Wednesday, February 12, 2014

We don’t remember the days, we remember the moments

My experiences in the U.S. during the first six months of my Fulbright Grant have been challenging yet rewarding. I have been challenged to leave my comfort zone, to become part of something much larger than myself, and to develop skills and connections that will last a lifetime. I look forward to even more challenges and personal growth in the next few years.

Getting Out Of My Comfort Zone

Being in a different country such as the United States is definitely a new adventure to me and an experience worth exploring. For instance, I participated in a one week camping adventure in the beautiful Rocky Mountains in Colorado. The primary purpose of the camp was to bring together international students from different countries and backgrounds in order to bridge the gap between cultures and religions. As a Fulbright student, I saw the camp as an opportunity to meet new people, to expand my knowledge and to share my experiences with others. I met with students from countries such as China, South Korea, Japan, Germany and the U.S..

The camp comprised of various activities. Along with outdoor excursions such as hiking, skiing and horseback riding, the camp held several meetings and workshops about religions, traditions and American culture. It was a chance to learn more about Christianity and look at it through the lens of my own religion, which is Islam. Getting out of my comfort zone means to have an open mind toward new ideas and new people.

The camping experience greatly exceeded my expectations. I learned things about team work, collaborations and living within a family context. Moreover, I enjoyed meeting many new people from different cultures. This kind of experience is the hallmark of the Fulbright program which is to increase the mutual understanding amongst different peoples. Personally, I shared my insights about Palestinians and the peace process in the Middle East. Ultimately, I became more aware that religions exist not to separate people but rather to unify them so that the world enjoys the meaning of peace.

Success Is My Only Option 

So far, the greatest achievement in my life is receiving the prestigious Fulbright scholarship. My first academic term in the school was prosperous. When I arrived at my campus in Kansas City, I set to myself a three-fold goal: be a good student, be an ambassador for the Palestinian people, and finally, be a representative for the Fulbright program.

I finished the first semester with excellent grades. Furthermore, I developed a good network with professors and students. These connections landed me with a position as a graduate research assistant in the Department of Finance where I am working on my Master’s degree. Achieving success wasn’t an easy road, and I had to overcome a few challenges. I faced a hard time adjusting to the new culture and the new educational system. The first semester was intensive and required a lot of studying and preparation. I was feeling a little lost at times, but I was always reminding myself that I have no option except to succeed. I talked to academic advisors and some experienced students to help me stay focused and study properly.

The United States is known as a multicultural nation. U.S. universities are attracting larger numbers of international students each year. As a Palestinian student, I see myself as an ambassador representing my country during my study here. I have been participating in extracurricular activities on and off campus. For example, I regularly participate with a student organization called cultural discovery group, which is in charge of organizing social and cultural activities with international students. Also, I created a Facebook group for the Master’s students in my classes to get to know them well. Engaging in the community is the best way I found to lessen the feeling of homesickness and loneliness.

Being a representative is the final task I aspire to achieve when I finish my Fulbright experience. Upon returning to my country, I look forward to working in vital positions in the investment sector where I can apply what I learned in the USA. At the same time, I will advise other prospective students aware of Fulbright scholarships and other exchange programs and assist them with applying.

The journey of one thousand miles starts with one step. I have marched that step. My Fulbright experience is still at its dawn. Every day I add new words to the chapter of this particular stage in my life.

We don’t remember the days, we remember the moments 

July 12th, 2013 is the day when I arrived at Monterey, California to participate in the Fulbright pre-academic program at Monterey institute for international studies. It was the most incredible experience I have ever had. I developed a strong academic background for graduate student life, made long lasting relations with students from different countries, and learned about the American culture and customs through classes, field trips and interacting with Monterey residents. The program was divided into three main categories: Graduate courses, seminars, and extracurricular activities.

 The courses I took were very necessary to prepare me for graduate student university life. Before I came to Monterey, speaking in front of a public audience was a concern to me. The intensive public speaking course I enrolled in was helpful to tackle speaking issues. At the conclusion of the program, I felt more confident to speak out and was able to deliver the final graduation speech in front of students and teachers. Other courses I took were graduate writing, research design, and library skills. Those courses were important to ensure a smooth transition to university life.

The program offered workshops and seminars in various subjects. One of the exciting seminars was one about the American election process. This workshop was given by the Congressman of California, Sam Far. Congressman Far explained in detail the history of elections and talked about political parties and foreign policy. Another seminar was about leadership models in organizations. The seminar was effective as it was followed by a simulation game to apply the learned concepts. Another seminar was offered by a professor from Cornell University; he explained to us how to publish a research paper and how get into top Ph.D. programs in the USA. The professor finally let us sing the Fulbright rap song multiple times!


Aside from academic life, we visited larger cities near Monterey such as Los Angeles and San Francisco.


We couldn't leave the program without doing something for the community. We participated in a volunteer activity called “Stuff the Bus”. We assisted the Monterey County Office of Education to pack and distribute school supplies to children. I learned the meaning of giving back to the community and the meaning of volunteer work and cooperation. It is such a wonderful feeling to put a smile on the faces of school children.


I spent 28 days in Monterey. The days passed far too quickly, yet I remember every moment I lived there. Every moment was full of love, success and happiness.

Akram Alkhatib is a Fulbrighter from the West Bank pursuing a Master's in Finance from University of Missouri-Kansas City.

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