A Year in the Fulbright Life: Arwa’s Story

9 min readMay 5, 2021

For the next year, Fulbright MENA will be showcasing a handful of students as they study in the United States with their new series, A Year in the Fulbright Life. Each month, spotlighted students will share an update as they continue on their Fulbright journey.

January 2021

The best experience I had was during winter break. After finishing my submissions and exams for the fall semester I visited the many historic and iconic buildings in Chicago, and the areas around it. As an architect in a city like Chicago, the great architecture and art scenes are an advantage. I got the chance to see buildings designed by my favorite architects. I went to see the S.R Crown Hall, designed by Mies Van Der Rohe, which is considered one of the most significant buildings of the 20th-century modernist movement. I also visited the Frederick C. Robie House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. In addition to many more outstanding buildings and towers that I saw downtown, and many unique structures and artworks like the Bean, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, and the Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo. I am still learning and seeing something new every time and will continue to do this until the end of my time here in Chicago. I am positive that I will have great experiences, intriguing memory of these places, and a background of all architectural masterpieces. The scenes are indeed very enriching, and there are many more places yet to discover.

August 2021

One unique aspect of studying at SAIC is that it is connected to the Art Institute of Chicago, which is a great benefit of studying at a creative art school. In the morning, I would walk to my classes through the museum, which was a great way to start my day by casually checking out all of the historical and contemporary art, as well as unique pieces created specifically for the Art Institute.

Art Institute of Chicago

September 2021

One of my goals as an architect was to visit as many construction sites as possible to learn innovative construction methods, especially since I am living in Chicago — a hub for some of the best architecture that has influenced design globally. Therefore, I participated in construction tours and workshop conferences led by the AIA (American Institute of Architects), where I had the chance to listen to some of the best project managers and constructors on-site. It was a great experience! I learned a lot from both the workshops and the site visits, and I aim to visit more before I finish my program.

In September, I was invited to the Fulbright Chicago Chapter’s Annual Fall Event celebration of Fulbright, which this year commemorated Fulbright’s 75'th Anniversary. I have met the most talented and inspiring people there. I made some new connections with Fulbright alumni currently living in Chicago and got the chance to hear their inspiring success stories. I also had the opportunity to meet current Fulbright scholars. What was great about this event was the diversity; people from all over the world in one place, all being a part of the most prestigious scholarship programs. It was a beautiful experience as I was able to socialize safely on the open terrace of the 25th floor, where we could also observe the sunset and overlook Chicago’s fantastic skyline.

October 2021

Besides the wonderful cultural and academic experiences Fulbright brings, it also promises intriguing visual and spatial experiences. Being a Fulbrighter in Chicago is a unique opportunity, especially for an architect. The beauty of the city’s skyline is that it is continuously changing. You can see the city’s translucent skyscrapers as they reflect the colors of the environment, especially in the fall, where it gives striking visual stimuli that intrigue your brain and body. I couldn’t wait for October to see this transformation in Lincoln Park, which was a scene worth waiting for.

November 2021

It’s that time of the year again for preparing for finals and project deadlines, sitting in my school’s laboratory, and printing important papers for my Critique Week. As a graduate student, you aim to balance your social life and grad school requirements, and it’s okay not to be motivated all the time. I think persistence is the key, and you shouldn’t rely on your “good mood days” to do your work.

December 2021

Over my winter break, I took a trip across California’s gorgeous cities. I flew out of Chicago and began my journey at Pahrump, Nevada in the desert. As I went up Zabriskie Point, I felt like I was walking through a painting with numerous layers of gorgeous landscapes and mesmerizing views.

I then went to the frozen waterfalls in Yosemite National Park, which is considered one of the most beautiful parks in the country. Afterwards, I traveled to San Francisco and Los Angeles. I couldn’t help but fall in love with the natural wonders surrounding me. It was a fantastic trip with unforgettable vistas and experiences. I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit these places during my Fulbright journey.

January 2022

On a foggy winter day in Chicago when the temperatures dropped and the river froze over, I decided to try ice skating in Millenium Park with some friends. With the Bean reflecting the city’s skyscrapers, the whiteness of the snowy ground, and the fogginess of the atmosphere, the park was stunning. However, walking along the frozen Chicago River is a completely different experience. It had a distinct beauty that inspired me to photograph waterscapes.

February 2022

I had the opportunity to visit the beautiful city of Los Angeles, and I toured all of the architectural, historical, and touristic sites including the Museum of Contemporary Art building, the BROAD (designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro), and the adjacent Walt Disney Concert Hall (designed by Frank Gehry). I enjoyed making new connections and traveling with friends as well as checking out the strong architectural presence in downtown Los Angeles.

March 2022

During my spring break, I took the opportunity to visit New York City, including Little Island at Pier 55 and the Vessel in the heart of Manhattan which were both designed by the renowned Thomas Heatherwick. I also had the chance to see many other New York City landmarks such as the Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square, the Empire State Building, the High Line, and many others. After this quick trip, I returned to Chicago feeling energized and motivated to continue working on my thesis. I think a balance of work and play is essential, and as a Fulbrighter, you will have many opportunities ahead of you. I also really enjoyed getting to know different people in cities all over the United States. I also really enjoyed getting to know different people in cities all over the United States.

Brooklyn Bridge
The Vessel

April 2022

On a random weekend following my midterm exams, I decided to go on a road trip to Mount Rainier National Park, also known as Paradise. With its immersive layers of fog, mountains, snow, and wildlife, this natural landmark is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in the United States. It was a beautiful, calming, and healing environment.

May 2022

It has been a great pleasure and honor to be a Fulbrighter at one of the best design schools in the United States. I am proud to say that after two years, I graduated with distinction from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a Master of Architecture IA degree. My time in the United States has been beyond rewarding; I have gained life-changing experiences, connections, and friends. I also met some of the best professors, mentors, and architects during my time here. I am grateful for this opportunity and am so happy with the decision I made two years ago to apply for the program. I am honored to now be a Fulbright alumna.

Graduation in Chicago

June 2022

I am thrilled to share that the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has awarded me the Benn-Johnck 1st place award in the 2022 Chicago Award in Architecture student competition. In addition, I received the AIA Henry Adams Medal of Academic Excellence for 2022, which is awarded to the top graduating student from a National Architectural Accrediting Board School of Architecture (NAAB). I am extremely proud to be a Palestinian Fulbrighter and an architect who has received not one, but two AIA awards! My utter gratitude to the Fulbright Program for their continuous support, my great parents, and my SAIC faculty and colleagues.

Arwa is a 2020 Fulbright student from West Bank. She is studying Architecture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Follow updates from Arwa and other Fulbright students on our Facebook and Twitter pages. Check back here every month for more updates on the blog and Medium Series to see what Arwa does this year!