My husband Tucker and I (both from Georgia State University) have now been in Poland for over three months. We are here as Fulbright English Teaching Assistants and are located in the city of Łódź, in central Poland. During our time here, I am responsible for teaching several classes in the English Philology department at the University of Łódź. In addition to teaching, I am also involved in a weekly conversation club at the American Corner in Łódź and have been able to visit several other schools in the area to give presentations about American culture and the English language. Through these programs and in our daily lives in Poland, we are continuously learning about the people, the culture, and the language of our host country. We also have the unique opportunity to see how people in Poland celebrate the holidays all throughout the year.
Thus far, we have been through several, major Polish holidays, such as All Saint’s Day (a time to remember and celebrate the lives of family members who have passed away) and Andrzejki (a gathering for friends, family, and fortune-telling). We have also shared our American customs for holidays like Thanksgiving as presentations, conversation topics at the American Corner, and in everyday conversations with our new colleagues and friends. However, Christmas is the first holiday that we have in common. And it is a big one.
If you told me one day that I would be one of 25 people traveling across the United States on a train for 10 days, I would have thought you were crazy. Ten days on a train? How could you possibly do that? Well, I did it, and I can tell you that I would do it again.
Today (Saturday, June 13th) marks two weeks since we finished the journey. I have learned a great deal, but I strongly believe that the future will show exactly how profound the journey’s impact was on my professional and personal life.
The experience of being on the train was extremely rewarding for me, as it allowed me to meet many interesting people and see what some of the American South looks like.
Ever since I came to this beautiful country, my dream was to travel across the United States. My professional goal was to learn as much as possible about dementia and ways of providing support to individuals who suffer from this disease. Both of my dreams came true thanks to the Fulbright-Millennial Train Project. During my journey across the Southern United States, I will be conducting interviews with older adults and listening to their needs and suggestions on how to design dementia-friendly communities. I also scheduled a few meetings with researchers who provided me with some feedback about my project, and inspired me to pursue my academic goals.
Being on the train with people I never met before, working under time pressures and facing unfamiliar situations, are all challenging. However, this experience has taught me an important lesson so far: leaders should always be outside of their comport zone since this is where real learning experiences occur. My first meeting with a researcher from the University of California, Los Angeles, was canceled a few hours before we were scheduled to meet. Even though I felt uncomfortable changing my plans, I took action and forced myself to leave my comfort zone. Instead, I interviewed older adults that I met at Los Angeles’ Union Station. Even though I was unprepared, the interview went well and I got lots of feedback. The Fulbright-Millennial Trains Project gives us many opportunities to challenge ourselves so we can experience personal growth.
The U.S. Department of State selected the following six Fulbright Foreign Students to participate in the third Millennial Trains Project (MTP) voyage across the United States — leaving from Los Angeles, California on May 21 and ending in Washington, DC on May 31— as an enrichment component of the Fulbright Foreign Student Program. The six Fulbrighters will join 19 American riders on the MTP journey to gain an in-depth understanding of life in the United States and to strengthen their skills in leadership, social entrepreneurship, and communication.
Meet the six Fulbright participants:
Saja Al Quzweeni is a Fulbright Foreign Student from Baghdad, Iraq, currently pursuing a master’s in environmental science and policy at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Saja’s MTP project is an extension of research she completed last year at Growing Power, a nonprofit organization in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that works in urban agriculture as an approach to increase food security in lower income and food desert communities. Small plots of land are used for intensive growing to offer healthy, affordable food to inner city communities, while merging agriculture and wise environmental practices to revitalize urban areas.