Thursday, February 27, 2014

My Experience as a Fulbrighter in the USA

Getting the Fulbright scholarship was one of the best things that has happened in my life. Fulbright is more than just funding to get a degree from an American university; it is also an opportunity to get exposure to different cultures, languages, traditions, religions, and to discover that despite all those differences we are all the same: human beings.

Whenever I am asked about what it is like to live in the United States, I summarize it in two words: respect and confidence. From the first day, I felt like I was a human being – not just in the university, but everywhere. It doesn't matter where you are from, what language you speak, or what beliefs you may have. For example, it was strange for me not to put my birthday, my nationality, and my picture on my resume. In general, a photograph, your age, and even marital status must be listed on a resume. Employers prefer young applicants (generally less than 28 years old). As for the marital status, employers assume that a married woman will end up pregnant. Employers in Tunisia tend to avoid that. That is why, if the job is open for men and women, employers prefer single female applicants rather than married ones. In some offers, it is mentioned explicitly "male only" right after the job description. This means that only applications from males are accepted, so even if I have the same qualifications, I wouldn't get a chance simply because I am a woman. In the States, that is considered discrimination. Your resume is supposed to reflect your skills, not your age, gender, or nationality!!!

Because I am a Muslim girl wearing the scarf, I was a little concerned about having trouble. Guess what? It was the complete opposite. I found that people are curious to learn about other parts of the world. I wasn't judged for what I am wearing because in the United States, being different makes me unique. I felt welcomed everywhere. That’s what I call respect.

One of the most unforgettable moments was meeting Secretary of State John Kerry. I participated in an enrichment seminar about democracy and human rights in Washington, DC with other Fulbright students. We have been told that one of the panel discussions would be in U.S. Department of State. Personally, I was not expecting that there would be a surprise waiting for us there. When John Kerry came in his first sentence was, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, super smart people.” Those words and the rest of the speech made me feel that I am special and I will be a successful leader. It meant a lot to me that such an important person stopped by to thank us for coming to the States. It was an inspiring speech.

Living in such an environment affects me deeply and positively. I got my self-confidence back and I was extremely happy. Now, I am part of a global network and I have friends everywhere. That’s what you can see in the pictures below!!!

Fatma Masmoudi is a Tunisian alumna who completed a Master’s in Economics from SUNY-Buffalo.

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