Thursday, September 27, 2012

Fulbright Pre-Academic Program Visit: Ohio University

This past August many of the AMIDEAST Fulbright staff visited Pre-Academic Programs and Gateway Orientations around the country for arriving students. These programs ranged from a few weeks to a few days and provided a way for students to practice their English skills, get acclimated to U.S. life, and become prepared for the rigorous schedule of graduate school. While our main reason for visiting the programs was to deliver presentations and answer questions from the new AMIDEAST students, the staff is always very satisfied to spend time with the interesting, intelligent, and motivated Fulbrighters, from our countries - and from around the world.

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
Most of this group of Fulbrighters are in the 23-27 year old age bracket and were very easy for me to relate to. While I only spent six months studying abroad (in 2009 I was in Amman studying at the University of Jordan) one of my lasting regrets was that I didn't leave my comfort zone until I was halfway through my program. When I think back, my most memorable and beneficial experiences occurred when I was pushed beyond my limits. Whether it was an hour conversation with an old Palestinian man on the walls of Karak Castle, my daily interactions with the displaced Iraqi shopkeeper near my apartment, or frequent awkward encounters with overenthusiastic University of Jordan students, I developed and matured as a result of leaving my normal boundaries.

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


  1. Hello,
    Is it possible to add this link to a web page designed for Fulbright students who will participate in the Pre-Academic program in Athens, Ohio this summer?
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Becky,
      You can certainly add this link to the Athens, Ohio Pre-Academic program website. It would be great if you could share the link with us as well.