A Year in the Fulbright Life: Manel’s Story
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.
After a global health class in Taiwan and a quick stop in Tunisia for some family time, I was lucky to be in Columbia, South Carolina on August 21, 2017. Columbia was right in the path of totality, which is an area of the world that will witness a total solar eclipse. My best friend and I spent an entire day walking around busy Columbia and ended up watching the eclipse at the South Carolina State House. It was such a magic moment and a great fun day!
One year ago, after just a couple weeks in the United States , I heard my classmates talking about going to a “tailgate” on Saturday. Soon after, I saw a post on the Facebook page of our student association about a “tailgate” as well.,. Since I had no idea what a tailgate was, I just decided to go. I went with two of my American friends, and we bought food and drinks I had no idea what to expect. When we finally arrived, I still remember the impact it had on me. Thousands of people, tents, and an entire empire of garnet and black! I was astonished! It was love at first sight, tailgate!
Here we are, one year later with the same love. Thanks for this opportunity! I’m trying to seize every single moment of this great experience!
Last week, I had the honor to represent the University of South Carolina in the 22nd annual National Association of Health Services Executives -Everett V. Fox Student Case Competition . The team was composed of some of my favorite Gamecocks (students at the University of South Carolina). Together we worked on the case for three weeks and presented it in San Antonio, Texas. Competing teams from 30 universities around the U.S. were charged to make Oakland, California the healthiest city in America. We were tasked to develop a population health program within the “Accountable Health Communities” model- which aims to align partners, leverage major community players and coordinate resources to address local community’s health priorities.
While in Texas we got the opportunity to visit historic Alamo. It was a great learning experience!
In November, as a part of my American friend’s commitment to immersing me in American culture, my friend Abbs invited me to celebrate Thanksgiving with her family in Florence, South Carolina. While in Florence, we got the chance to see my two other friends. The pictures attached are from the breakfast we had in Scat’s house on Thanksgiving morning.
The next day on Friday, my friend Cody made me wake up at 4am to go Black Friday shopping in Columbia, South Carolina. Based on stories we had heard, I thought it might get rambunctious but there were no fights. Instead we did wait in a very long line in front of Best Buy.
So thankful for all of my American friends!
It is hard to believe, but this is my very first Christmas. In Tunisia, most people do not celebrate Christmas, and my family doesn’t. Since I stayed in the United States this year during the holiday season, my friend Jina invited me to spend Christmas with her in Augusta, Georgia. It was such an amazing time.
January was a big change in my American journey, and it surely was the most emotional month.
After a year and a half in beautiful Columbia, South Carolina, it was time to leave. I moved to Cleveland, Ohio as I got accepted as an intern at the prestigious Cleveland Clinic. There, I started working in their International Operations office.
As I embark on this new journey, I would love to dedicate this month’s update to the great people of Cola (a nickname for Columbia, South Carolina) that I love with all my heart.
I was so blessed to have had such amazing people around me in my first experience abroad. I surely left a piece of my heart in Cola Thank y’all!
As I was packing, I found my Strengths-Finder report and it reads under one of my strengths (WOO for Winning Others Over), “There are new people to meet, new rooms to work, new crowds to mingle in. In your world there are no strangers, only friends you haven’t met yet-lots of them.”
So hey friends I haven’t met yet in Cleveland, I’m coming for you!!!!
In February, I had the chance to go with some of my friends to the Quicken Loans Arena to watch the Cavs play basketball. The Cavs scored over 100 points which means we get free McDonalds chicken nuggets. #Let’sGoCavs
In March, I participated in the Fulbright MENA Re-entry Workshop in Washington, DC. This seminar was a great opportunity to connect with great minds from the MENA region. It also represented an occasion to finally meet in person the AMIDEAST and U.S. Department of State staff without whom this journey would not have been possible. Last but not least, the seminar was an opportunity to re-connect with my Fulbright friends that I have not seen for months.
During the seminar, I volunteered at the Capital Area Food Bank.
When I first moved to Cleveland in January, I knew absolutely no one in town. I had a small motel room that I booked for three nights, and I was optimistic that I will figure out housing in this new city in just a few days. Interestingly enough, this happened and I actually ended up shortening my stay at the motel as I was very lucky to meet Mona and Dave through Airbnb, and we just clicked from our first meeting.
Now, it has been four months living together with them. We play games, we watch movies, we party, we cook (actually they cook, I eat), we go out together, we support each other, we laugh a lot… we are family! I feel so blessed to have met these people!
It’s graduation month, and I am back in South Carolina Y’ALL!!!!!
May has been wonderful. I graduated and got an award, but most importantly I finally got to be reunited with my South Carolina family that I miss more than anything.
In addition, my parents and sister who I have not seen for ten months, came to town all the way from Tunisia to attend my hooding and commencement ceremonies.
I had a blast!
Columbia, SC will never fail to amaze me. I just love it and love everyone in it! The farewell this time was even harder than the first one.
Only few days are left for me in the U.S., and June was the going-away celebrations month.
It first started with a weekend trip with my Cleveland family to Middle Bass and Put-in-Bay Islands in Lake Erie. The next weekend, on Friday, the last day in my internship, I boxed all my belongings, said goodbye to everyone at work, and left my desk while hiding my emotions (I am not a public crier!). Then, I went out with some of my favorite people from the Cleveland Clinic for an extremely fun going-away party. On Saturday, my roommates and I went to Cedar Point Amusement Park for a nice going-away adrenaline rush. On Sunday, I had a going-away dinner with my host family and roommates. Finally, on my last day, I finished packing, went with Dave (my host dad) to get all my last U.S. cravings: ate two Five Guys cheeseburgers-my favorite food in America, drunk a big Dunkin Donuts blueberry ice coffee with cream and sugar-my favorite coffee in America, said goodbye to Mona (my host mom), the house, the dogs, left a piece of my heart in the U.S., and rode with Dave to the airport.
See? My Strengths Finder prediction (see January’s update) was right. I did meet new friends, “lots of them,” in Cleveland and it is now breaking my heart to say goodbye to them.
My people in ‘Merica, THANK YOU! You have been so awesome! I will see you later!
Manel is a second-year Fulbrighter from Tunisia working on her master’s in Health Administration. She’s currently a student at University of South Carolina.
Read more Fulbright stories here.