I’m so “fun-sized” I didn’t need to duck to fit under this “low” beam.
Hola! Here’s some background information about me and my journey leading up to my Fulbright position: who I am, international experiences leading to this one, why I chose the Fulbright, and what I plan to do here.
Since I was about 11 years old, I have been fortunate enough to have traveled abroad to some pretty cool places. When I was 11, my family received this letter from an organization called People to People saying that I was nominated to become a student ambassador on their program, which my parents thought would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. I ended up being the youngest of 40-some kids from all across the country going to Europe, more specifically France (Paris, Nice, Versailles), Switzerland (Zurich, Bern), Austria (Vienna, Salzburg), and Italy (Rome, Pisa, Venice, Florence). While I don’t remember most of it (I was much too young to appreciate what I got to experience, to be honest), I do remember seeing the Louvre and Eiffel Tower, traveling on a train, my time with my Austrian host family, seeing the natural beauty of the Swiss Alps (and their delicious chocolate!), and seeing the country where my ancestors came from. That experience sparked my love for travel and seeing the amazing world we live in. I had this insatiable desire to go everywhere!
Fast-forward some years later, after another month-long trip (to Germany this time!), I became a student of St. Cloud State University. Coming from a town where my graduating class had the diversity of a piece of white bread, it was an experience to come to a campus so diverse. I now laugh at my reaction to my first experience of seeing a Somali girl, which was dumbstruck (“Why is she dressed like that? Where does she come from?”). Little did I know how diverse my campus truly was, despite being a small state school in the middle of Minnesota. The statistic is something like: 17,000 students in total, 1,200+ international students (these numbers have grown I’m sure, and this statistic doesn’t even take into consideration the many multi-cultural/racial students on campus who are African-American, Asian-American, etc.). It is this diversity and the celebration of it that makes me really appreciate having gone to St. Cloud State University. During my time there, most of my friends were international students from around the globe, and I participated in many cultural events that happened on campus.
International Spring Festival 2012, with the rest of the executive board. As a member of ISA (International Student Association), I not only helped organize the cultural performances at this event…I also danced it it!
Volunteering as an International Peer Advisor. During international student orientation at SCSU, I helped students during their first few days on campus!
My first time wearing a sari at one of my favorite cultural nights…Bangladesh Night! I meet many good friends that night!
Celebrating the gay pride parade in Minneapolis with two of my best friends, Ivana (from Montenegro) and Fernando (from Panama).
Me and my friends from all over the world, at one of my favorite cities in the US, Chicago!
The final performance at the ISA International Spring Festival 2011, students from all over the world singing, appropriately “We Are the World” by Michael Jackson.
Dancing in a “fashion show” for Malaysia Night 2011 – traditional Malaysia meets modern Malaysia.
Dancing semi-traditional Bangladeshi dance! Lots of hard work but man, was it fun!
But before all of that, I had the chance to be an international student myself! In the fall of 2009, my sophomore year, I studied abroad in Concepción, Chile with my university’s partnership at La Universidad de Concepción. For four months, I lived with a host family who barely spoke any English…so my Spanish skills improved fairly quickly! Beyond that, I traveled through a lot of Chile, which has something to offer for everyone. Someone once told me the story of Chile’s “creation”: God was creating the countries of the world and had a lot of little things left over, so he put them all together to create Chile. I traveled to many of these places: I sandboarded on the dunes of the Atacama desert, I saw a glacier in the south of the country, I saw the famous poet Pablo Neruda’s three houses in the metropolitan area, and I even camped overnight at a beach really close to my house. It sounds cliché, but up until now, it was the best experience of my life. It made me really passionate about the world and the people in it (especially South America), which drove me to becoming active in the international student community.
Camping on the beach with some of my Chilean (and non-Chilean) friends.
Sandboarding in the Atacama Desert. Fell down a LOT, but it was truly out of this world!
Upon coming back to St. Cloud State, I became friends with the newest group of international students because many of them were Chileans I had met back in Chile. However, one friend in particular stands out in my mind and was the one who told me all about the Fulbright program, my friend Rami.
He was a Fulbright Scholar from Syria, a country whose geographical location I had not known until I met him. He was studying for his MBA here at St. Cloud State for the next two years. My knowledge of the Middle East up until meeting him was based on 9/11, and so it was interesting talking with him about his country, his experiences here in the land of ice and snow, his views on Islam and religion in general (he was secular), concepts about family and friendship, classic rock and roll, and just life in general. As someone with Italian heritage, he affectionately called me his Mediterranean neighbor. I had not known about the Fulbright exchange program until I had met him, and he had encouraged me to apply. Not only was it a very enriching experience academically and professionally, but it gave you an opportunity to represent your country that was beyond what people got to see in the media.
Fast forward another few years later, and I have graduated from St. Cloud State University with a Bachelor of Arts in both linguistics and Spanish, ready to teach English and travel the world.
I am extremely fortunate to be spending the next ten months in Colombia as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA). Not only am I lucky to be living in a country so diverse (both ethnically and geographically) and mostly undiscovered by American tourism but also because as the application and preparation process has gone on, the more certain I have become that this is exactly where I want to be/what I want to be doing at this point in my life. In the abstract sense, it means I have the opportunity to be abroad in South America again, but experiencing a whole new culture. In everyday terms, this means I will be assisting at La Universidad de Boyacá, a private university in Tunja, Boyacá (cold, small, and largely rural/colonial - the Colombian equivalent of Minnesota), improving my Spanish, maybe learning how to dance salsa and anything and everything else that I happen upon.
Many have asked me – why Colombia? To them I have said, “Why not?” Why not spend almost a year in Colombia? I knew I wanted to go back to South America and the more than I learned about Colombia– the more intrigued I became. It was a country that was eager to shed it’s horrible past of kidnappings, drug cartels, and violence. Colombia’s a country of conflict, but it’s also known to have the world’s happiest people.
And I believe it has so much potential.
For what, I do not quite know yet — but that’s a part of what this year will be for.