January 5, 2004 :: No. 110
English Professor Awarded Fulbright
Scholarship to Lithuania
As a child, Irena Praitis’ parents didn’t
speak Lithuanian very frequently to their youngest daughter.
As immigrants, they never expected to return to their native country,
and they wanted to ensure that their children spoke English fluently.
They believed that a firm grasp of the language was a key to success
Today, Praitis, a Fullerton resident and an assistant
professor of English, comparative literature and linguistics, wishes
her parents had spoken to her in their native tongue a little more
often. As a Fulbright scholar, she will be departing Jan. 15 to
spend a semester in Lithuania, teaching American literature to students
at Vilnius Pedagogical University.
At Cal State Fullerton, Praitis teaches modern and
contemporary poetry, 19th-century poetry, with a particular focus
on Whitman and Dickinson, as well as a variety of other courses.
“Although many Lithuanians don’t speak
English, like many Europeans, they are quite familiar with American
culture through movies, music and books.
“I know enough Lithuanian to get around a bit,
and I’m trying to learn more very quickly,” she said
with a laugh. “I always wanted to live in Lithuania to better
understand the culture and people. With this Fulbright, I will have
the opportunity to observe and learn about their daily lives and
“I’m also curious about how they interpret
U.S. literature,” she said. “So often we learn about
the world through numbers and statistics. I also want to learn about
the world through emotion and understanding and telling stories.
The Fulbright provides a wonderful opportunity for me to do that.”
Her parents, she notes, are amused at her interest
in a country they left decades ago. “My parents never expected
to return to Lithuania, and they certainly never expected that their
children would go there,” she said.
Interestingly, her 72-year-old father will accompany
her initially, visiting with relatives and helping his daughter
get settled before he returns to America.
“I am a bit nervous,” she admits. “When
I arrive, it will be winter, and it’s often dark and cold.
There are many unknowns about how I will adapt, but overall, I think
it will be an incredible experience.”
While in Lithuania, Praitis also hopes to translate
Lithuanian poetry into English. She admits that may be a challenge.
“With poetry, there is often rhyme and meter
and metaphor and sometimes those elements don’t always translate
well,” she admitted. “You need to look at the tone of
the language. Lithuanian is a very old language —an Indo-European
language related to Sanskrit— and it hasn’t changed
a lot. The challenge will be to translate the meaning while keeping
the rhythm of the language.”
Praitis knows firsthand about the language of poetry.
She recently had her first book of poems, “Touch,” published
by Finishing Line Press.
“It’s been a fulfilling year,” she
said. “With teaching, the publication of my first book and
preparing to live abroad for five months, I can see how my life
continues to change. It’s truly an exciting time.”
Praitis joined the university faculty in 2001 and
earned her doctorate at Arizona State University.
||Irena Praitis, firstname.lastname@example.org
Valerie Orleans, Public