A Year in the Fulbright Life: Chnur’s Story

14 min readOct 14, 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.

August 2021

I had no plans to study outside Iraq until I fully understood the objective of the Fulbright Program. Right from the start, it was difficult to say goodbye to my friends and family. I have never lived so far away from my family for such a long period of time, and as a person who is afraid of change, doing so was a life-altering decision for me.

When I first arrived, I was homesick with mixed feelings. However, the next few days following my arrival, I went for a walk around campus and wound up meeting some American and international students. Things started to look up once I was communicating with others, especially after having an interesting conversation with my roommate discussing our similarities, our lives, and studies in the United States.

To help get myself acclimated even further, I also attended a welcome picnic arranged for graduate students at the city park, where I was able to interact with other students and share my thoughts with them.

Fulbright is teaching me to expand my mind and explore my new environment instead of dwelling on negative thoughts and questioning my abilities. It’s teaching me to interact with new people, take on responsibilities, and grow personally and professionally. Although I have been here for only a few days, I already am expecting to have a productive and rich experience.

September 2021

This month marked the first time I attended an American football game! Although I didn’t understand much about the game, I enjoyed the crowd, the preparation, and all the energy brought to the stadium that night. I have only seen football games in the movies, so I was so excited to finally watch one in person! What made me happier was that my new friends kept asking me if I was having fun and enjoying it. They also made sure I understood the game by explaining everything to me. Making new friends especially with American students and other international students makes the Fulbright experience more interesting.

This photo is taken when I was preparing for my presentation. I had to conduct the presentation in the Arabic language to my colleagues and professors as part of my assignment to teach them some basic Arabic and share some cultural aspects of Iraq with them. In a different situation, I would have felt worried, but this time it was different. The support of the professors and the encouragement of my colleagues made things much easier. This is the kind of positive academic atmosphere I want to create for my students and learners when I am back home.

October 2021

Colorado has beautiful nature, and October was all about exploring Fort Collins and doing new activities. I went hiking for the first time in one of the rocky mountain trails. The view was amazing, and it was a perfect way to spend the Saturday there after a week of studying hard.

It was a lovely day when I met other Fulbrighters for a potluck event in Fort Collins, where we played games, danced, and talked about our experiences. Plus, it was fun to try food from different countries!

This month, I also attended a pumpkin carving event with other students in preparation for Halloween.

Another thing that I tried for the first time was playing volleyball. I joined the “international volleyball night” one evening. I didn’t want to play at first because I didn’t know how to play, but the students there encouraged me to play with them, which made me feel comfortable trying it out. I had a great time that evening and enjoyed the game!

November 2021

In November, I had the opportunity to attend the 44th Annual CoTESOL (Colorado Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) Fall Convention in Denver with my classmates. As part of a professional development opportunity, the English department at Colorado State University registered us as English graduate students to attend. CoTESOL is a non-profit organization that supports the profession of English language teaching in Colorado. It creates and supports programs for education promotion.

This year’s theme (2021) was “Brilliance Through Resilience,” where English professors, educators, and students from all over America attended to discuss current topics and issues of teaching English. I have learned a lot from the speakers fostering respect for language and culture, and I enjoyed topics that were new to me, such as “Translanguaging.” As an international student, I felt happy that most teachers were advocating respect for students’ native languages in classrooms. In addition, discussions about COVID-19’s effect on education and classrooms were helpful to me, especially when learning about how teachers can use this opportunity to be creative and inventive. Apart from having a wonderful learning experience, I had the chance to communicate with others in the field and make professional and academic connections.

A group of girls and I decided to take a road trip to Denver to attend the conference. We enjoyed having snacks, talking, and laughing the whole way!

I’m so happy that my friends took my suggestion to eat at a Middle Eastern restaurant, since I’m missing food from home so much!

I recently gave a presentation for one of my classes in preparation for becoming a teacher and having my own classroom someday.

November was the month to say goodbye to fall and the beautiful leaves surrounding me!

December 2021

I was so excited to finally finish all my assignments and enjoy the end of my first semester. Finishing my last paper and celebrating the end of the year felt great!

In December, I took my first solo trip to California. Fulbright has changed me since I have arrived. I feel stronger and more independent. Participating in the program continues to give me the courage to try things that I never thought I could achieve before.

At night, the city is not only beautiful but also so active and lively. I enjoyed walking around downtown and Little Italy, and enjoyed the delicious restaurants I tried while in the area.

My vacation would not have been complete without watching the New Year’s fireworks. The locals were so helpful and told me where to watch them. I had a great night enjoying the activities, seeing people smile, and wishing each other a happy new year.

The story of “Embracing Peace Statue” was so interesting to me. It’s a statue that depicts the joy felt upon learning that World War II had ended. Nothing is greater than living in a peaceful environment and feeling safe.

I enjoyed a Harbor cruise tour and got to see beautiful sights such as the San Diego Bay, Coronado Bridge, and military ships. I also learned about the fascinating history of each landmark and the marine life inahabiting San Diego’s beaches. In addition, I met several new people and had interesting conversations with American families about Iraq, the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, and the United States of America.

January 2022

I get so excited whenever I try something new, so in January, I used the train for the first time when I traveled to Los Angeles. I enjoyed every moment sitting by the window and looking at the beautiful views.

I spent a few days in Los Angeles enjoying sunny days in January. I had too many things on my to-do list for this beautiful city! As a movie lover, the Hollywood Sign was a must-see. I also had the chance to go to the Hollywood Walk of Fame and see the stars of my favorite actors and actresses. Later, I enjoyed an afternoon walk in Beverley Hills before heading to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

January 2022

I get so excited whenever I try something new, so in January, I used the train for the first time when I traveled to Los Angeles. I enjoyed every moment sitting by the window and looking at the beautiful views.

I spent a few days in Los Angeles enjoying sunny days in January. I had too many things on my to-do list for this beautiful city! As a movie lover, the Hollywood Sign was a must-see. I also had the chance to go to the Hollywood Walk of Fame and see the stars of my favorite actors and actresses. Later, I enjoyed an afternoon walk in Beverley Hills before heading to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

When I got back to Colorado, I was greeted by lots of snow! I am grateful to the Fulbright Program for creating opportunities for me to visit many new places and experience different aspects of the United States.

February 2022

Colorado is all about winter activities, so I was so excited when I joined a snowshoeing trip arranged by the Office of International Programs. We went to the Big South Trail and spent the day walking and enjoying the beautiful views. I was so happy that I joined because I met so many great international students from different countries and we were able to have interesting conversations and share our experiences.

It snowed a lot in February. One night, it was so beautiful that I couldn’t stay in my apartment and miss the opportunity to enjoy it, so I went outside with a friend to play and wrote our names in the snow.

I love trying new things, such as the snowshoeing activity, but I also developed the courage to make changes in my personal life. For example, I have always had long hair, but I decided to cut it short because I wanted something new. The change in my hair symbolizes continuing to grow on my Fulbright journey and becoming a better version of myself.

March 2022

March is full of celebrations back home in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, so I was happy I was able to enjoy some of our customs here in the United States. On traditional Kurdish Clothing Day, I wore my colorful clothes and took photos to share with family and friends.

I also was able to attend our national celebration of Newroz arranged by the Kurdish community in Denver, where Americans and others from different nationalities joined in celebrating with us. I enjoyed my time participating in Kurdish dancing, and it was so interesting to explain and discuss the occasion with our non-Kurdish friends.

In March, I also visited Estes Park, a beautiful town in northern Colorado. I even met two Fulbright students from different countries! We enjoyed having conversations while walking in the snow and exploring the downtown area.

I also enjoyed a girls’ trip with my classmates to the beautiful town of Breckenridge as we needed a weekend getaway after too much studying. During the day, we hiked and explored the town and then played games and enjoyed our time by getting to know each other more at night.

April 2022

In April, I attended the Co-TESOL spring conference with my classmates. I enjoyed the academic environment and my time with my friends during our stay in Colorado Springs.

In April, some of our friends were being recognized at Colorado State University, and I was happy to be there to support them.

The flowers and tree colors are so beautiful during this time of the year. I enjoyed walking around and taking some photos.

I also had a picnic with an American friend during a period of beautiful weather, where I cooked Kurdish food for them and enjoyed spending time outside with them.

May 2022

In May, one of my professors invited all of her graduate students to her house for a get-together to celebrate the end of the semester. It was a great time to relieve some stress, enjoy the food she cooked for us, and have conversations with her and my classmates. We talked for hours, sharing and remembering what we went through during the year. As international students, we loved to share our perspectives starting from when we arrived in the United States until now.

June 2022

Completing one year of graduate school was both exciting and challenging. It was a year that opened my eyes and allowed me to look at education and teaching from a different perspective. The knowledge I gained from the professors and classes I had this past year was remarkable. I have also learned how to be prepared for the second year from the challenges I faced in this first year.

Since I didn’t have classes this month, I attended a live music event on campus with an American friend to learn how American families enjoy their summer.

August 2022

In August, I went hiking with the International Students Office. We hiked to Twin Sisters Peak, which has an elevation of 11,427 feet. It was challenging, but I enjoyed the beautiful view of Colorado’s nature while making new friends with other students. I always enjoy these kinds of activities, especially when students share their experiences and how they joined the university. I was also happy to meet other Fulbrighters that day.

I am excited to go back to school. This photo was taken when I was coming back to my apartment after spending a long day on campus. I enjoy my classes, and some of the topics are so interesting to me. Each semester I learn more and understand what exactly is needed to be taught back home when I go back after finishing my degree. Besides school, I meet with my classmates every now and then to have some fun and enjoy our time outside school.

This academic year I became a member of the TEFL/TESL Student Association (TTSA), which was restarted by some of my English classmates. As TEFL/TESL graduate students, we contribute to the association with the objectives of promoting linguistic and cultural diversity and raising awareness about the field of TEFL/TESL in the Colorado State University community and the greater Fort Collins community.

September / October 2022

The university’s homecoming event was amazing. I spent a great evening enjoying the activities and fireworks.

In October, I visited the beautiful town of Aspen,Colorado, with my classmates after finishing our midterms. We hiked to the Maroon Bells and enjoyed the beautiful view, and we also spent some time exploring Aspen’s downtown.

I have wanted to go to the Red Rock national monument since I arrived in Colorado. Recently, I was able to fulfill my wish, and I attended a concert at the Red Rock Ampitheatre with some friends this month! I had an amazing time.

Chnur is a 2021 Fulbright student from Iraq. She is studying Teaching English as a Foreign Language at Colorado State University.

Follow updates from Chnur 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 Chnur does this year!