Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Living the Experience!

Fulbright is a life changing experience! I heard this expression so many times from a number of friends and colleagues when I got admitted to the Fulbright program in Morocco, but I did not realize how real it was until I actually lived the experience. I still remember the deep joy I felt when I got the acceptance letter to come to the US to pursue my graduate studies. In July 2010, I left home to join the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles to start a Master Degree in Public Diplomacy. The excitement and adrenaline were sky high, but at the same time I felt sad for leaving my family and friends and for moving away from everything I loved and from the comfort zone I so long enjoyed.

The first four months in the US were very tough and demanded a lot of patience and perseverance to adjust to a new life-style that was totally different from the one back home. After the adjustment period, I started gradually and actively taking part of a number of academic and social events. Through these events as well as through my academic program I met a number of wonderful people many of whom became very close friends. My journey in the U.S. has been filled with great human and cultural experiences that widened my views of the world and allowed me to experience and cherish diversity. It also offered me incredible opportunities that helped advance my professional ambitions and strengthen and grow my personal and professional networks.
One of the best opportunities I had during my Fulbright experience was to take part in a graduate student expedition mission to India to learn more about the practice of public diplomacy. In the frame work of my master program, I and six classmates and friends Aparajitha, Maya, Hend, Jessica, Anna and Jerry, travelled from Los Angeles to New Delhi and Mumbai in December 2011. During this expedition we attended meetings and conducted interviews with leaders in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Our goal was to get an inside look into the current challenges and opportunities India faces today, and assess what that means for the practice of public diplomacy.

For the purpose of this trip and to also generate a broader discussion about public diplomacy we created the following blog: indiapublicdiplomacy.com. Our blog generated a lot of buzz and attracted a considerable audience that held specific interest in the field of public diplomacy or who was simply interested in following our journey in India. Our story also made it to the home page of our university website as one of the main students’ featured stories.
This experience has impacted me at so many levels. Personally, this trip has been great in bringing the group closer together and taking our friendship to a whole new level. As a group we have not only been working, but we have been eating, shopping, laughing and planning everything together while sharing and discovering our experiences and different backgrounds. It has been an amazing bounding experience for all of us. Professionally, the trip has allowed us to meet and interact with different professionals in India, which added a valuable boost to our professional network. It also allowed me as well as the group to build an attractive and inspirational story inside our academic program and inside USC in general. Culturally, I have been exposed to a number of magnificent cultural elements such as food, customs, history and religion and spirituality. Indeed, this trip has been one of the best highlights of my Fulbright experience in the US.

Now, my Fulbright journey has come to an end and I went back home a few weeks ago. I am very happy to be home, but my feelings are still mixed as I feel heartbroken for leaving Los Angeles and USC. I never thought I would feel this way when I first started this magnificent journey two years ago. The amazing people I have met and the great friendships I have forged made my Fulbright experience so enjoyable and so real and I am very grateful for that. Now as a Fulbright alumna I feel more confident, more educated and more mature thanks to the different experiences I have lived. The impact of the Fulbright program will stay with me forever because it helped me grow inside and become a better person.

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