A Year in the Fulbright Life: Natali’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.

September 2019

Hectic and beautifully chaotic is most definitely the best way to describe September! I arrived in Boston only a week before classes started and even though goodbyes were difficult, I remember how excited I was to start my Fulbright journey.

Natali and her family saying goodbye

September was filled with a lot of events, workshops, and career fairs, and it was a great opportunity for me to meet many great minds. It allowed me the chance to exchange ideas, experiences and cultures which was very exciting. The challenging part was having to juggle school work (they give A LOT of assignments!) and these events. However, I was eventually able to learn how to properly manage my time and ensure that I enjoy my time in Boston while staying on top of my school work.

By the end of September, I was finally able to explore my city. Yay! Boston is known to be one of the oldest municipalities in the United States, so I decided to walk the Freedom Trail which is basically a walk through America’s history.

I got the chance to explore America’s first public garden and take a picture with George Washington.

And of course, I had to end my walk with Boston’s favorite food: Lobster Roll, Clam Chowder and Mike’s famous cannoli!

November 2019

To me, November has always been like the Wednesday of the week; nothing exciting ever happens and you’re patiently waiting for the fun to start. However, I made sure this year was an exception!

I started off November by attending a professional orchestra concert. This was my first time, and it was a truly magical and enjoyable experience!

Nonetheless, the fun really started with Thanksgiving! As a first timer, it was really interesting to finally learn why Thanksgiving is celebrated, and it was even more interesting to try the food! In celebration of International Education Week, my college held a Thanksgiving dinner with all of its traditional food. The picture below summarizes Thanksgiving in a plate, and trust me, it tastes much better than it looks.

On Thanksgiving Day, I was invited by a good friend to celebrate along with other friends. The best part was the inclusion of some Arabic cuisine food items such as Hummus, Tabouleh and Mana’esh!

To make Thanksgiving even more exciting, I decided to visit Plymouth, Massachusetts, back to where it all started! Plymouth is the site of the first Pilgrim settlement in 1620 and where the first Thanksgiving feast happened!

It took me an arm and a leg to get there because of the lack of proper public transportation, but it was definitely worth it! The most exciting part about my trip was visiting the Plymouth Plantation, which is a living history museum with multiple stops and attractions.

My favorite two attractions in the museum were the Wampanoag Homesite and the 17th Century English Village. The Wampanoag Homesite is a re-creation of the home-site of a 17th century Native American people called the Wampanoags. At the recreated site actors portrayed the native people talking about how their houses were built and how they used to live back then.

My second favorite part was the 17th Century English Village which shows how Pilgrims used to live in 1670. The nice lady in the picture below (an actress) was explaining how they made their food and what tools were used to help make it!

December 2019

’Tis the season to be jolly! December has always been one of my favorite months of the year and no matter how old I get, I will always enjoy Christmas like a 5-year-old! My very first semester ended a week before Christmas, and I was very pleased with my performance even though it was a struggle and required a lot of hard work.

Lucky for me, I was invited to spend a well-deserved break with my cousin and his beautiful family in Houston, Texas.

Being with family meant that I had the chance to indulge in some of my favorite home cooked food! The food pictured below is called Wara’ Inab or Wara’ Dawali, which is grape leaves stuffed with rice and ground beef. It tastes like heaven!

We spent the next few days traveling around Texas. One of my favorite parts about this trip was that I could visibly see a huge cultural difference between Texas and Massachusetts, even though they are both in the same country! I could see that Massachusetts is more centered around history while Texas is leaning towards music and art.

The first place we visited was San Antonio. It is about 3 hours away from Houston and well worth the ride! San Antonio is a very small city and a mesmerizing place to be!

Our next stop was Galveston. Galveston is a small beach city where I got the chance to see one of the best sunsets I have ever seen to this day!

Our last stop was Austin, the capital of Texas. Austin was my favorite because you can easily tell how lively and young the crowd is. It also offers a cool bar scene! Before reaching Austin, we made a quick stop to Lake Travis to enjoy a quick drink with a beautiful view!

Our last stop was Austin, the capital of Texas. Austin was my favorite because you can easily tell how lively and young the crowd is. It also offers a cool bar scene! Before reaching Austin, we made a quick stop to Lake Travis to enjoy a quick drink with a beautiful view!

January 2020

Truth to be told, I was a bit anxious about going back to Boston; I was worried about feeling bored or lonely because most students don’t return until classes are back in session. However, I decided I was going to use the free time left before the second semester starts wisely!

On the weekend after my return, I bought a weekend train pass and used it to visit Salem, Massachusetts and Gloucester, Massachusetts. Salem is the city where the famous witch trials took place and I was intrigued to learn about the trials and how they started.

Gloucester is a gorgeous beach city. However, it turned out that January is not an ideal time to visit since it’s out of season and everything was closed. I’m planning on going back during summertime!

A few days later, I finally decided to visit Harvard and MIT’s campuses in Cambridge! It was very interesting to finally see other campuses and meet some of the students there!

January ended with a bowling game night held by my college where I got to meet some cool people from Kazakhstan!

February 2020

February has been a quiet and a very short month! I took this as a chance to get myself adjusted to my new class schedule and plan my next semester in hopes for successful results.

One cool thing that happened in February was that after 5 months of being in Boston, I finally had the chance to cheer for the BU Men’s Hockey team (GO TERRIERS!). This was my first time attending a hockey game, and it was truly enjoyable. I went with my roommate who used to play hockey, and she tried her best to explain all the rules to me and that made watching the game even more enjoyable. Thank you, Zelda!

March 2020

March 2020 will forever be known as the month when 2020 went on lockdown! However, I was lucky enough to travel to NYC and Philadelphia for spring break before everything shut down.

Truth be told, I was a bit nervous about going to NYC because I’ve never been a fan of crowded and chaotic places, but I was most definitely wrong: New York City was great in every possible way!

As a first timer, I decided to visit the famous tourist sites. I explored the magnificent Central Park.

I enjoyed the chaos Times Square had to offer.

I also saw some awesome views and skylines.

And enjoyed the famous Lombardi’s Pizza. It is the oldest pizzeria in the country and the best pizza I’ve ever had!

After NYC, I went to Philadelphia for two days. Philly was a nice and a very quiet city compared to NYC. People where incredibly friendly and welcoming. The most exciting part about my visit to Philly was my host experience. I have been hosted previously in Europe, but this was my first CouchSurfing experience in the United States. My host was genuinely the friendliest person I have ever met! She’s a Yemeni woman who has lived in the United States for a long time. I also met two of her roommates: one is Iranian and the other is Ethiopian. They also hosted an Egyptian Fulbrighter last year! We spent the night talking about our different cultures, how they differ from American culture, and about adjusting to life in the United States.

April 2020

By the time April came, I became a little bit more accustomed to being quarantined at home. I’ve learned how to adjust to this new normal without going completely insane. The most challenging part for me was trying to stay focused during remote classes. However, staying on top of my schoolwork contributed greatly to passing time!

The trees started to bloom in April, so I took the opportunity to explore nearby neighborhoods (while wearing a mask and keeping my distance, of course) and enjoy the magnificent views spring has to offer.

I also decided to work on my cooking skills and ended up making some delicious meals!

May 2020

A week after my last day as a first year graduate student, some of my Jordanian Fulbright colleagues and I decided to video chat. We chatted about our experiences since we came to the United States, our programs, and even food! It was great talking to them and seeing how everyone is doing.

On May 21st, summer classes began and I haven’t been able to do much since then. However, I tried to go on as many walks as I could.

Completed a puzzle I’ve been working on since March!

June 2020

Things are quiet here. I’ve been cooking more during the pandemic. I made Mansaf and it was phenomenal. This is the highlight of June 2020 😊

July 2020

As you would have guessed from my previous post, June was a very quiet and ordinary month. July wasn’t any different! The most exciting thing I did was I biked to a beautiful park in Jamaica Plain on 4th of July and it was a very enjoyable experience.

August 2020

August 6 was my 26th birthday and the final day of the Summer semester! 😊 Even though I couldn’t really do anything on my birthday because of a scheduled exam, I made sure I enjoyed the rest of the month as much as I safely could!

A few days after the semester ended, my friend Nidhi and I went kayaking on the Charles River. It was something I’ve been wanting to do since last year and never had the chance to.

August is also the last month of summer, and as someone who would very much prefer summer over winter, I took it upon myself to visit as many places in my city, Boston, and see many sunsets. 😊

At the end of August, my roommate Kaitlyn and I made a quick visit to the Underground at Ink Block Park, which is an underground park with interesting graffiti!

September 2020

September started with a visit to one of my favorite places in Boston, the Seaport District. I spent the entire day there just so I can see it at all times of the day.

Also, remember my friend Nidhi from kayaking last month? This month we decided to go on a different adventure: hiking at Middlesex Fells Reservation. It was especially beautiful because the leaves started changing colors in September!

November 2020

November 2020 was a quiet month. Last year, I celebrated Thanksgiving for the first time with some friends. This year, however, things were a bit different. I tried to avoid participating in any large gatherings and ended up doing schoolwork on Thanksgiving instead (what a nerd 😊).

I was also craving Malfoof, one of my favorite dishes from back home. It consists of cabbage stuffed with minced beef and rice. So, I finally decided to make it myself and it was a successful and delicious attempt.

In the last weekend of November, my friend and I decided to use the weekend commuter rail pass to visit Manchester by the Sea and Newbury Port. Both are small beach cities in Massachusetts, and we got to enjoy some beachy views in freezing weather.

*Mask was off for picture-taking purposes only 😊

December 2020

I’ve said this once, and I’ll say it again: December is my favorite month of the year! I’m always a kid when it comes to Christmas. This year, I initially had plans to travel to California, but being in a pandemic changes things. So, I decided I would enjoy Christmas at home in Boston instead!

My very sweet friend and roommate, Zelda, sent me a mini Christmas tree since I was spending the holiday alone at home. I decided to spend Christmas Eve watching a movie and relaxing at home.

On the weekend right after Christmas, another friend Nidhi and I visited Rockport, MA where some of the famous “The Proposal” movie scenes were shot.

On the following day, we visited Concord, MA where the famous author Louisa May Alcott lived.

Nidhi came over on New Year’s Eve and we had a quiet night in with some wine, snacks, and a good movie!

January 2021

January was generally a slow month. Nidhi and I went on a day trip to Providence, the capital of Rhode Island. Providence is a really cool city! Unfortunately, it was freezing cold, and we couldn’t enjoy ourselves as much.

I also attempted to make Arayes, a popular Middle Eastern dish of minced meat with spices that is mixed with minced tomatoes and serrano in pita bread, and Hareeseh, a popular Middle Eastern dessert. I’m pleased to announce they both turned out really, really delicious! 😊

February 2021:

The weather was still painfully cold in February. However, it was almost time for my friend Nidhi to go back to her home country, India. We decided to do one last trip together to Newport, Rhode Island.

We visited The Breakers: one of Newport’s grandest and most famous mansions. It was built and occupied by the Vanderbilt family in 1893.

After the mansion tour, we took a walk along the mansions overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The walk is called “Cliffwalk.”

I also was FINALLY brave enough to cook Kabseh. I thought it would be a lot more difficult to make! Kabseh is a traditional dish served in Arabian gulf countries and is very popular in Jordan.

March 2021:

I am always happy when March comes around, solely because the weather finally starts to get warm again. If you’ve come this far, you should know by now how much I dislike the cold, haha!

Unfortunately, March was an academically busy month. However, I still got to indulge in some green beer for St. Patrick’s Day with my roommates and do some work outdoors.

April 2021:

This year, Easter was celebrated on April 4th, so Zelda, my roommate and friend, and I prepared a small backyard picnic. I made Wara’ Inab — stuffed grape leaves, and Kaek o Ma’moul — date- and walnut- stuffed cookies. Zelda made a beautiful Pavlova, a famous dessert in Australia.

A week later, I went on a very VERY rocky hike at the Middlesex Fells Reservoir.

It took me around four hours of (mostly) walking uphill and climbing rocks to get a view of Boston’s skyline! It was definitely worth it, and the picture doesn’t do it justice.

More exciting, I also got vaccinated in April! Hooray!!

I also went on a beautiful bike ride to see spring blooms!

Natali is a first-year Fulbright student from Jordan. She is studying Computer Science at Boston University.

Follow updates from Natali 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 Natali does this year!

Fulbright Foreign Student Program in MENA blog. Sponsored by U.S. Dept of State. https://www.amideast.org/our-work/find-a-scholarship/graduate-study/fulbright