This is Bissa’s first year in the United States. From finding housing, the weather, and learning U.S. culture it’s been an adventure so far!
My name is Bissa, I’m 24 and I’m a Foreign Fulbrighter from Algeria. I came to the U.S. in the summer of last year, after a strenuous, challenging, and quite frankly nerve-racking year of awaiting the final decision from the Fulbright Scholarship Board. And in April, I finally got the long-awaited approval from the FSB, who had placed me at Kent State University in Kent in the state of Ohio, to do a master’s in translation. I first realized how gratifying it was when I met with the U.S. Ambassador to Algeria, H.E Joan.A.Polaschik, who had invited me and my fellow Fulbrighters to an Iftar dinner held at the gorgeous Villa Montfeld (her official residency in Algiers) to congratulate us on our accomplishment.
And in August, there I was, in the Land of The Free and The Home of The Brave. I remember thinking to myself, “At last…” Because before I decided to take a chance at the Fulbright scholarship, I had learned how prestigious the grant I was applying for was, and I just didn’t think it would pan out for me. So to actually see and live its materialization felt amazing!
In the first days, the main issue I struggled with was housing. I arrived a week before school started, and in that week, I had just little time to get all my things in order (setting up a bank account, turning in my medical forms to the university, staying in full alert regarding apartment renting ads, etc.) I was juggling many tasks at once, all while staying at the closest affordable hotel to campus, which was three miles south. All I can say is thank God for my bicycle (which I purchased the day after I arrived), because the buses go down there about 6 times a day only, and end their service at around 6 p.m., which was an issue given that all my classes end at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.
After 2 weeks spent at the Days Inn, the best place I could find that didn’t hurt my self-esteem was a room in a house with a married couple of 25 and 26 year-olds, Susan and Jim four miles north of campus this time, but the buses didn’t go there either, except for the door-to-door bus (one of Kent’s bus services that offers pick-ups and drop-offs to and from one’s door step for $4 a ride Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.). Again, you can see how this was also somewhat problematic as far as my class schedule went. Consequently, when I couldn’t rely on the bus, I relied on my bicycle. And providence was on my side given that it rarely rained while I was on my bike neither did it ever snow (which as I was told was odd for Kent because I usually starts snowing in October). I decided to move out because I realized that when the weather would get colder, I would not be able to use my bike and would have no way of getting to/from school. The main reason I was drawn to that place at first was because it had a month-by-month rent, unlike other 2-bedrooms I found that required a lease signing of at least a year. Therefore, since I was not sure about the second option yet, I decided to go with the one that offered me peace of mind with the freedom of moving out at any time. Consequently, about two weeks ago, I moved into my new place.
One month in in my old place, I gave my landlords a 30-day notice and decided to answer a Craigslist ad of someone looking for a roommate in two-bedroom much closer to campus. After three weeks of permanent contact with my roommate and our landlords, I signed a one-year lease and am now much happier with my situation, because I have near convenient locations such as the bank, or supermarkets or fast-food franchises, aside from the bus line going right by my place. All’s well that ends well.
On the other hand, I had real difficulties at first because of the local mentality. In other words, I had trouble dealing with people! What I learned over the past months, the hard way I might add, is that most Americans are nice, very nice in fact, except that they are nice out of protocol only! I was such a fool to think that I had real connections with some people, I felt like there was a real bond, but I was very disappointed when they acted like complete strangers the day after. That happened on many occasions, with so many people. I didn’t take it personally of course because I knew it was nothing personal. It wasn’t because of me; it was just the way most Americans are. But I will never forget some of the sweetest gestures ever done for me. Like that charming lady who insisted to pay for my bag of cookies because the supermarket wouldn’t take bank cards unless they are Discover®. She asked: “Are you a college?” I said: “Yes Mam’”, so she said:” Then you need cookies!”
As far as school, I will say this: Grad school is hard! It is hard not because I have difficulty learning and understanding material. I don’t. As a matter of fact I did quite good in my first semester. It is hard because we get so many assignments to do, and such little time to do them in. We get homework from each instructor every single week, generally due a week later, and because of my tricky housing situation it was very difficult; so difficult that I felt like burning out at some point, as if I was trying to catch a train in motion. But I worked through it, tried to manage my time as well as I could, and now I’m on board the train.
As I stated before, I have now a bit more free time than I had before (mainly because of both the commute time and also the money I’m saving now), time that I use to go to our recreational center to shoot hoops, or play team when I get called in, at the end of which I usually end up with a bag of ice pressed against some part of my body!
I do attend coffee hours at our department, where students and teachers get together and discuss the miscellaneous issues of the day in different languages depending on their language tracks. Our group is very dynamic! I love that I can go bowling with my course instructor and heckle each other on the lanes! Whether we’re students or instructors, we always get together to celebrate big events such as Halloween or Thanksgiving.
Also, I and other Fulbrighters were invited to a reception in November as part of the recognition given to Fulbright scholars and students across the United States. I was delighted by the lovely certificates and flowers we were offered by Dr. Linda R. Robertson, director of the Gerald H. Read Center for International and Intercultural Education. During the reception, I asked Dr. Caven McLoughlin, our Fulbright specialist and contact at Kent State University whether the university had any Fulbright Alumni organizations, and I was disappointed to learn that there were none. It made think of doing something about it. There were people from the Global Education Office who said that they would be more than happy to help out with that. So me and my fellow Fulbrighters decided to take them up on their offer and are working toward creating a Fulbright Organization at Kent State University! We couldn’t be more thrilled because of the tremendous advantages that will surely come with such an endeavor.
Last Christmas was my first Christmas in the United States! I have always been the biggest Christmas fan, and so this year I spent it over at my friend Lisa’s house with her family and it was wonderful! The food was delicious, and the ambiance could not have been Christmassier (except for the snow, which we would have appreciated).
Every day is an adventure, and every day I try to make the most of my stay here. What I’m experiencing through the Fulbright program is simply the opportunity of a lifetime! It all started with a why not, and now I’m here!
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