She speaks Spanish as a second language; he speaks French. She teaches art; he teaches math. She was awarded a Fulbright grant and will spend a semester in Mexico; his Fulbright award will send him to Africa for almost a year.
O.K., they aren't like most married couples at all.
Ventura, an associate professor of art at Tennessee Tech University, and Gutek, an associate professor of math, are the first married couple at Tennessee Tech to receive Fulbright grants. When they applied to the program, they never expected both would be chosen and end up on different continents for much of the next school year.
"The best case scenario in our minds was that one of us would be accepted and the other would take time off and travel along," said Ventura. "We were shocked to find out we were both going. We spent about five minutes wondering if we both should accept, but we agreed it was a golden opportunity we couldn't pass up."
The Fulbright Program is an international educational exchange proposed in 1945 by Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas. Fulbright viewed the program as a much-needed vehicle for promoting "mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries of the world."
Ventura will be teaching art classes during spring semester at a university in Guanajuato, Mexico, a mountainous, colonial city northwest of Mexico City. Gutek will spend 10 months teaching math at the University of Dschang in Cameroon, Africa, also a mountainous area 6,000 feet above sea level.
But the mountains will be one of only a few similarities in the couple's experiences during their stays. Ventura will live in an area where many U.S. retirees have chosen to live and where communication via phone, fax and e-mail is readily available. She's already learned a lot about the area and made contacts by e-mail there. She'll also draw on her work in Guatemala with the Peace Corps in the late 70s.
"The Fulbright organizers emphasize the importance of developing working relationships that will last long after your grant has ended," said Ventura. "I think my chances of being chosen were enhanced because I can speak Spanish and am familiar with the culture."
Gutek's expectations about his experience are much different. He has found very little information on his university, but he knows communication such as letters and e-mails will be handled through the U.S. embassy a couple of hours away.
He has attended a conference in Washington, D.C., and has spoken with a U.S. public affairs officer in the Cameroon embassy by teleconference in preparation for his stay, but he has never traveled to Africa. He's been told to expect six months of rain out of the 10 months he'll be there.
"I've learned the university there is based on the elitist French model," said Gutek. "The responsibility of a teacher is different there than in the United States. Teachers are esteemed and carry a different responsibility because their words and actions can carry so much weight with students."
Gutek will leave for Cameroon in September, and Ventura plans to visit there in December before leaving for Mexico for the spring semester. Both encourage colleagues and others to consider applying for Fulbright grants and not be discouraged by misconceptions about the program.
"Fulbright awards are not just for faculty and researchers," said Gutek. "Students, businessmen, professionals all have opportunities to represent the United States abroad and lecture, teach or research in their specialty areas."
Both say the best place to learn more about the Fulbright program is the web site at www.cies.org or www.iie.org"The Fulbright experience is not just for the benefit of the recipient, it's about relationships and connections," said Gutek, "When your stay is over, it is not the end of something, it is the beginning."