Fulbright Student Program Blog

Tag Archives: Sustainability

A Tree Grows in Williamson: Seeking Sustainability in Appalachia

By Sayed Masihullah Fakhri, Fulbright Foreign Student, Afghanistan

The Fulbright-Amizade trip to Williamson, West Virginia was one of the most thought-provoking experiences I had during my stay in the United States. I have often thought about the sustainability of a single industry supporting a local economy, such as Williamson’s dependence on coal. Through this experience, I had the opportunity to see first-hand these effects in an Appalachian town.

Before coming to the United States, I used to work for the Ministry of Mines & Petroleum (MoMP) in Afghanistan, where the coal sector dominates, although it continues to lose ground to more sustainable sources of energy. At the program orientation in Charleston, South Carolina, I began to hear about Williamson’s efforts to switch to sustainable power sources. Once in Williamson, that sentiment was corroborated in many conversations with the residents, who were keen to talk about the town’s changing energy policy and industry. I believe this will help me advise MoMP’s “mining roadmap” revision, and add a well-thought out plan to address community sustainability issues related to booming bulk commodities, as is the case in Williamson.

Furthermore, I was impressed by the Williamson residents’ strong social bonds. These bonds help the community care for each other in turbulent times. Alexis Batausa, a local resident who successfully improved his health through lifestyle changes, is an amazing example. His efforts to better his life impressed the whole community, and now others join him in running and other healthy activities.  Jessie Spaulding, another Williamson resident, also impressed me with his commitment to sobriety. Talking to him, I began to understand his desire to help other residents combat their substance abuse problems and follow a better path. These individuals demonstrate that one person can make a difference!

After seeing Williamson’s dedication to community, I searched for a way to maintain a lasting connection with the town. I wanted something to remind me of the amazing moments I spent with the genuinely nice people I met, including moments of serene silence on Second Avenue, where I had a veggie omelet. Thus, I came up with the idea of planting a red maple tree in a quiet corner of Williamson’s elementary school, and someday, I hope to go back and pay a visit.

Exploring America with Americans

2016-08-11_09.46.47

Richa Narula, 2015-2016, Nepal (center), with her fellow “Unity” Millennial Train Project Fulbright participants Christian Mpody, 2015-2017, Togo(left), and Laura Jimenez Morales, 2015-2017, Mexico (right)

Upon receiving an email about applying to this year’s Millennial Train Project (MTP), I knew that it could potentially be an opportunity of a lifetime. Exploring the United States with Americans while on a train seemed like an amazing idea, and I was so fascinated about the concept. But it took me quite a long time to finalize what project I actually wanted to do during the ten day journey. The idea for my current MTP project came from a recent conference (which I was able to attend, thanks to Fulbright ) I attended and presented on organizational preferences towards particular natural resources versus others. I had observed this kind of bias back in my home country, Nepal, but dismissed after coming to the United States. I thought that the biases would just be understood as another “developing country” issue. But that was not the case. I felt challenged after this conference to research the causes of such preferences and their effects on sustainability. I was looking for an appropriate opportunity for pursuing this research, but even when the application for the MTP was announced, the idea did not strike me immediately. I took some time to think and decided that this was the appropriate opportunity to pursue this research, and the project “Perception Differences and Effects in Sustainability” was thus initiated.

The MTP journey has been the perfect way to enhance my one year in the States. Because of MTP, I have explored many places that I never would have seen.

Throughout this year, I have generally been surrounded by other fellow Fulbright friends, and it was my keen desire to see how Americans perceive different national and international issues that we talk about amongst ourselves. During this trip, I am surrounded by amazing Americans from all walks of life with their own fascinating stories of hard work, success and failure. Listening to them passionately talk about the positive changes that they want to make in the world through their projects — words are not enough to explain that experience. It feels good to know that there are many Millennials who are trying to make the world a better place, in all the ways they can. I already know, within only five days of my trip, that I have made friends for life!

Meet the Fulbright Millennial Trains Project Participants

The U.S. Department of State has selected the following six Fulbright Foreign Students to participate in the fourth Millennial Trains Project (MTP) installment across the United States as a special enrichment component of the Fulbright Foreign Student Program. This year the six Fulbrighters will be split between two MTP journeys, Change and Unity, joining 44 American Millennial riders who will traverse the country gaining  a deeper understanding of life in the United States and social entrepreneurship. The special enrichment activity will give participants an opportunity to explore a research topic of their choice in-depth,  and strengthen their leadership and communication skills.

Throughout the two journeys, participants will be sharing their experiences through social media using #MTPtrain and #Fulbright and here on this blog. Follow along in real time!

CHANGE // AUGUST 1 – 7

PITTSBURGH >> CHICAGO >> KANSAS CITY >> ALBUQUERQUE >> LOS ANGELES

Desiree_Barao_Garcia_resize

Desirée Barao Garcia is a Fulbright Student from Germany.

DESIRÉE BARAO GARCIA

Germany // Enhancing Small Businesses’ Performances

Desirée received her bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering at the Technical University of Dortmund in Germany and is now completing a master’s of science in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research at Columbia University in New York as a Fulbright Student. Her previous work experience includes various industries (automobile, logistics, consulting, steel, fashion, etc.) and companies of different sizes (from 3 to 35K+). She is currently the president of GradSWE and a Global Guide for One-to-World’s Global Classroom Project.

Desirée’s MTP project will research challenges facing small businesses to find national and international similarities so that small businesses around the world can learn from each other’s mistakes and successes and adjust accordingly. She will meet with small business owners across the United States to find out how they are performing, what challenges they face, and conduct research on what those businesses can do to perform better and stay in business long-term.

A Quiet Place in the Mountains…Grow Local, Live Long!!!

Oyeniyi Abe (Niyi) is a Fulbright Student from Nigeria conducting his Ph.D. research at Loyola University, Chicago School of Law.

Oyeniyi Abe (Niyi) is a Fulbright Student from Nigeria conducting his Ph.D. research at Loyola University, Chicago School of Law.

As the world is dealing with the effects of climate change, a visit to Williamson, WV exposed me to a new paradigm on sustainable development and the impact of ‘ruralness’ on the health and well-being of a society. As a participant in the Fulbright Amizade service-learning enrichment activity, this trip to Appalachia showed me how old coal mines are being reclaimed for agricultural use and how community revitalization has created a pathway towards sustainable living and economic growth. Getting close to nature also offered me an opportunity for reflection. Often times we tend to neglect the very small things that matter.

I grew up on a farm in a rural community in south western Nigeria. Coming to a rural community in the United States was, for me, a rare and unique opportunity. I visited many places and met many people but the most exciting aspect of my experience was visiting the community gardens and learning the local style of growing crops. The decline of the coal business has had an effect on the people of Williamson, causing a visible decline in population as evidenced by the abandoned houses. But the general sense I got was one of hope and determination.

Un-framing Appalachia

Reflections in and about Williamson. Photo by Anna Reich

Reflections in and about Williamson. Photo by Anna Reich

What is Williamson, West Virginia?

I don’t believe it is possible to define a town, much less a town I met only 36 hours ago.

I arrived in Charleston’s Yeager Airport shortly after noon on Sunday. The hotel offered a complimentary shuttle from the airport with a most amicable driver. While chatting about various things West Virginia, such as my childhood obsession with the Sacramento Kings and specifically West Virginia’s own Jason Williams, the driver asked the purpose of my visit. I explained the Fulbright – Amizade collaboration with Sustainable Williamson, the idea of global service learning, and some additional background on the Fulbright Program. He asked me to clarify where I would be going.

“Williamson?” he said, “that town is so poor they have a layaway program at the dollar store.”