My life has been effected by my Fulbright experiences professionally, creatively, and intellectually. The Fulbright year that I spent in the USA was one of the most pivotal times in my life, work, and career. Being fully immersed in the language and culture also gave me a chance to return to my roots and reconnect with "home".
Along with researching, creating, and lecturing, I spent a lot of time walking through the city, exploring the country, traveling, and forming lifelong friendships with people who are now all over the world. Summarizing my Fulbright experience in just a few sentences will never fully describe the enormous impact this unique opportunity had on me. Luckily, I am able to constantly advise and encourage students with their own proposals, and know that the Fulbright program continues and constantly enhances individual, cultural, and global discourse.
First I heard about the Fulbright Program while teaching at Viqarunnisa Noon School & College In 2009. It sounded great and in sync with my teaching goals in English Language and Literature. I decided to apply. Little did I know at the time that this was the beginning of an exchanges journey that would last for years. I received the news of my selection with joy and trepidation and the prospect of separation for almost a year was a difficult one.
My Fulbright experience at Clemson University molded me as a person. I dealt with the challenges that face someone who embarks for foreign lands in search of higher education. A different educational system, cultural adjustment, a new lifestyle without family, homesickness, climatic changes-all these elements required new skills that needed to be adopted very quickly.
Through one of the most difficult times of my life- separation from my two sons; the warmth and concern shown by international friends and colleagues helped me to function normally.
My first observation was the cultural difference between South Carolina and Washington, D.C. I noticed that America's capital city is like a stepping stone for people of all cultures to their future goals. The exposure to this kaleidoscope of cultures was fascinating and i made many friends.
The spirit of volunteerism was something I greatly admired. I was on a teaching assistantship at Seneca Middle School and I realized that the best students in my classes were the ones who volunteered regularly at soup kitchens or shelter homes. I became fascinated with their volunteered work.
Clemson University offered a wonderful atmosphere for learning. I had grown much wiser. I came home with a comprehensive view of what exchange programs offer and how these turn into life-changing experiences.
I love that I interact with people from all sections of society as a Fulbright Scholar. This versatile exchange program has served as a powerful tool in enhancing the image of the United States and given participants a first-hand experience of American society and values. The ILEP accommodates participants of all high-ranking teacher leaders around the world. I have witnessed amazing stories of success.
Because of my contribution to education sector, I was invited to give a lecture at United Nation's General Assembly. Some years later, I also received the International and National Invitation as a panel speaker and presenter on various educational issues.
To erase these misconceptions among educational scholars who exert such powerful influence on the grassroots population, I designed an organization named BSATA (Bangladesh State Alumni Teachers' Association) for all Fulbright Scholars of Bangladesh with 275 members who gained an exposure to the United States first-hand and learnt about the real American culture, heritage, tradition and above all the teaching learning system there. One specific single goal of this organization; so that this would create new bridges of understanding within the group as well as alter their long-standing misconceptions about the United States.
To promote goals of global and regional understanding, I had sole responsibility for a four-day unique event in Dhaka in 2011 funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), was a first-ever gathering of alumni of this program. Participants included all Fulbright Scholars of Bangladesh and the officials from American Center and Department of State.
Besides presentations by internationally acclaimed experts, working groups focused on practical activities through which alumni could engage and address challenges like tsunami relief efforts in the region, child marriage Awareness, Climate Change Challenge etc. Among the highlights of the program was a visit to the Liberation War Museum that provoked an intense discussion about the troubled joint history of the participating countries. This discussion provided the younger generation with a view of historical events that they had been unaware of. This modified perspective is crucial for emerging leaders and will definitely impact their attitude as they take up reins of leadership in their countries.
I initiated and implemented all details for the first-ever Alumni Reunion. This program was a milestone and created a positive image of Bangladesh in the eyes of world community leaders.
As a Fulbrighter myself, I can relate to anxieties and concerns of outgoing exchange participants and offer tips to alleviate these. I have given support to young leaders who have gone on to be Speaker of Parliament, Cabinet Ministers, lawyers, and journalists, NGO personnel, and business leaders, to name only some professions. It is heartening when they receive international awards and recognition.
Here worth mentioning that my institution, Viqarunnisa Noon School & College had been awarded 'International Star for Quality Convention Award' for its contribution to leadership development and excellence by providing quality education. Business Initiative Direction (BID), a leading organization working worldwide through the quality mix plan presented this award to the institution at the International Star for Quality Convention held in Geneva, Switzerland on September 21, 2014. The convention was attended by Business Personalities and Diplomatic Corp from 48 countries.
This ISAQ Committee selected Viqarunnisa Noon School & College for the Gold Category. The criteria on which the award was based on in leadership quality excellence, innovation and growth. This school also won the International School Award from British Council. This has only happened because of my Fulbright experience which helped me taking various innovative teaching initiatives and by implementing those I could help my institution to achieve such international glories as a best institution.
I believe that each exchange, each grantee is one step forward in building new bridges of understanding between the people of the United States and Bangladesh. There are moments when I feel especially fortunate to be working with future leaders of our county - in a class room full of stellar talents.
I have learned that the effort to building future leaders seldom occur with a bang - these are usually quiet, baby steps that are taken in view of long-term, larger goals. I really encourage all Bangladeshi scholars to apply this Fulbright Senior Research Program and make full use of this opportunity not only to further pursue and deepen your research interests but most importantly is the opportunity to build long-lasting friends, relations and networks with the U.S. experts and practitioners during your research stay in the U.S. Last but not least, being a scholar is not simply being a good researcher, a strong teaching skill is also important. Being a visiting scholar in the U.S. also can provide you to update your teaching soft skills which would be invaluable for teachings once return back to Bangladesh.
My Fulbright experience has impacted my life in profound ways. I have embraced multiculturalism as the core rubric of how I live. I advise my students to move to a diverse community and encourage them to find opportunities that would offer them global perspectives, experiences, and friendships. My students have been instilled with a desire to learn about the world, embrace positive change in meeting the challenges they face, and develop high levels of empathy. My students today are global millennial who appreciate the need for all citizens of the planet to work and live together.
My nation building journey continues, for it never really ends, but ripples from one generation to another.
The writer is a poet, Fulbright Scholar and Head of English department, senior section of Viqarunnisa
Noon School & College
----Fatema Zohra Haque
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