Through my work in Fulbright I have the opportunity to interact with and get to know many brilliant people from Bahrain, Oman, Yemen, the UAE, Libya, Jordan and Tunisia. The catch, however, is that this is generally all via email, and it is especially rare for me to meet students immediately upon their arrival in the US.
At my recent visit to the Dickinson College Gateway Program (along with my colleague Erin Tyler), I was able to meet three of my own students from Jordan, Libya and Yemen, along with two others from Morocco and Iraq. This rare opportunity to ‘put a face to the name’ is very special, and it’s especially interesting to interact with some of these students as they are still in their first 24 hours in the US, some having never left their home countries before.
Even working with the Middle East and North Africa on a daily basis, events of the ‘Arab Spring’ can still seem very distant to me. It is through these personal interactions that it really hits home as to the students with whom I am working, and the places where they are coming from. While I can read the news each day about current events in Libya, I do not come away with an up-close and personal perspective.
What I find from attending Fulbright events such as the Dickinson Gateway Program is that regardless of a Fulbright (or any) student’s nationality or background, they are all like-minded, positive people who are ready to make a change in the world. I myself come from the suburbs of Colorado and have yet to visit the MENA region, yet when I spend time with a Fulbright student it is as if there is no difference at all between us. Religion, custom and culture vary throughout the world, and these are things to be shared and embraced. Fulbright offers students the rare opportunity to teach their peers that on a human level we are all the same. I find that this face to face contact with my own Fulbright students serves as a good reminder of this lesson for me.