A Year in the Fulbright Life: Zubaidah’s Story

11 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 the day of my departure, my relatives visited me to say goodbye. I spent a nice day with family and it was emotional, a moment of sadness and happiness. This photo was taken before departure at Baghdad International Airport with my parents.

Once I arrived in New York, I arrived at Syracuse University for my pre-academic program. Early in the morning, I went to explore the breathtaking buildings and enjoy the lovely views of the city.

During my program, we took a trip to a local museum. We went up to the Victorian age floor, and I admired the beauty and elegance of the dresses and tools used back then. I’m still amazed by how well made and detailed the clothes were. The guide explained to us how the dress’ waist was too small (because of corsets) and how they used to fit, which I found fascinating.

My friends from Chile and Russia and I spent a day with a very nice host family where we had lunch, exchanged information about our culture and learned a lot about life in the United States. We had a walk around the neighborhood since there was a lake nearby and we even saw a deer! It was a lovely day and very rich with culture exchange.

One of the most mind blowing trips we had was to Alexandria Bay, words cannot express how beautiful the place was. We went to the Boldt Castle on Heart Island which was very big and elaborate, and I was touched by the story of this palace which was sad and emotional. George Boldt had commissioned the castle for his wife as a display of love, but she died suddenly and he never visited. In this place where I took I picture couples get married , the spot is very romantic , simple and has a beautiful view. For me , I felt it is perfect, and I wanted to remember this place.

Our last trip was to Niagara Falls, and I would confidently say that this was one of the best trips in my whole life. The falls were breathtaking and I enjoyed very second. We took a boat and saw the falls close up, and we walked up to some of the closer falls.

The poster day was a very special part of my pre-academic program. I created and presented a poster about the future of machine learning and was amazed by how many people were interested in this field and willing to learn more about. It was very nice to exchange ideas and information with g other Fulbrighters.

August 2019

I joined the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) club at Florida Polytechnic University and this was the first meeting. They gave an introduction and provided information about the university and IEEE. We also got to do some activities and played a game. Eventually, they shared the current projects to be conducted which were all interesting and related to physics and engineering. Then we got to choose where we would like to participate to improve our selves and help others with the knowledge we have.

I spent a beautiful day of kayaking in Athens, Ohio visiting a friend. The city was lovely and I enjoyed my visit there very much. I went on a kayaking trip with many Ohio University students, both American and international. We spent almost four hours kayaking which was really fun. This trip made me excited to explore more states in the United States whenever I get the chance to do so.

The start of the academic program was very interesting and intense. I had good time studying with my American colleagues and we always help each other understand complicated topics. We are all very excited to start our MS degrees and are looking forward to do our best throughout it.

September 2019

My friends were interested in trying Arabic food and as there is no restaurant in Lakeland, I decided to make one of our favorite local foods “lahim be-ajien” and invited my classmates after class to have lunch together. I’m happy to say they loved it!

This picture was taken during a cultural event on campus where we tried Indian food. I learned more about their culture and most common foods. It was very spicy but very good. It is exciting that the diversity in United States allows you to learn so much about different cultures in addition to American culture. I love it!!

I also started to work on my first project of an autonomous mobile robot for face detection and recognition, which is something I have been looking forward to.

October 2019

Since I always wanted to experience Halloween, I was glad that my other international friends and I were invited to join a small celebration where we got candy and met American families who were in great costumes, especially the kids. This was the first Halloween experience for the three of us and it was amazing.

This picture was taken with the host family dinner on Halloween night. We tried the American food and learned about the special events they have. The family was very nice as they answered all our curious questions and took us on a tour with the kids.

My friends and I dressed as zoo animals and a zoo keeper. It was hilarious and fun! We followed the kids and knocked on doors asking for tricks or treats! The people were so nice even though we obviously are adults but we still got lot of candy at the end of the day. This was a fun and great experience and can’t wait for next Halloween.

I attended a fall dinner party that was hosted nearby. The hosts offered new kinds of food and explained the types of food offered and information each. I also got to share information about my country’s traditions in food and exchange this cultural information.

November 2019

I enjoyed attending a Christmas party for international students during final exams. I took a break from exams and experienced this celebration with other students. We exchanged small presents and enjoyed our time together.

On the last day of final exams, there was a celebration at the university with free food and prizes. We had a party for the end of the semester, which was a good way to end months of hard work.

On this day, my colleague and I went out to do some New Year shopping after finals. It was a good time to relax and start the winter break.

December 2019

With the start of winter break, I decided to reward myself with a visit to Disney World — somewhere I have always wanted to go. I went to the Magic Kingdom and it was a magical moment in my life.

I got the chance to meet my Iraqi Fulbright friends in Orlando, and we enjoyed every minute of it. I wanted to share this special moment with Fulbright because it brought us together at this place.

Winter Break is a time to explore the city. I visited downtown Lakeland with my host family, and we explored the parks in the city. This picture was taken in the middle of downtown.

Are you really from Lakeland if you have not walked around Lake Hollingsworth? That was what I was told by my friend. We saw different kinds of birds and ducks on the sidewalk, which was amazing. I had a lovely time.

January 2020

I started the spring semester with a wonderful evening hosted by the campus supper club. We had a nice dinner with the host families and my friends, sharing different stories and exchanging cultural experiences.

One of the things I love about Florida Polytechnic University is that it is not far from the most beautiful place on earth to me: Disney World. I enjoy being there, it also amazes me that I see people from all over the world, which is a magical thing to me.

This month, I attended the Epcot International Festival of the Arts. I had a great time looking at the amazing art work.

I also celebrated Valentine’s Day with Micky Mouse. After a long day of working on a project for autonomous robotics systems, I rewarded myself with a lovely evening at Disney.

February 2020

I took a week to visit New York City! I loved everything about the city, especially its special charm. While there, I took the cruise to see the Statue of Liberty. I visited other popular locations, including Wall Street and Times Square.

In February, I traveled to Los Angeles. While there, I visited U.S. Bank Tower. The place was breathtaking and was able to see all of Los Angeles.

This was the first time I saw the ocean! It was a dream come true. During my time on the beach, I managed to write Fulbright in the sand. I am always proud to be Fulbrighter.

March 2020

Right before social-distancing started, I invited my international and American friends to Arabic dinner, including sweets, and they loved it.

The day before the lockdown, I went for a walk to explore Lakeland. It was very nice, quiet and empty.

My friends and I decided to walk every day since the gym was closed due to the virus. The picture shows the wonderful Institute of Space Technology building at my university.

April 2020

My classmates and I would have Zoom meetings occasionally to stay connected and discuss issues related to how COVID-19 is affecting us. It was also a good time to share resources about how to deal with these challenges.

May 2020

One of my favorite activities in Athens, Georgia is walking along the river. It has stunning views, especially during sunset.

The beautiful weather in Athens is perfect for outdoor activities. I take a couple of hours each day to work out and go running.

June 2020

In June, I celebrated my 27th birthday in Ohio where I spent the summer. A few of my friends and I celebrated together. I only invited friends who live near me so that we could stay safe during the current COVID-19 situation. I had a lovely day even though it was a very simple gathering, but safety comes first!

July 2020

To make the most out of my time during lockdown, I went to the nearest park to get outside, while making sure to practice social distancing and wearing a mask.

Before going back to Florida, I visited Michigan. In this picture, on the opposite side, you can see Canada. It’s amazing to see how close Canada is to United States!

Zubaidah is a Fulbright student from Iraq. She is studying Engineering and Robotics at Florida Polytechnic University

Follow updates from Zubaidah 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 Zubaidah does this year.