During my first two months interning with AMIDEAST, my only interaction with our Fulbright students had been via email. Part of my duties included reading and entering all of their program information into our databases, and I saw that they already have accomplished so much in their lives! So, when I was invited to attend the Gateway Orientation designed to welcome Fulbrighters from around the world, I was a bit nervous to meet them. My colleagues Bart Kassel, Que Newbill, and I embarked on a road trip to Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania to meet eight Fulbright students from the Middle East and North Africa along with 40 other students from around the globe.
As part of the Gateway Orientation, all of the Fulbright grantees and orientation staff volunteered at the local food bank. Que and I signed up to help sort cans of pork and beans for distribution to local families the following day. Our task was quite simple: dispose of any bad cans and label each unmarked can “pork and beans.” During the volunteer activity, each of us took turns playing our favorite music. Our student from Lebanon had an awesome collection of music from all around the world, and we also played songs by Shakira. A Colombian student told us about a foundation that Shakira had set up near the student’s school back home. This led to a discussion about the importance of community service in everyone’s respective home countries. It was really interesting to learn about the social stigmas that may be attached to doing community service in different cultures. For example, one Fulbrighter explained that many young people simply do not volunteer since it is frowned upon to do work without pay. Other grantees mentioned that it is uncommon for young people to spend their free time helping others because it is a fairly new concept in their country. Que and I shared stories of our experiences of giving back to our communities while growing up and encouraged the students to participate in these sorts of activities at their host universities in the United States. A group of children also joined us to volunteer at the center. This began a discussion about how instilling the habit of giving back to those less fortunate at any early age can have a positive effect on creating more understanding within communities. It was amazing to hear everyone’s ideas about how their lives and relationships would have been different based upon the charitable activities of the community that surrounded them.
I’ve learned a lot from my internship at AMIDEAST, but these conversations with our grantees have probably made the biggest impact on me personally. It was great to share this experience with our students, and I hope that they will go on to give back at their host universities and then in their home countries when they return.
Kelly Kirk is a summer intern on the Fulbright team at AMIDEAST. Kelly is completing her Bachelor’s degree in International Studies at University of Oregon.