Outline: Real testimonial from Carlos Ferreira, a Languages and International Relations student at Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto (FLUP), who wishes to share his amazing international experience in the US with the Uduni community after being awarded a Fulbright Foundation Scholarship!
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I honestly couldn’t tell you when the first time I thought about studying in the United States was. I’ve just always dreamed of it. So when an email from the Fulbright Commission showed up in my institutional mailbox at FLUP in late February 2014, it just seemed like everything was coming together. I attended a clarification session at my faculty, applied as soon as I left it and ended up getting called to an interview in Lisbon in mid-March. Unfortunately, I did not win that year. I think it was when I got the infamous “Thank you for your effort but your application will not be considered this year” email, two weeks after the interview, that I decided I was going to get that scholarship no matter what. So one year goes by and I apply again. In early May I get a call with probably the best news I’ve gotten so far. Apparently, my application and interview had been good enough for both the Fulbright Commission and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and I had been granted a scholarship to spend 5 weeks in the state of Indiana, more precisely in the Indiana University, studying social entrepreneurship. S.U.S.I (or Study of the U.S. Institutes) for Student Leaders from Europe is the name that the Department of State gave to its short-term academic programs for European students, and I was lucky enough to be a part of one in the summer of 2015, along with 19 others from all around Europe.
So on July 1st 2015, following a delay due to a visa related issue, my parents drove me to the airport. Three planes and 14 hours later, my feet were crossing a different airport, the Indianapolis International Airport, where I was picked up by a program assistant. A one hour drive brought a very tired me to Bloomington and to the Indiana University. I don’t think I’ve ever slept as well as on my first night at the Teter Residence Hall. The next morning I had the first of many unbelievable, indescribable and unreal classes and activities. If you’re not a fan of long, repetitive, adjective empty lists, you should probably skip this next part. If you are, buckle up. Because I couldn’t write this article without mentioning professor Schlegel’s classes on project planning; or professor Heidewald’s classes on story-telling; or that time we built a house with Habitat for Humanity; or when we painted the word “Peace” in 14 different languages on a bridge; or professor Rearick’s classes on financial management; or when professor Kitzmiller taught us the secrets of marketing; or professor Prenkert’s classes on minorities and legal issues; or that one time we volunteered at a community kitchen; and I definitely need to mention the weekend I spent with a family in Indianapolis. I should probably stop the list right here, because it is (almost) literally endless. Anyway, I guess you could say that, yes, these were some pretty busy weeks, especially when you realize that all the classes and volunteering were complemented by constant challenges, site visits and even a final competition. I slept about three or four hours a night during the final week in Bloomington, as we were getting ready for the final presentation. Looking back on it, it was more than worth it. All the pain, sweat and effort.
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After all the work in those first four weeks, though, I guess all 20 of us deserved a break. And so came New Orleans. Rather, we went there. And we did it all. I mean it. We volunteered, but we also ate Beignets to the inebriating sound of Jazz. We learned but we also sat by the Mississipi throughout the night, sharing memories. We visited companies but we also spent the nights at the French Quarter doing things I’d be better off not mentioning. Just know that after 4 days you really believe the signs in the outskirts of the city: America’s Most Interesting City, they read. Eventually, we flew to Washington, DC, and let me tell you, there’s no way you could not like it. The White House, the Capitol, the Museums, the companies we visited and the presentation we got to do at the Department of State…it was all amazing. Surprisingly, the thing I enjoyed the most was to stand by the Portuguese flag near the water mirrors Abraham Lincoln is looking down upon. There’s only one word to describe it and it is breathtaking.
Anyways…I could tell you many more details about the things I learned or did or studied. But, if you ask me, those shouldn’t be the motives for which you strive to have an international experience. Don’t get me wrong, those are really important and rewarding. It’s just that I truly believe that, when it ends, there are only two things that are going to stick with you forever, no matter what. First, the people you meet. I could never describe or quantify to you the brilliance of the 19 people that went along on this journey with me. They said and did things I could never forget, even if I wanted to. And secondly, the fact that you now understand things. You understand why nothing will ever taste as good as a Steak’N’Shake strawberry milkshake on a hot night in downtown Indianapolis. You understand how it could be that a 19 year old American has never heard of black vodka. You understand why ping pong is the most competitive game ever, even when you suck at it. You understand why an American girl doesn’t expect two kisses when you’ve just met, but you do it anyway. You understand the beauty of fasting and Ramadan. And why New Orleans will never forget Katrina. You understand why alligators like marshmallows so much. You understand that there’s no way you will ever forget that someone you talked to for no more than fifteen minutes. And you understand why driving a mini-van through the middle of a huge storm with someone who was a complete stranger just two hours ago is not that scary after all.
I promise, this spontaneous, seemingly irrelevant knowledge is what really makes it unforgettable. I spent the best five weeks of my life in the United States of America. I can only wish that, wherever you are or go, you’ll enjoy it as much as I did. And I hope you meet people as amazing as I did. And I hope that, just like I did, you come to a point in time in which you realize that such an experience really changes you. For the best. Forever.