Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Following J. William Fulbright: The Transformative Power of Pre-Academic Programs

 Fulbright Pre-Academic Program Participants in front of statue of J. William Fulbright

My Fulbright Pre-Academic Program at the University of Arkansas was a fantastic introduction to living and studying in the United States. In just three weeks, I was able to get to know 37 other Fulbrighters from around the world. I also had the opportunity to meet American graduate student mentors, the staff of the University of Arkansas, and several host families and lecturers. Meeting all of these people from different backgrounds, and with different perspectives, has enriched my knowledge of the world.

The Pre-Academic Program schedule was rich and intensive, and it gave us confidence, courage and support. We lived with American host families, visited an elderly residence home, and even conducted simulations in which we practiced initiating conversations with new people. For me, however, the most memorable part of the Program was visiting Little Rock Central High School and Museum. This high school was at the center of the desegregation struggle in the 1950s, and is now famous as the home of “the Little Rock Nine,” the first group of African American students who tried to attend the school but were initially refused entry. This experience introduced our group to the struggles of the Civil Rights era, an important period of American history.

Another memorable part of our day in Little Rock was that on the return trip, some students sang songs from their home countries into the bus microphone. This funny experience broke the ice and was entertaining, which made our trip back go by much faster! From this I learned that journeys are what we make of them.

Fulbright students in front of Little Rock Central High School
Just a few hours before the closing ceremony of the Pre-Academic Program, my professors asked me to give a speech on behalf of the Fulbright group. I was thrilled and honored to do so! I decided not to prepare a memorized text, but to tell the story of every Fulbright student: a narrative that begins with a dream, continues toward making the dream come to fruition, and ends with the challenges and excitement of the dream (a Fulbright grant) coming true. I was often reminded during my time in the program of the dream of J. William Fulbright. Being at the University of Arkansas, walking in his steps, and seeing his statue—with his head held high but in a humble posture, was a privilege. Destiny or some other force brought us all together to start our journeys in the same place as J. William Fulbright.

Fatima studies Filmmaking at The City College of New York. She aspires to become a documentary filmmaker and to use the art form to bring attention to social issues such as women’s rights and access to education.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Leading Fellow Fulbrighters at Purdue


  Welcome picnic for newly-arrived Fulbrighters at Purdue University
 
 
When I first arrived at Indiana University, I received a welcome email from a Turkish Fulbrighter who was the President of the Purdue Fulbright Association (PFA). My first thought was, “NICE, there is a network of Fulbrighters here that I can join!” Well, I did join that group, and I can proudly say that I am now one of its board members and outreach officers.
My first introduction to PFA was through a picnic at which all the previous Fulbrighters prepared food and welcomed newcomers. The organizers even gave us a campus tour and hosted a reception party that was coordinated between various Purdue offices.
The welcome picnic was just the beginning of my experience with PFA. Throughout the academic year members continued to organize fantastic events. We held frequent picnics where we we shared food, stories and played games. We also attended plays, concerts and variety shows. We even went to a "Wolf Howl" night, an evening program at a nearby wolf sanctuary!
 
PFA field trip to Wolf Park (Wolf Sanctuary)
 
I would like to point out that organizing such activities is hard work, which requires the cooperation of our team members: the President, Vice President, Treasurer, and Communications and Outreach officers. We work so well together because we are all Fulbrighters. We share similar experiences, policies, rules and procedures. Some Association leaders have been at Purdue for more than 5 years, so they often provide younger members of the leadership team with advice.
I'm really proud to have been chosen as the outreach officer of the new board. I'm responsible for the communication between the group and other Purdue and West Lafayette, Indiana organizations. In fact, the group is very popular with Purdue offices and professors. Many professors and deans are either previous Fulbrighters, or they simply enjoy interacting with international students. They work with us to organize Fulbrighter reception and farewell parties, and they sometimes even invite us to dinner at their houses!
 
Ahmed is from Egypt and studies Computer Science at Purdue University. Ahmed plans to serve on the PFA leadership team until his graduation in May 2016.
 
 

 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Summer in San Francisco: A Lifetime of Cultural Exchange Memories

Nour crossing the Golden Gate Bridge



It was around 5:00 p.m. when I landed in California. The first thing that came to my mind were the lyrics from the famous song, “Hotel California”:

Welcome to the Hotel California

Such a lovely place… 

And indeed California is such a lovely place!

I traveled to California to complete a summer marketing internship in a growing medical tech company in the San Francisco area. The professional experience I gained while there was amazing, but the cultural experience was the most memorable. I have been fortunate enough to visit several metropolitan areas in the US such as Washington, DC, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Austin, and Houston; San Francisco, however, was the most special. I fell in love with everything there: the beautiful weather, the kind people, the peaceful ocean, and the diverse cultural identity. I love California because it has a lot offer. If you love the sea, the gorgeous ocean is there for you to enjoy; if you are a climber, Yosemite’s cliffs and domes should be your next challenge; and if you are like me, a fan of big cities, then San Francisco is your destination!

Nour visits the Sutro Baths near San Francisco
I met wonderful people everywhere I went who were from different backgrounds. Everyone from my host family members, boss, and coworkers, to the random people I met along the way, made me feel welcome. Californians also felt incredibly happy when I told them how much I loved their state and appreciated their hospitality. Nearly always, peoples’ reactions to my being a Fulbright scholar from Iraq were variations of, “Wow, that’s awesome! I really want to visit your country one day!”
Now, my new friends in California know a little bit more about Iraq. For example, I taught them the word “yalla!” Yalla means “hurry up” or “let’s go” in the Iraqi Arabic dialect. They also learned that the equivalent term of “what’s up” is “shako mako.” I believe that the Californians I met now know enough vocabulary to survive in my country. J    
Just like California, the US has a lot to offer as well. I find that the US has kind people and diverse culture, and that it also provides amazing learning experiences to international students. The famous Arabic traveler and Scholar, Ibn Battuta, once said: “traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” So “yalla” my fellow Fulbrighters, let’s try to visit as many places in the US as we can during our time here. Every city is different and offers tons to explore!

Nour visits the Googleplex in Mountain View, California
Nour is pursuing an MBA and plans to work for an international NGO in the field of international development.
 


Friday, July 22, 2016

Fulbright Fulfills Professional Dreams





I thought I knew everything about the Fulbright Program, but that was before I began working with Fulbrighters as an intern at AMIDEAST. My first experience with Fulbright actually came while working at Michigan State University’s (MSU) Office for International Students and Scholars. At MSU, I helped Fulbrighters connect to campus and community resources. However, since joining AMIDEAST in May 2016, I have begun to see the administration side of the Fulbright cycle. Every day I am learning new facts about the program that illustrate the level of planning needed to ensure successful Fulbright grants for students. My new role has also allowed me to see how many international Fulbright students have overcome great adversity to come to the United States. This realization compels me to work hard to support Fulbright students in every phase of their Fulbright grants.

Summertime is an exciting period to be an intern at AMIDEAST, as my team is preparing to welcome a new cohort of fall 2016 Fulbright students from 13 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. These students’ academic interests are incredibly diverse---- I’ve seen students enroll in programs as diverse as Aerospace Engineering, Public Health, and Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL). In addition to welcoming our new students, I’m also looking forward to the award announcements of the new Alumni Community Action Grants and the Alumni Development Grants. These opportunities provide alumni with opportunities to remain engaged with the Fulbright Program, give back to their communities, and in the case of the Development Grants, gain additional learning experiences such as attending educational conferences and conducting collaborative research.

Interning at AMIDEAST has not only provided me with tangible work experience, but also a deep understanding of the Fulbright Program and a strong appreciation for the determination of MENA youth. As a future graduate student in the International Education Program at the George Washington University, my time at AMIDEAST has given me an important hands on perspective of the U.S. higher education system and its impact on international students. For this reason, I look to forward to continuing to support initiatives such as the Fulbright Program in the future and to advance as an international education professional.
 
Mara Ohorodnik will attend the M.A. in International Education program at The George Washington University in fall 2016, and plans to pursue a career in educational exchange.


 
 
 
 

Monday, June 13, 2016

A Place Where Out-of-this-World Dreams Become Realities: A Fulbright Student’s Visit to Space Center Houston




The Fulbright Group in front of the Saturn V Rocket



In May 2016, I attended the 2016 Houston Fulbright Enrichment Seminar on Technology and Entrepreneurship. This seminar brought more than 30 visiting Fulbright students together to discuss how properly combining technology, innovation and entrepreneurship can solve 21st century problems. In fact, one of the most memorable events of the weekend was visiting what I consider to be the coolest place on earth---- Space Center Houston. Space Center Houston is the visitor center for the NASA Johnson Space Center, and it houses several famous NASA spacecraft. Although I’m a computer science guy, I enjoy learning about other branches of science, especially space exploration.  I also admit that I LOVE NASA. It’s the ultimate example of an organization that reaches its goals by embracing technology and testing new ideas.

As soon as we entered the museum, I was immediately drawn in by the technology and exhibits on display. I looked at every information panel, touched a rock from the moon, explored the Apollo Mission Control Room and stood next to the ACTUAL Saturn V Rocket. Until that moment, I had only seen those objects on TV or read about them in books. For me, however, the most rewarding part of the visit was having the opportunity to share my passion about space with other Fulbright students. For example, I spoke to fellow Fulbrighters about recent advances in space research, and how NASA’s discoveries have contributed to fields such as medicine and transportation.
 
 
Although I already knew a lot about NASA, nothing compared to standing in the control room (pictured above) where space missions were decided. The museum was extraordinary, and the spacecraft and other artifacts were well preserved. I will never forget my visit. I would never have had the chance to experience this incredible museum if not for the Fulbright Program, and I sincerely thank the AMIDEAST staff for organizing such an unforgettable event.  
 Ahmed in front of the Space Shuttle Independence
 

Ahmed is from Egypt and studies Computer Science at Purdue University. He will graduate in December 2016, and will pursue a career in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning research.

 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Fulbright Friends 4ever : Advice for Graduating Fulbright Students


                              
         Fulbrighter Maaly supported by fellow Fulbrighters at Fulbright Enrichment Seminar
       
         Any member of the Fulbright Program team will tell you ----the most rewarding aspect of their work is meeting Fulbright students in person. As a Fulbright Communications Officer, I don’t often get face-time with our students. I’m usually writing, posting and creating content that showcases their unbelievable achievements. During the past few months, however, I’ve gotten lucky and had several opportunities to break away from my computer and interact with Fulbrighters during Enrichment Seminars, at volunteer projects and on college campuses. For me, these experiences confirmed a Fulbright fact - that Fulbrighters are among the best and the brightest - but they also revealed a lesser-known truth; Fulbright is friendship.

 Fulbright students Nada (right) and Sara (left) in art studio

        I first discovered that Fulbright friendship “was a thing” during a visit to the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) when I met second-year Fulbright student, Nada, to discuss her thesis project. As Nada and I sat in her studio drinking cups of hot tea, she explained the planning process for her art curation project, which included everything from venue scouting to networking with artists. When I said that implementing such a project seemed daunting, she immediately mentioned that Sara, another Fulbright student, had helped her throughout the process. In fact, she said that she also chose Sara as one of only four artists to be featured in her exhibit. As it turned out, Sara was later able to join us, and together they told me the story: they met as Fulbrighters, became roommates, and then grew to be best friends.
 
Fulbright students Najat (right) and Nourhan (left) in Philadelphia

 
        After my “ah-ha” moment with Nada and Sara, I began to notice close Fulbright ties at every Fulbright event I attended. At an Enrichment Seminar in Philadelphia, for example, I overheard phone-number exchanges, agreements to collaborate on research, and future plans to meet-up. I also received countless “would you take a picture of us” requests. Before snapping the photo, I always asked the students when they met----often the answer was, “yesterday.” Likewise, at the 2016 Fulbright Reentry Seminar in Washington, DC, the “Fulbright Alumni Engagement Wall” (a space to brainstorm ways to continue the Fulbright mission as alumni) was filled with pledges to collaborate with fellow Fulbrighters to solve issues in their home communities. One student even wrote that he hopes to marry a fellow Fulbrighter---that’s taking friendship to a whole new level.

          
        
        And it wasn’t just in-person that I noticed close Fulbright ties; I found the support Fulbright students extend to one another on social media as equally inspiring. Here’s an example: on April 7, 2016, the Fulbright MENA Facebook Page congratulated Fulbrighter Tameem Addeeb on winning the Commitments Challenge at the Clinton Global Initial Initiative. Within minutes, fellow visiting Fulbrighters from across the U.S. offered warm messages of support - “Congrats Tameem,” “Mabrooook” (“congratulations” in Arabic), “So proud of you;” in addition to an impressive number of emojis 😊. My advice to Fulbright students is to keep this up. If you cherish support and friendship from your Fulbright colleagues now, chances are that you’ll need their guidance even more in the future ---as Fulbright alumni. So the message to future graduating Fulbright students is this: stay positive, stay engaged, and most importantly, stay connected. Oh, and keep sending those positive Facebook messages. Fulbrighters are friends-4ever.



 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Partnering to Preserve the Past

Jambally Mohammed surveying by using GIS technology

I received an Alumni Professional Development Grant in 2015 to conduct a collaborative project to prepare Akre Citadel, an ancient fortress in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, for nomination as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The fact that the site is a national Iraqi landmark, and yet has never been officially documented, inspired my team to conduct this research. This collaborative project was facilitated by frequent on-site visits to the citadel, participation in the Heritage and Technology Conference in Capri, Italy, and also by continuous close cooperation with the Center for Cultural Sustainability at the University of Texas, San Antonio.


In order to ready the Akre site for inclusion as a World Heritage Site, my team and I used Geographical Information System (GIS) standards for mapping, documenting, analyzing, and modeling it. As part of our research, the citadel’s historic and visual data was collected, an image-based list of historical attributes was generated and 2D models were created. Importantly, the on-site research followed international standards for creating inventories of architectural heritage sites.
The second aspect of our collaboration was writing and then presenting a paper on our restoration efforts at the “Heritage and Technology: Mind, Knowledge, and Experience Conference” in Capri, Italy from 11-13 June, 2015. The conference proved to be an excellent opportunity to become acquainted with international academics in the fields of GIS and archaeology, and also to meet with our mentor, UTSA faculty member Dr. Angela Lombardi, who was also in attendance.  Finally, as Italy is a country known for its expertise in preserving world heritage sites, my team took the opportunity to visit several historic areas in Rome in order to learn different restoration and management techniques.
 
Akre Citadel site in late afternoon
We were proud to conduct this entire research project in partnership with University of Texas at San Antonio. We worked closely with Dr. Lombardi, who is an internationally-recognized scholar in the field of architectural preservation. Her guidance and mentoring greatly contributed to the project’s success.  Furthermore, my study of GIS and community planning as a Fulbright student prepared me to conduct this research project. In fact, I largely depended on the skills that I learned through my master’s program in GIS and Community Studies at Texas Tech University. Moving forward, my team and I are planning to take the next steps toward applying for world heritage status, which include categorizing the site based on the International Standard for Documentation and Assessment, and also creating a standard coding system for the site’s attributes. 
 
Jambally graduated from Texas Tech University in 2011 with an M.A. in GIS and Community Studies. In the future, he plans to use the skills he learned from the Akre Citadel project to preserve other neglected historical sites in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.