The Show Must Go On: One Fulbright Student’s Perseverance During COVID-19

Music has played a huge role in my Fulbright experience. When I first arrived in the United States, reconnecting with my creativity was a top priority, and that’s exactly what I did. I joined the Drexel University Percussion Ensemble as soon as I started attending classes, and it quickly became an essential part of my life. In the Ensemble, I played the drums as my main instrument and the electric guitar as my secondary instrument.

Ghayeb playing guitar
Ghayeb playing Electric Guitar

The ensemble checked all the boxes that I was looking for as an exchange student. The ensemble consists of students who come from every corner of the world, which makes our sound so distinctive and unique. We celebrated unity and diversity by performing music of cultures from around the world; our music is classical, yet a little bit African, a little bit Cuban, and a little bit Middle Eastern.

I asked our Drexel University Percussion Ensemble Director what he thought I brought to the ensemble and feel very humbled by his comments. “Ghayeb has been an incredible leader in our Ensemble and I was simply amazed at how quickly and easily he became acclimated to our American and Drexel environment. Ghayeb’s engaging personality, as well as all the Middle Eastern styles of music and dance he brings from his home, are great assets to our Percussion Ensemble and community.”

[Pre-Pandemic Photo:]Fulbrighters from Philadelphia attend Ghayeb’s performance.

The Fulbright network was involved in all my performances. At my first concert with the Ensemble, the audience was filled with Fulbrighters from Philadelphia whom I met during my program! At my second concert, I partnered with a Fulbrighter from Guatemala who was studying Dance Movement Therapy at Drexel. Tonibelle and her classmates joined the Percussion ensemble in one of the segments where we all danced to tribal music. This performance led to a regular partnership between the percussion ensemble and the Dance Movement Therapy program at Drexel as our segment was hands-down the highlight of the concert.

Ghayeb dancing to tribal music.

The COVID-19 outbreak affected every single person in the world, and the Percussion Ensemble members were no different. We were hit hard, especially since we couldn’t access the practice rooms on campus. However, music was a great escape for all of us. We decided, despite the pandemic, to release a special album to pay tribute to our unique experiences during quarantine. Having that common goal helped us stay on track, and it was great to see everyone’s fierce determination. I can’t imagine going through quarantine without working on the album and collaborating with all the musicians in the Ensemble.

The process of creating the album was quite different. Each member would start a basic rhythm and the rest of the members would listen to it and add their own twist or beat. This was a fun experience made possible by special technology that let us see the changes and additions that members added, in real-time! After we produced the tracks, our ensemble director mixed everything and turned it into a well-balanced track. We’ve titled it: “New Beats from Quarantine”.

Anyone who listens to the album can feel the rollercoaster of emotions we experienced. In some tracks, you can feel the sadness, uncertainty, and fear. But my tracks sound festive and happy because I was thinking of life after quarantine the whole time while writing the music. My tracks represent me as a person; I tend to be the source of fun, joy, and happiness for others during hard times.

I used my Fulbright spirit to persevere and stay determined enough to go all the way and release an album with tools I never thought I would ever use. Prior to my Fulbright experience, I was a perfectionist who loved doing things in a very specific way. However, Fulbright taught me to be open to exploring new things. To other Fulbrighters struggling right now, continue pursuing your passions and stay flexible. Excelling with limited resources means that you will be able to do great things in the future.

Ghayeb is a Fulbright student from Bahrain. He is studying Marketing at Drexel University.

You can find more information about the Fulbright Program, Fulbright Foreign Student Program, and the Fulbright Program for the Middle East and North Africa on our websites. To learn more about other Fulbrighters, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and visit our blog.

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