Becoming a Cultural Ambassador for Iraq during My Fulbright Experience
Sharing my home culture with my host university and community was one of my top priorities when I arrived in the United States as a Fulbright student. One of the Fulbright Program’s most important goals is for grantees to act as cultural ambassadors of their home countries in the U.S.. Sharing my culture with others has always been one of my talents, and when I started my Fulbright scholarship at the University of Montana, I was amazed by how nice and generous the people I met were with me and all the other international students. I felt I had to do the best that I could in order to give back to the welcoming community that embraced me with open arms. Last but not least, I came to realize that people of the United States always seem welcome to being introduced to cultural aspects of other nations from around the globe.
I gave talks on campus on several occasions about my hometown, religion and country. For example, I gave a cultural talk at the Linguistics Club, another during International Week, as well as to classes of students studying Arabic, journalism and political science, among other places. For my friends and professors, I cooked meals from Iraq on several occasions and people were amazed at how delicious they tasted.
I also had the chance to talk about my home country, hometown, religion and culture as a guest on a university radio live show, the KBGA College Radio, and answered different questions of people calling in during the show live on air.
One of the most rewarding examples of getting to share my culture was when I did Arabic calligraphy, one of my favorite talents, at my host university Food and Culture Festival, held every year on campus. During the two years I participated in the popular festival, I wrote people’s names in Arabic calligraphy and gave them some tips about the Arabic writing system. It drew a lot of people who were amazed by the beautiful writing system and my artistic skills!
In my second year of study, I became a regular member of the Mount of Olives Club for Arabic Language and Culture on campus. I gave members Arabic lessons and shared with them tips about Arabic culture and traditions. I also gave a cultural talk and helped design T-shirts for the club. I gave a talk about Iraq and its diversity to high school students who participated in the Montana Model United Nations Conference on campus.
Finally, I participated in a project called Intercultural Communication, organized by the Foreign Student Office on campus. In this project, I was paired with several American students, one at a time, with whom, I shared different aspects of my home country, religion and culture. I described the religious and ethnic diversity of Iraq to my audience. I also talked about Iraq’s rich culture and history, and showed my audiences photos of Iraq’s archeological sites, popular dishes and the beautiful summer resorts in the Kurdistan region.
I’m proud of my diverse culture and the long, rich history of Iraqi people. Probably the most amazing aspect of Iraqi culture is how generous its people are. In fact, Iraq was ranked number one country in the world in terms of its people’s generous hospitality.
While I had the chance to share my Iraqi culture with Americans, I also learned a lot about the United States. I got to learn a lot about the American culture, which is truly a culture of diversity. For example, it became evident to me since the beginning of my Fulbright scholarship how much Americans value time and punctuality. They also value their personal freedom to do what they like to do as long as they are not violating the law. They don’t generally like using titles with names. They focus on merit and essence as opposed to outside appearances. They are honest, direct, hard workers and detail-oriented.
I got to see how Americans gladly accept others regardless of their race, religion and language. It definitely changed a misconception I held about the people of this great nation. I got to make great friends on my Fulbright scholarship. I was amazed by the generosity of their time and resources they always demonstrated. Their friendship has had a big influence on my life. In their company I found a second family thousands of miles away from home.
Mushtaq is an Iraqi Fulbright Alumni who graduated in 2012 from the University of Montana with a Master’s in Linguistics.