I attended the pre-academic program at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. After a day of travelling, I finally met all of the Fulbrighters on a long bus ride to the outdoor drama show "Tecumseh." Tecumseh was a Native American leader best known for leading resistance to white colonial settlement in Native American lands west of the Appalachian Mountains before and after the Revolutionary War. This live-action play with its battle cries, horses, muskets, and cannons seemed an odd place to spend time with a group of international students that knew little about U.S. history, specifically the legacy of western expansion. This sensationalized rendition of the Tecumseh story included many embellishments such as a love story, an Irish family that befriended the young Tecumseh, and cultural exchange and understanding.
|COPYRIGHT © 2012 THE SCIOTO SOCIETY, INC. / TECUMSEH! Photos courtesy of Joe E. Murray and Whit Streicher|
So it was at this outdoor performance that I first sat down with the Fulbrighters from Libya, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Jordan, and Bahrain. Amidst the battle cries, galloping horses, musket blasts, and booming cannons, many of the students broke their daily Ramadan fast with an Iftar of concession stand pizza, catered salad, and apples. As a result, the dramatized tolerance demonstrated in the play by Tecumseh and a few of the white settlers earned new meaning and relevance. I was happy to see that the other audience members were authentically appreciative and tolerant of our large group of students from different religions, cultures, and backgrounds.
The staff at the Ohio Program for Intensive English did a great job preparing students for the academic and cultural transition to the United States. Students were encouraged to fully engage in academic projects, learn about different cultures within and without the U.S., and balance their different commitments. In addition, the Fulbrighters participated in weekly volunteer sessions, including an afternoon and evening at Ohio University's United Campus Ministries. I was surprised to see the enthusiasm with which Fulbrighters contributed to the weekly Thursday dinner held for the low-income Athens community. Several of the students spent hours in the kitchen preparing a meal that they did not eat because they were fasting. It was clear to me that the cultural exchange and understanding promoted by the Fulbright program was on full display.
|Volunteering at United Campus Ministries ©Bart Kassel|
I think I was one of the first Americans of their own age to spend significant time with the new Fulbrighters. It was invigorating to witness their enthusiasm and promise and to encourage them to leave their comfort zones during their time in the United States. Between warm, receptive expat/international groups at universities and an often ambivalent American student population, it requires significant effort for some students to form connections with their American peers outside the class-room. However, I know that the Fulbrighters at the Ohio University program thoroughly enjoyed the few weeks they spent in Athens and are better prepared to fully engage with their university communities as a result of the support they received.
|OPIE Morning Session ©Bart Kassel|