For the past four months, I have been living in an unknown country, in an unknown city without any familiar faces around me. So I do sometimes ask myself, why did I come?
Recently, I have come up with a vague answer to this question.
On November 11, under the roof of a large room in Washington DC, more than 100 student leaders from 60 countries were gathered to exchange knowledge about their cultures. They were highlighting their identity through their presence. South Asian, South American, Middle Eastern, Eastern European, African – all the corners of the world were in the crowd. People of different countries might have different cultures, but the common language of exchange was in English. It didn't matter if you could speak fluently or not, you were representing your culture, your values, and your country. That was more important. The love for our own roots is the reason we came to the United States.
At the end of the Global Ugrad Program, all students of the fall session had to participate in a three-day workshop in Washington DC. Sumaiya Tabassum and I were proud to participate in the program and represent Bangladesh.
"All of us have left our own countries to travel the USA to share culture" – many people can not accept this as a strong point for leaving the country. Who wants to skip one, whole semester? The Global Ugrad Exchange Program is different from thousands of similar programs. The Global Undergraduate (UGRAD) Exchange Program provides one semester of full-time, non-degree, for-credit, study opportunities in the United States for current freshman and sophomore undergraduate students. From around the world, selected outstanding undergraduate students get a semester long full scholarship to study in an American university. The program's main goal is to promote mutual understanding between people of the United States and other countries.
I completed the UGRAD application without any expectations. I was busy writing a book for Pathao at the time. Would they select an English Literature second-year undergraduate student from East-West University for the prestigious program? I had my doubts. I have always been critical of my own English skills. My father's dream was for me to become a doctor. However, with great embarrassment, I decided to study English literature.
First time travelling to a foreign country, first airplane ride, first time away from family, all of these 'firsts' came at once. My four-month temporary address became Fayetteville State University. Situated in a small town in Fayetteville, North Carolina, the University is also known as African American Historical Institution. On a small, green campus, my culture exchange started. In a week I discovered that there weren't any other Bangladeshi students on campus. So the responsibility of representing Bangladesh was solely on my shoulders. Although my identity wasn't familiar to them, many were keen to learn. The friendly behavior of teachers especially surprised me. In their opinion, students won't learn anything if they memorise blindly and write answers in exam papers. Rather, they will guide you through research driven exams and assignments. This process caught me by surprise. In every class, I had the opportunity to talk about my own Bengali culture in some way.
Hurricane Florence struck the Carolinas during my stay there. A disaster can change people's lives drastically and Florence did. The hurricane left many scared, but the people of Fayetteville tried their best to rally and rebuild. So the Ugrad participants of Fayetteville State University went to the American Red Cross to clean thousands of cots with hundreds of people.
Public speaking in front of hundreds of university students is not an easy task. Fortunately, last November, I got an amazing opportunity to talk about my life in a panel discussion. 'Closet Talk' was arranged by Safe Zone, a division of Student Affairs, Fayetteville State University.
'Why should I apply? What will be the benefits? What will happen if I miss one semester of my regular classes?' – there are a lot of questions people would like to raise. But I would say that if you get an opportunity to represent your culture then why not take the chance? And not just culture, the exchange program plays a huge role in helping you learn and discover yourself.
If you have a drive to highlight your culture, if you have a desire to enhance your life, then you should definitely apply. Every entity is different. Everything is different. So be yourself and present your true self. Believe in yourself.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org