A Year in the Fulbright Life: Maryam’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.
I can still remember how I felt during the first day of my arrival to the states. I was homesick since Day 1 but was able to shake it off by being around people all the time and making new friends. Having a buffer week between your arrival date to your campus and departing from your home country is a relieving feeling knowing that you’ll be around people who are going through the same transition you are going through! I was sent on a Pre-Academic Program at Montclair State University in New Jersey and had a blast with an amazing group of Fulbrighters from around the world: Indonesians, Argentinians, Mexicans, a Tunisian, a Palestinian, Germans, Russians, Columbians, Singaporeans, Chinese, Georgians, New Zealand and more (I’m sure I missed a lot of other nationalities!)
A little after I arrived in Orlando, l was shocked at the idea of seeing almost no one walk down the streets! On this day, I decided to meet up with a Fulbright colleague who happens to go to UCF with me. The weather was no joke and very VERY hot in Orlando. Hence, why no one walks around the city. On this day we walked around Lake Eola and got to discover what the city has to offer us and enjoyed the humidity and drizzles of rain at the same time!
This was the first year where I celebrated my Birthday away from my family! Ana-Maria, a Columbian Fulbright friend, took me on a day out in Downtown Orlando and I dared to walk in the heat once again. We walked across Lake Eola again and enjoyed the farmers market which had an amazing fusion of food, flowers, crafts, and of course music. Oh, and I got beautiful white orchids with a hint of pink on the back of the petals as a Birthday gift. Thank you Ana for spending the day with me!
It was my first time attending a game in a stadium or a field and it was an amazing experience. My residence invited a group of students to attend the Orlando City Soccer Club team vs. Atlanta United game of which I understood nothing from but most definitely cheered Orlando’s team and chanted with the rest of the students while fighting Orlando’s heat and humidity. We lost the game to the other team but we can surely say that our team played fair and well. Hard luck team Orlando!
As alarming Hurricane Dorian was, I hesitated whether to leave or stay in town and wait for it to arrive. A lot of people were saying that it wouldn’t be that bad especially for Central Florida. But after very little thinking I seized the opportunity to get on a plane to Colorado to see my cousin who I have not seen in almost 6 years. We were glad that Labor Day happened to be on a Monday which meant we could have a 3-day weekend, and what is better than road tripping while in Colorado. I have fell in love with every bit of Denver and spent my whole weekend from one place to another admiring the beauty of it despite the long distances we had to drive!
One of the greatest things about living in downtown Orlando is being able to wake up and go to sleep with this amazing skyline of the city. Though, the downside is waking up to the Sunrail sound from the 14th floor.
A friend dared me, and I accepted, to travel around the city in the Lynx buses to explore and try something new. I got myself a bus pass, but later on, I discovered that I didn’t need to buy a pass as long as I am a student. So I decided to give the ticket to someone else that uses the bus daily and might need it. The bus ride was interesting, very long and very efficient as I was able to read a chapter for my evening class during the ride.
I volunteered to judge a speech tournament that was hosted by my university and hosted students from around the United States to compete in Informative Speaking, Extemporaneous Speaking, Dramatic Speaking, and Impromptu Speaking. It aimed to help young speakers develop skills and confidence. This picture might not show it, but I’ve seen a lot of bright pink, red, and blue suits that students tend to wear to draw more attention to themselves while presenting or speaking.
On the same day of the speech tournament, I was introduced to the Speech and Debate discipline that I did not know my college offered as part of the Communication and Media School. It happens to be very proudly coached by a female graduate student who runs and designs some parts of the program to help develop the undergraduate speech and debate students. I can’t wait to get involved.
Taking a walk to the local Farmers Market downtown has become a weekly ritual for me. It has such great vibes and the freshly made lemonade is to die for.
In an effort to increase the benefits that the Nicholson School for Communication and Media offers to students, a mentorship event was hosted during the month of October. Students and alumni were brought together to create a greater community and network, and many alumni gave back to the community by mentoring current graduate and undergraduate students. In this picture, I am standing with my great mentor Amber.
One of the most beautiful murals on the main campus of UCF was created in memory of Juan Guerrero (1993–2016) and Christopher Andrew Leinonen (1984–2016) who were killed at the Pulse nightclub. The mural depicts the couple holding books to represent their time as students at UCF. It also includes 49 birds, representing each of the people killed on June 12, 2016. The families of Drew and Juan collaborated on the mural by adding their handprints over the hearts and books of their loved ones. I was very moved by this mural.
In the spirit of celebrating Halloween, friends and I gathered to watch a scary movie which is the first scary movie I have ever watched in my life.
Also in the spirit of celebrating Halloween, my fellow Fulbrighters and I decided to join a cycling class at the campus’s wellness and recreation center. It wouldn’t have been a Halloween celebration without a Halloween music/playlist. It’s important to know that this was my first cycling class and most probably my last (as I did not enjoy it as much as I was supposed to, but it was still a great experience).
Receiving a University of Central Florida Graduate Fellowship pin is such an honor. Unfortunately, I missed attending the fellowship reception organized by UCF to recognize the recipients for the 2019–2020 academic year, but I was still able to get my pin!
Orlando’s wall spaces have been transformed into works of art. The mural behind me is one that can be found on the AT&T building near Lake Eola.
On November 22, my AMIDEAST academic advisor visited UCF’s campus to check on our student life and how we’ve been adjusting to our new life in the United States.
Through a group project/event in my public relations class, I was introduced to the First Amendment. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects against laws prohibiting the freedom of religion, speech, and the press, as well as the right to assemble and to petition the government. It was fun putting the event together and even more rewarding to gain knowledge on the subject. It was interesting to also discuss how the rights that the first amendment granted to the US citizen are being practiced in different parts of the world!
With the start of our winter break, we had to pay Historic Winter Park a visit. It was as magical as it was described. All the buildings preserved their charm and beauty. This charming district is the perfect place for a quiet morning walk!
December has reunited me with my first Fulbright friend. I was delighted by her visit to Orlando where we spent 10 days exploring the city and its highly rated attractions. On her day of arrival, we visited Disney Springs and had a stroll along Disney’s Christmas Tree Trail. We had to enjoy our time in the theme parks at this time of the year, although it was extremely crowded. And, of course, we had to visit Madame Tussauds Museum!
There isn’t a more perfect way to end the year than being under a lit-up sky filled with thousands of wishes, written on lanterns, as they make their way up into the sky! As magical as it looks in pictures, it was even better in reality. The whole experience felt surreal. I had to drive for 2 hours to get to the spot where the light festival was held, and it was worth the drive! We only wished our loved ones could have been there with us.
Maryam is a first-year Fulbright student from Bahrain. She is studying communications at the University of Central Florida.
Follow updates from Maryam 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 Maryam does this year!