This Arabic Language Day, we’re highlighting the contributions of outstanding Fulbrighters who live the Fulbright mission through sharing Arabic language and culture. In this Q&A, Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Chama Bououd, an Arabic language FLTA at Stetson University, shares her experience teaching remotely, her tips for learning a foreign language, and what her students have learned about Morocco.
1. Tell us a little about your path to Fulbright. Who or what inspired you to apply?
Chama: My name is Chama Bououd. I am from Morocco and a native speaker of Arabic. I also speak French and English. I am interested in learning from other people and curious about other cultures. I believe that, now more than ever, we need to communicate and exchange our cultures and look from another’s perspective. I saw an opportunity in the Fulbright FLTA Program to experience American culture and share my own culture and native language, and was inspired by Fulbright’s mission to promote mutual understating of cultures and people.
2. What tips and tricks have you learned for teaching a foreign language remotely? How have you engaged your students?
Chama: I had to teach remotely from home for the Fall 2020 semester. It was my first time studying and teaching online: teaching a language online is a bit demanding and can be challenging, but the primary instructor, my students, and I made it work. We did our best to cope with the circumstances and we succeeded. I tried to be creative during the classes, recording videos, using my hands and body language to explain and to overcome constraints. I shared Arabic culture, including funny expressions, music, videos, and through conversations, in order to engage all students, especially those beginning to study the Arabic script.
3. What advice would you give to Arabic language learners, especially those learning via the internet?
Chama: For someone learning Arabic, I would recommend listening to Arabic music, watching movies, following pages that share Arabic content on social media, and watching Arabic videos on YouTube, etc. This enables learners to hear Arabic within context, and to see that Arabic exists beyond class and textbooks, especially for learners who do not live in an Arabic-speaking community. Besides, exposure to a foreign language improves learning, and no language can be learned in isolation from its culture.
4. What might an American be surprised to learn about your home country?
Chama: I noticed that some of my American students and classmates thought that all Moroccan women cover their heads with a hijab, or that we were only allowed to wear black. I explained to my students about Moroccan hospitality, and they were surprised to learn that a host will keep offering guests food, and won’t take “no” for an answer. This is not to be imposing, but rather to be hospitable. I also explained that when shopping in Morocco, you must bargain: the actual price of the product might be half of what the seller is saying, because they expect the customer to bargain.
5. What is your biggest takeaway from your Fulbright Program?
Chama: My experience in the Fulbright Program has enabled me to look at the world from a different perspective. I have met so many wonderful and helpful people who have welcomed and supported me. I have made connections and learned a lot from my students and classes at Stetson University—this will definitely help me with my academic career and future plans.
By Uyanga Erdenebold, 2007 Fulbright Foreign Student from Mongolia
It stands clear and vivid in my memory as if it were yesterday. It was the clear, sunny morning of August 20, 2007 when I stood at the airport in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, equal degrees excited and nervous, surrounded by my family and getting ready to cross the globe to go to a country that I knew only from movies and books. As surreal as it seemed, I knew that this was the shining moment of my triumph. This was the moment I had worked for, and this is the moment that many, even myself, doubted would ever come. I had done it. I was going to the United States as the first-ever blind Fulbright Foreign Student from Mongolia. Though none of us knew at the time, this was to be the beginning of a long, transformative journey, and my relationship with the United States.
When I was 14, an American woman came to our school voluntarily and asked to teach interested students English. What struck us most was the fact that she was blind, just like us. To this day it amazes me how courageous she was to come so far from home all by herself. She ignited the first spark in me of the possibility of doing the same: traveling somewhere far and foreign and being bravely independent. She, not just by teaching me English but also by just being there, showed me that it could be done, and that I too could do it. She helped me to believe, and I was already halfway there.
Fulbright helped me to see the world, and the experience not only changed the course of my life, but more importantly, it changed me as an individual.
It freed me, quite literally, both in the physical and intellectual sense. Until I came to the United States, I had never gone anywhere by myself. I had never learned to walk with a cane. I was always accompanied either by a family member or a friend. Do you know what a privilege it is to be able to walk alone with your thoughts, stopping whenever or wherever you want to, taking as long as you would like to reach a certain place, just to wander around by yourself? That’s what the United States gave me: personal freedom. It was there that I first owned my own key to my apartment. Once I completed my cane training, I quickly moved on to guide dog training, and received my first guide dog in August 2008. My partnership with my first guide dog, Gladys, was one of the most positive, heart-warming, and transformative experiences of my life, and for this, I’m forever grateful to the United States.
I was never defined by my disability, even before I came to the United States. However, before then, I was defiant, always seeking to prove my worth. What the United States taught me was that I was already an equal, an acknowledged human being with the same right to contribute to society as everyone else. This liberated me from a huge burden I had carried all my life. Now I could focus on my studies just like everyone else. I would have been fine if my professors felt differently, especially with assignments and readings. But as far as they were concerned, the only difference between the other students and myself was that I had a pretty dog.
There were difficult days, of course, especially in the beginning – days when I wondered why I left the comfort of my home and my family and friends. I felt lonely, homesick, and frustrated. But those feelings are only natural. Remembering how hard you worked to get where you are and what you hope to achieve with this experience helps shed a different light on everything.
Once, a journalist asked me what I thought was the hardest thing in my life, and I said, “Not being able to contribute.”
The basic elements of a fulfilled human life are to be relevant, to be able to contribute, and to be acknowledged. Every human experience, all human knowledge, and every human feeling finds meaning only when shared. When you are judged not by the merit of who you are, but by the perceived limitations of your disability, your right to contribute quickly gets turned upside down and becomes a right to receive. If you don’t contribute, you become irrelevant and forgotten. The unfortunate truth is that society has a tendency to generalize and apply their notions of perceived limitations on you based on a lack of certain sense or physical attribute. But is ability determined by one’s physical attributes alone? A truer indicator of ability might be experience.
Many people with disabilities usually have been told to be “realistic” in life, and have always had to prove themselves in order to get any type of recognition and value. People always assume incompetence, and it’s always on the person with a disability to prove them wrong. To have to do that with everyone you meet is incredibly exhausting. It’s similar to being forever on trial, where everyone you meet is the jury and you’re always assumed guilty—in other words, incompetent—until proven otherwise.
My one piece of advice to everyone working with a person with a disability is: ALWAYS ASSUME COMPETENCE.
Be willing to give trust and confidence without proof. Be willing to be the ally and not the jury. Be willing to go the extra mile even if it seems futile. What society expects from disabled people is to have such strong inner self-will and awareness that we can propel ourselves forward, even when everyone we meet always expects less from us compared to our non-disabled peers. For anybody, going to college and having a job is a normal part of life, and it’s expected as a matter of course. However, when those with disabilities achieve those same things, it’s a great success and an exception to be applauded. Why? Precisely because we are not expected to be able to do those things.
Before I went to the United States, I often arranged my life and my dreams to accommodate my disability. But after my Fulbright experience, I let my disability accommodate my life. I learned that there is much more to life than what meets the eyes, and there are endless opportunities if I only allow myself to find them.
For more than 70 years, the Fulbright model of living and learning together with people of different cultures has helped forge lasting connections worldwide and has brought people and nations together to work toward common goals. This mission is more vital today than ever, and we thank the Fulbright community—participants, alumni, advisers, university and host partners, and staff at Fulbright commissions, embassies, implementing partners, and more—for coming together to take on today’s unprecedented challenges.
We express our gratitude to Fulbright participants and alumni engaged in the fight against the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). Fulbrighters are healthcare workers, scientists, inventors, policy makers, journalists, academics, entrepreneurs, teachers, and professionals of all backgrounds. Fulbrighters are leaders, innovators, experts, and trailblazers. Fulbrighters are creative, compassionate, resilient, and generous. Fulbrighters are simply extraordinary, and we are so proud of the many ways they are taking action.
As we look forward to the future, we will begin posting stories from our Fulbright alumni, written prior to COVID-19. We hope they will continue to inspire and educate as we navigate the future together.
By Léandre Larouche, French Foreign Language Teaching Assistant, Canada
I did not expect the end of the Fulbright FLTA mid-year conference to feel so weird. The conference, organized by Fulbright, gathered all 400+ Foreign Language Teaching Assistants dispatched across the United States in the Marriott Marquis in Washington, DC. The goal of the mid-year conference was to get all FLTAs together to reflect upon their experience, learn together, and share what they have learned. While the conference’s primary goal may have been intellectual, it was also emotional and personal on many levels. Our learning experience goes beyond our roles as FLTAs; it also teaches about ourselves, about other people, and about all the different countries, languages, and cultures represented in the Program. I am experiencing this personal aspect first-hand as I find myself seized by a sense of emptiness at the dusk of the conference. Still in Washington, DC for one more night, I’ve said goodbye to most of my fellow Fulbrighters and wish this conference lasted just a little longer — or at least that I could spend more time getting to know its participants.
The French from the Old World
I’ve been fortunate enough to be a Fulbright Program participant twice — as well as an exchange student. These experiences allowed me to attend several events where I’ve met people from across the world and got to know them for very short periods of time. Yet this time — and perhaps more than any other time before — I feel sad, almost heartbroken, that this conference came to an end. The past week spent in Washington, DC, was possibly the most enriching and fun time in my life. The people I’ve met there where some of the funniest, smartest, and most accomplished people I’ve met. Perhaps most importantly, too, I got to know more of my fellow French FLTAs — who are all from France, as I’m the only French-Canadian in the Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program. They managed to make me love their country more and spurred my desire to further discover it. They also strengthened my love for the language we share and increased my awareness of its diversity.
French, indeed, is a colourful language, a language full of metaphors, images, and wonderful, sometimes ridiculous expressions. The best part of it is that it changes from one corner of the world, even one part of a country, to the other. I taught my expressions to the French FLTAs; they taught me theirs — and we’ve laughed to tears in the process. The relationship between Québec and France can be a tricky one; I haven’t always felt like people from France treat people from Québec and their language as equals. But these French people, as good representatives of their country as they are, made me forget these sometimes bitter feelings. Few are the times in my life where I’ve had as much fun and learned so much about a nation. If I were to take just one thing away from this conference, it would be that individuals have the power to influence countries’ relations. Who knows where we all will be ten, twenty, and thirty years down the road? Who knows what kind of impact we will be able to make?
The Fulbright Program’s goal is to help the U.S. State Department achieve diplomatic objectives by facilitating exchange programs between the United States and the rest of the world. Not only is it succeeding at this objective, but it is also succeeding at doing so for other countries. When I go back home to Canada, I’ll remember not only the interactions with Americans, but also those with the French people and the 40 other nations represented at the conference. My mind was opened wider more times than I can count. For example, I met the first Fulbrighter from the United Arab Emirates, who opened my mind to a country I knew next to nothing about. The fact that a Fulbright Commission was launched in that country a few years back has already had a tremendous impact — on my life, just as on that of many other people. The results may be invisible for now, but their effects will be made visible sooner or later.
Of Emptiness and Confusion
The time spent with the French people and other Fulbrighters from across the world, as we exchanged ideas in conference rooms, ate in restaurants, drank in bars and hotel rooms, I regard as rare and precious. I think I’m going to miss it seriously. I’m lucky to be living an extraordinary life as a Fulbright FLTA in Williamsport, PA — a life I would never take for granted. Nonetheless, it’s hard to think of going back to the routine next semester after living such an intense weekend. I’m going to be travelling around the United States throughout the Christmas break, and I’m going to see some of the people I’ve met here as I do so. Still, the feeling of being surrounded with more than 400 other people like you who love languages, love people, love the world, and wish for a better, more tolerant future is priceless and, frankly, difficult to get over. As I write these lines, I feel as though there is a hole in my heart. I feel as though I’ve lost something I’ll never get back, no matter how bright the future might be.
I know, however, that Fulbright is forever and that the friendships it creates are made to last. In many cases, we said goodbye but not farewell—and I know full well that this is only the beginning of a life filled with such experiences. While in Washington, DC, before the conference began, I hung out with a friend I’d met during the 2017 Youth Institute for Canada in the World, another Fulbright event. It felt like nothing had changed. And some of the people I’ve met this weekend, I was already acquainted with from our summer orientation in Fayetteville, AK. Nothing had changed with them, either. We picked up our conversations as if we’d never been apart. When people are bound together by an organization like Fulbright — meaning they share a similar vision of the world and certain fundamental values — they can feel as though they’ve known each other forever, and the connections they share are as strong as they can be. As a result, it feels bittersweet when the time comes to say goodbye — sometimes even lonely. But such a sense of emptiness is simply the price to pay for these extraordinary experiences. Nothing meaningful comes without a sense of loss when it ends; people keep moving forward and use what they have learned as they do so. They try as they might not to compare the present to the past and compartmentalize these events. Such is the beauty of programs like those of Fulbright: they teach how to handle the extraordinary, all these exceptional encounters with people all special in their own ways — and to move on with our lives once it’s over.
Even though I’m well aware that the sadness won’t last — I know that in a day or two, it will turn into something more pleasant — I still embrace this uncomfortable feeling. Because I know it is the right thing to feel after a life-changing experience. There is nothing abnormal with feeling this way; this is how things should be. And I can only hope that all the other FLTAs feel more or less the way I do, that they too had an extraordinary few days in the United States capital city. And I can only hope, too, that more people feel this at one point in their lives, that they experience extraordinary events and programs, like those of Fulbright. International education and professional opportunities are blessings one should strive to get at least once in their lifetime. There’ll be moments of emptiness and confusion, but this is how we know that we’re doing something right.