I still happily recall the day I became a Fulbright Foreign Student, an opportunity which has allowed me to share my culture and background while benefiting from exposure to people from different nations. As a grantee from Burkina Faso, I am currently pursuing the environmental management program at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. I am majoring in climate change, adaptation, and mitigation, and my interests include climate change and the quest for clean energy, particularly in developing countries.
When I arrived in the United States, I could not wait to become active in the Yale community. The school of forestry and environmental studies offers a unique three-week training module at Yale’s Myers and Great Mountain Forests and in New Haven’s urban areas. For this program, I worked with a group to perform field exercises, took measurements in forests, sampled species in ecosystems, and used orientation tools. I also shared my culture and experience outside classroom activities by working with the breakfast clean-up crews and participating in team sports, while learning from others. For the first time in my life, I played softball and scored a run, but I wish I hadn’t. Not knowing the rules, I only realized my achievement when applause and cheers followed!
What I remember most about the training is the classroom debate and some of the ideas generated by students which revealed how issues can be analyzed from several angles based on different cultural perspectives. As a student in the Master of Environmental Management Program, I actively participate in class projects and witness how students from all corners of the globe work together and roll up their sleeves to address global challenges such as climate change.
So far during my Fulbright grant, I have experienced the richness of cultural exchange on a daily basis. I share an apartment with three roommates and our Thanksgiving dinner brought people together from different countries. Our collective lifestyle values mutual understanding and learning, from the foods from diverse cultures we eat, to sharing our views about the world. All of these differences are constructive, and instead of causing us to drift apart, they bind us together.
Finally, successful exchange and leadership programs, like the Fulbright, should be based on community building. In addition to my school community, I engaged with my local host community on the New Haven Green. During the cold New England winter, I volunteered for a community service event held a week before Valentine’s Day called “Spread the Love.” This event gathered approximately 80 people. Along with other volunteers, I served soup, sandwiches and coffee to honor the elderly and other New Haven residents. This event renewed my sense of community engagement to continue sharing my skills, listening to people, seek understanding, and provide support for the rest of my Fulbright grant – and beyond.