its challenges, including financial, personal and professional considerations.
Reavey, who is not tenured, will be taking a one-year, unpaid leave of absence, not a sabbatical. But her spot on Dominican’s faculty is secured for when she returns. And, although she’ll be paid through the scholarship program, it will be less than her normal salary. Luckily, her husband works for a global company with an office in Romania, and he was able to get a transfer.
Even with a young son, Reavey said the time was right.
“It’s a shame he won’t remember it,” she said. “But he’s also not going to be sad that he is missing his friends.”
Reavey and her husband went to Romania for a week in June to find housing, meet colleagues and enroll her son in daycare.
While there, they discovered a country with a large English-speaking population — the language has been taught in schools since 1989 — along with familiar things like Uber and American television channels.
So while there may be some culture shock as they adjust to living in a new place, Reavey, who spent a year traveling to several dozen countries after quitting her private-sector marketing job about a decade ago, said there’s a “mental toughness” that comes with travel experiences.
She plans to gather data for other projects while she’s there and prepare some future research. The scholarship, she added, will give her a chance to “recreate” herself professionally, and she expects the benefits of the Fulbright program to outlast the year-long experience.
For now, Reavey and her family are preparing for the move, visiting family and appreciating what their current home in Forest Park has to offer.
“We’ve been hitting up some of our local spots,” Reavey said. “We went to Fatduck and made sure we got some of their fries.”