A Year in the Fulbright Life: Hevar’s Story

17 min readFeb 24, 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.

July 2019

On July 7, 2019, we, the Fulbright Foreign Student Program finalists from Iraq, were hosted by the U.S. Consulate General in Erbil for a pre-academic departure orientation session before leaving our home country. Public Affairs team members and AMIDEAST representatives helped prepare and guide the selected candidates for our upcoming trip. Detailed information and tips about American culture, culture shock, sexual harassment, visa regulations, and U.S. academic standards were provided during the orientation, which were very informative.

July and August 2019

On July 20 2019, I arrived at Columbus International Airport where I had the opportunity to get to know my first American host family in the United States. They were very kind to me and we talked for an hour, during which they provided me with a lot of information about my new home state (Michigan) as well as about my academic university (Lawrence Technological University). We shared our contact details, and they told me that they are always ready to help, which really motivated me”.

The next day I started my first session at “Ohio Program for Intensive English (OPIE) 2019” at Ohio University. It was a welcoming session for Fulbright scholars, in which each Fulbright scholar had the chance to give a brief introduction about his or her country and culture. Then we started to talk to each other for a few minutes to get to know each other more. The instructors explained the four week schedule of the program with a summary about the courses, both elective and required, and also the activities during the program.

We had the opportunity to explore the big campus with some Fulbright scholars from different countries around the world. We learned that the school hosts over 34,000 students each year.

In early August, I had the chance to be hosted by an American family for the weekend in Cleveland, Ohio. It was a very new experience for me, and I learned many new things from this wonderful and lovely family of three; Karin, Jack and their lovely son Talon. We promised to see each other in the future and to keep in touch.

August 2019

At the beginning of August, I had the opportunity and privilege to visit Amish Country with my Fulbright colleagues. Getting to know their community was absolutely marvelous. I was fascinated by the way they live and how they disconnected themselves from technology during our high-tech era. They don’t use cellphones, automobiles, electricity or any electric things. I was also infatuated with their living folklore and the way they pass stories and history to their next generations. Personally, I had the chance to talk to one of the Amish people in person and I found that they were very kind people and he answered all my questions softly.

August 15 was my last day at Ohio University and the end of my Pre-Academic Program. The photos were taken during our final group presentation. As a part of the program, we had to select a title and then write a paper on that subject within this period. Each group had its own supervisor to guide and advise us on how to write a paper, as well as how to search for references and cite them.

The last event at Ohio University and receiving the certification from the director of the Pre-Academic Program.

Ending our Pre-Academic Program with an unforgettable photo with all the Fulbright scholars at Ohio University who were apart of the Program. This was the end of our four weeks together and the best I can say it was the most amazing four weeks in my life.

Finally, I arrived to my Master program host university, Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan. The campus looks beautiful and the city is very calm. The staff are very friendly here and able to help. Photo was taken in the University library while working on my assignments.

September 2019

In September, I dove deep into my classes with many assignments, quizzes, and homework which helped me gain information related to my field of study since I spent so much of my time in the University library. Accordingly, I had the chance to get to know most of the library staff and build friendships with them. I wanted to post this photo with my Librarian (Susan) since she always shows her compassion in helping me find the necessary tools that I’m looking for.

After many assignment submissions, my Iraqi classmates and I decided to take a break and try the Iraqi food near campus. We went to one of the most well-known Iraqi restaurants in Dearborn, Detroit called “Kabab Arbeel” and it really made me feel I’m close to my hometown.

November 2019

I experienced my first snow in Michigan! I have never seen so much snow in my whole life. This photo was taken in front of the university campus. The surprising thing was that I was the only one who was taking pictures in the snow. The students were so familiar with this weather that no one was stopping to take videos or pictures. When I asked some students from the area, they said that “it is just the beginning in Michigan, you will see much more than this.” I can’t imagine what the weather will look like in the coming few months.

I enjoyed my Thanksgiving holiday! It was an amazing experience for me because I had never celebrated Thanksgiving before. Moreover, it was very nice to hear from my American host family about the history of Thanksgiving while having turkey for dinner. My American host family has always supported me which has been a strong push and motivation for me throughout my program so far.

December 2019

Finals week! Like other students, the final weeks of school are always busy with assignments, final term paper submissions, presentations, and final exams. This photo was taken inside the study room in the university library while I was finalizing my term paper submission for one of my classes and preparing myself for the final presentation.

After the final presentation, I had the chance to take this photo with our sustainability class professor and my classmates. I was extremely happy to finish my first semester. I gained a lot of experience in this class by becoming more familiar with sustainability construction projects and how to build environmentally friendly projects.

I had the privilege to meet with my mentor in the field of sustainability, Dr. Karatas. She has been supportive this entire semester and helped me be more engaged. We had many conversations and meetings during the fall semester. This photo was taken after a long and productive meeting. We decided that I will do my thesis under her supervision in the field of sustainability. Moreover, we also agreed to work on a publication next year and we chose the topic of our publication, which we think will add value to construction firms in terms of sustainability.

I was very proud to see some of my friends and classmates graduating and getting their master’s degree in Architectural Engineering, Structural Engineering, and Construction Engineering Management. I attended the whole graduation ceremony, and I saw the students walking across the stage to get their certificate. I was very proud of them. I saw how motivated they were to graduate and start working to serve their communities and humanity. Similarly, this also motivated me more to achieve my goal and get my degree and to spread my skills and knowledge wherever I go.

After a long semester in the United States, I decided to go back to my home to my country to see my family and friends. This photo was taken in my City, Erbil, the day after my arrival. My friend and I used to spend most of our time in this area where people from different countries working in Erbil gather on the weekends. This area contains different restaurants, markets, malls, coffee shops, and many other facilities.

On December 30, I got engaged to the girl that I have loved for four years. She’s an angel that continuously supports and encourages me for any step I decide to take. I have never felt like I’m alone as she has always been beside me and supporting me. I couldn’t find a better person who understands me and my personality. She is the only person that I want to complete my life with.

It is always amazing to see the New Years’ celebration. This year I decided to celebrate my new year with my family and my fiancée in Erbil City with amazing weather. This photo was taken at the Empire World Trade Center, which is such a beautiful place to visit during national and international occasions.

January 2020

After the three weeks of Christmas break, it was time to come back to my university to start the second semester. It was refreshing to start my first day of school with this amazing, sunny, cold weather. A few days later, I saw this amazing sunset!

I participated in a training course about strategies to reduce the damages to underground utility services. My professor and I are planning to do research on this topic. The session contained a lot of valuable information about possible strategies of mitigating the buried utility strikes that made me think deeply about finding a sustainable solution.

I had the opportunity and privilege to participate in a seminar about construction safety held by the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) with the title “Updates to MIOSHA Standards.” I was honored to participate and be responsible for welcoming the guests. More than 40 companies’ representatives participated in this occasion. The seminar focused on decreasing the number of fatalities in construction projects and reducing the rate of fall hazards among construction workers.

At the end, I had the chance to talk to the director of MIOSHA. During our conversation, I asked him for advice about how I can apply these safety strategies to construction projects in Iraq. We had a long conversation about this topic, and he gave me his contact details and asked me to contact him later.

February 2020

Below is a photo taken with my classmate Scott. Scott is from Michigan and he has been working in the field of construction for more than 30 years and 25 years as a project manager. He is a person full of knowledge and experience. During this past semester, we created a very strong friendship. Scott and I always work together in a team for all our class projects, group assignments, and group term papers. I tell him that I’m lucky having him in my classes because I benefit from his experience. He tells me that he likes my motivation and curiosity. He always advises and guides me on the best practices and new technology used in construction job sites in the United States, including how I can implement this technology in construction projects in Iraq once I return home.

This is Professor Russell. She is my academic editor. She is very respectful, personal, and intelligent. During the first semester, I was telling myself, “I don’t need an editor. My writing is good.” But, regardless of your English proficiency level, organizing your writing and determining the flow of information is really challenging. This semester, I frequently visited my academic editor and learned a lot of information and writing techniques. I highly recommend that all students follow-up with academic editors at their universities because they will definitely boost students’ writing skills.

March 2020

As Coronavirus (COVID-19) spread all over the United States and the world, I decided as many other people to stay home and be safe to curb the spread of this virus. I took this selfie to show that I’m staying home because I care about my health and other people’s health as well. At the very beginning of this month, I was disappointed about staying home, and I was worried about my classes, but it was actually one of my most productive months so for. I had the chance to talk more to my family, fiancé, and friends. I also had the chance to take online classes that I never had before. I had never taken any previous online classes or had experience with online meetings before. I found no big variation between the online and in-person classes. I also observed that my university and the professors were well prepared for the online classes. In Iraq, remote learning isn’t possible, which is disappointing for my friends and family. However, this gave me motivation to work on enhancing the educational sector in Iraq with more sustainable educational tools that will be efficient under many circumstances in the future, including virtual education.

In my construction safety management class, my professor assigned me the research topic “virtual and augmented reality in construction safety industry.” Virtual and augmented reality technologies are very common in many industries other than construction. With the current situation, many industries switched their work and business to the virtual space. However, since this technology is limited in the construction industry, construction firms cannot use these technologies to train their employees. Accordingly, I have contacted researchers who are currently working on implementing these technologies in the construction industry, and I had a long conversation with them. Due to the dynamic nature of the construction industry, construction firms fear investing a lot of money in these technologies because they don’t know how much it’s going to cost them. So, I believe that this is going to be a hot research topic in the coming few years. I believe that if enough resources of implementing these technologies were ready in the current situation, new construction workers and students could still learn about real construction sites.

As a lesson from this month, I believe that we can create our path by being positive regardless of the situations and circumstances we are in.

This is my new workspace at home where I stay on top of all my schoolwork and watch classes.

April 2020

This month, I participated in the Toastmasters International program held online by my university. I had the privilege to be nominated and sponsored by my academic advisor to participate. During the second session of the program, I presented my speech about icebreaking and got some valuable tips from the evaluators.

April is usually a very busy month for students studying at U.S. universities. This photo was taken during my preparation for a final term paper presentation in one of my classes. This was the first time in my life to present my work virtually without physically being in class. However, everything went well and much better than I expected.

During the current situation of COVID-19 and while being quarantined, it is very important to take care of my mental health. These photos were taken late in April while I was doing some exercises, an hour before Ramadan Iftar.

May 2020

This photo was taken on May 13, the last day of my spring semester and the end of my first academic year. Luckily it was a sunny day! I took a long walk to soak up the sun and enjoy fresh air before Ramadan’s Iftar. Time is flying in the United States, and I can’t believe my first academic year has gone by already. I learned many things and gained a lot of experience during my stay in the United States after getting acculturated to the American life style. I was and still am keen on building strong friendships with local and international people. A great year to remember!

I had the opportunity to take a small trip with my friends to enjoy the sunny weather and see new places and parks around Michigan. I thought it would be a great opportunity to take in some fresh air during the COVID-19 situation and prepare myself for the summer semester.

August 2020

During summer break, I had the chance to visit the state of California and its wonderful cities, especially San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. I saw many amazing places that will stay in my memory forever. Other than the wonderful and amazing places and views, I was surprised about the medley of international backgrounds in this state and how they combined their culture and traditions to be one community in one beautiful state.

September 2020

I was pleased to virtually present my research entitled “Reducing Occupant Energy Consumption in Hotel Buildings” at the 2020 Building Performance Analysis Conference co-organized by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and International Building Performance Simulation Association (IBPSA). After presenting my work, I had the chance to go live for a 15 minutes Q&A session where I was able to answer questions from participants and other researchers.

The whole conference lasted for three days. During that period, I was able to participate in other researchers’ presentations and ask questions during their Q&A live sessions. This was a great opportunity to talk to many researchers in the United States.

January 2021:

In the Christmas break, which was my final break before graduation, I had the opportunity to visit California for the second time during my Fulbright journey, as well as Oklahoma. It was definitely an unforgettable memory.

Here I am in Davies, Oklahoma.
“Potato Chip Rock, San Diego, CA”

Glad to start my Spring semester with my two best friends on-campus. From left is Shannen, the housing unit manager, and Ian is the resident assistant of my floor. We had a very friendly discussion about our Christmas break while drinking Iraqi tea. We often meet on Saturdays and we call this meeting “Saturday Teatime.” 😊

March 2021

In March, I had the opportunity to visit the beautiful city of Chicago with my classmates. We were able to celebrate St Patrick’s Day there while maintaining appropriate social distancing. I was pleased to take this unforgettable photo of the Chicago River with its green color as a celebration of holiday. I used to see this amazing view of celebration on social media before coming to the United States, and now I was able to take this shot myself. Truly an unforgettable memory!

April 2021

During my preparation for the final exams of spring semester, I took a break for a day. I wanted to replenish my mind and prepare for my final exams and thesis defense. I used that day to visit the beautiful Cranbrook Gardens in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. It was extremely refreshing to enjoy the beautiful nature of my state while keeping proper social distance from the people around me.

I had the privilege to defend my master thesis titled “Holistic Approach for Reducing Occupants’ Energy Consumption in Hotel Buildings.” I was pleased to reach this day after 16 months of persistent hard work. I was honored to pass without any conditions. I was also informed by the committee members that the work done in my thesis was much more than that of a master’s thesis. In fact, my work was viewed as commensurate with Ph.D.-level work. For the safety of the audience and all attendees of the thesis defense presentation, as a precaution against Covid-19 spread, only three committee members were asked to attend the in-person discussion of my thesis defense. All other audience members, including faculty members, students, friends, and family, were asked to join the presentation and discussion via Zoom. It was a totally new experience for me to present my work in a hybrid version. I tried to provide a thorough and concise discussion of my research work and make my presentation as comprehensive and organized as possible.

It was a great honor and achievement for me to attend my virtual graduation ceremony. I would have loved to have been able to meet all my department’s faculty members and classmates in person to celebrate our graduation. However, the organizers of this graduation event made this virtual graduation platform as interesting and interactive for the graduating students as possible while protecting the university community from the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Hevar is studying Construction Engineering Management at Lawrence Technical University. He is a Fulbrighter from Iraq.

Follow updates from Hevar 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 Hevar does this year!