Tuesday, March 11, 2014

My Fulbright Experience

As an Arab woman who lived in a country with limited opportunities and resources, it was challenging for me to pursue my dreams, especially my Master’s. However, being a Fulbrighter has given me a great opportunity to pursue my dreams and it exposed me to ideals of freedom, cultural understanding and respect that have altered the way I have come to relate to others who face a similar plight as me.

I am currently pursuing a Master’s degree in International Development and Social Change at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. Clark University, a liberal arts university whose motto is “Challenge Conventions, Change the World”, has instilled in me the idea that individuals when provided with the opportunity to do so can be quite powerful in changing the world. In the last one and a half years, I have matured as a critical thinker who is able to assume leadership roles and be able to advocate for those whose voices have been silenced. In the process, I learned how to build consensus between people with diverse cultures, religions, statuses, and beliefs.

This personal transformation was recognized not only by the department, faculty and staff, but also by my colleagues who elected me as their graduate representative for the Student Affairs Committee in the Board of Trustees and for the Diversity and Inclusion Committee at Clark University. I was chosen for that role because of my ability to bridge differences in perspectives and backgrounds, and because of my demonstrated leadership skills which were driven by my colleagues’ trust in my ability to influence positive change.

These personal transformations also inspired me to apply the theories of social justice and social change that I was learning at Clark University to the refugee and immigrant communities that have recently been resettled to Worcester, Massachusetts. Using my background and my bilingualism in Arabic and English, I was able to come up with innovative ways of accessing these isolated communities that were facing challenges on a daily basis and have largely remained hidden from mainstream U.S. society.

For my final Master's thesis, I conducted lengthy interviews and community forums with recently arrived refugee women from Iraq who never had the chance to share their stories of isolation, trauma, and sadness from being uprooted and forced to start all over again without any resources and support. Through this work, I was also able to assuage their fears about integrating into the U.S. society by teaching them English, facts about American culture, and celebrating their newly found freedom in their new home. Another project that I initiated as part of a course called “Displacement and Exile” involved getting to know a Somali Bantu refugee community. In the United States, Somalis are poorly understood and stigmatized because of the historical and political conflict that has spread throughout the world. In my project, I participated in their social gatherings, collected some of their poetry, songs, and stories and presented it to other students who have never encountered such a radically different culture than their own. This also allowed me to demonstrate to American students the richness and beauty of other cultures, and to convey the peacefulness and friendliness of this poorly integrated community.

The two previous projects fueled my passion and desire to continue this work outside of academia. I was given the opportunity to work as an intern with the Lutheran Social Services during the spring of 2014. My primary objective for this internship is to help displaced refugees assimilate to American culture. This, I am confident, is the first step in my aspirations for a long-term career trajectory that tries to bridges differences and fosters mutual understanding.

I am tremendously appreciative of the generosity and support of the Fulbright Exchange Program in allowing me to come to the United States to pursue my MA degree. In the process, I was able to become a better citizen of the world.

Ronza Almadbooh is a Fulbrighter from the West Bank pursuing an MA in International Development and Social Change at Clark University.

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