Marian Preda

Fulbright Visiting Scholar, 2016-2017
 
My Fulbright Experience


My Fulbright experience had two overlapping dimensions: a research professional sociological experience and a personal socio-cultural experience.

The first dimension is related to my research topic, on incentives/disincentives to work that could be adapted and applied to Romania from the US welfare and social security systems.  There have been three very intensive months of reading, writing, discussing with colleagues from the Sociology Department at George Washington University, with other colleagues from other American universities, with some brilliant practitioners from institutions such as the National Academy of Social Insurance or the Subcommittee on Social Security of the US House of Representatives. Despite strong (and on specific aspects) legitimate criticism from many US scholars, many welfare reforms and social security reforms have been impressively well-designed and implemented and have had elements that could be adapted and applied to Romania. Beyond my scientific findings, which will be part of my future writings, what surprised me a lot were some differences between the US and Romanian social policy systems.  On the one hand, the debate on how to reduce costs and provide incentives to work is very present in the American public sphere, unlike Romania, where the main focus is on how much the Government promises to increase public pensions, minimum salary and social welfare benefits. On the other hand, the high level of expertise of the technical staff involved in designing, implementing and evaluating social policies is something that I would love to have in Romania. There is a strong work ethic in the American society that is a background element in designing and implementing social policies. There is also a visible American culture of individual responsibility for satisfying personal needs that Romanians used to have, but which, in my opinion, many have lost during the communist regime and during the chaotical and populist “transition”.

From a socio-cultural point of view, staying in Washington DC area provided me with the opportunity to visit and (re)discover many impressive political, military, economic and cultural institutions of crucial importance for the USA and for humanity as a whole. There are many other historical and cultural sites related to American history placed at a few hours distance in the neighboring areas of Washington DC that I have enjoyed to visit, especially during the weekends.

But on top of that, for me as a sociologist, to be present in Washington DC, the state capital and an overwhelming Democrat area, during the frst half year of Donald Trump’s mandate, a Republican and a controversial “new type” of American president, has been a tremendous opportunity to listen and (sometimes) understand both sides of the argument and, through them, small parts of the very complex and diverse American society. Besides my personal opinions, I listened to public debates, to my friends and colleagues, to ordinary people’s opinions regarding that permanent fight between what some were labeling as “fake news” and the other as “fake politics”, between diversity and conservatism, between “the old establishment” and a new, peculiar, “anti-establishment” president, with his supporters. Of course, I have my own opinions, but no clear and permanent answers.

The most important fact for me was that I have discovered an American society that is culturally very strong and deep rooted and a system of values stronger than the media and politics, which will survive in almost any circumstances, ­ beyond tipping points and paradigm changes; a country that I admire. 

The USA and its National Capital where I spent three beautiful months in the spring and summer of 2017 will remain in my memory as places of liberty, diversity, work ethic and high performance; places that I am fond of and I will always remember with respect and gratitude.

Marian Preda, Professor of Sociology,
President of the Senate of the University of Bucharest

My fulbright experience

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Students at the advising center

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