I remember sitting exactly where I am right now, almost two years ago, anxiously typing into a blank page why I was worth taking a chance on. Today, I am here to write about why it was all worth it.
Throughout my life, I was the girl from the neighborhood with massive dreams but no realistic way to achieve them. As my childhood friends wandered off to the best private colleges in the country, I was exhausting myself to get into the hardest one to get into: the one I could afford. When I first heard of the Global UGRAD Program, I was in my first year at university. I recall starting the application and never completing it because something kept telling me that this kind of stuff does not happen to me. A year later, the scholarship kept resurfacing, popping on my screen, in class, and through my professors. I decided to take a shot thinking I have nothing to lose and until I landed in New York, I still could not believe it was happening. Every Global UGRADer will remember the day they got their placement. I would wake up every morning and check my email first thing in the morning until that one day when it finally came saying I was going to Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. I was going to live minutes away from the most beautiful city in the world and all of this was being granted to me just because a team of strangers believed in ME.
EDUCATION AND OPPORTUNITY
You hear about it, read about it, see it in movies but will never understand the land of opportunities until you experience it yourself.
I have been so passionate about criminology for many years. But, the major simply does not exist in Lebanon. Being in the United States, having a retired Detective/Lieutenant be my professor and teaching me about crime was a true dream. At least that’s what I thought until I met FBI agents, DEA agents, visited a prison where I talked with convicts and heard their experiences, spoke to an astronaut, and a Pulitzer Prize winning author: opportunities beyond my imagination. I received so much support and encouragement from them to pursue my passion for criminology that it boosted my confidence in a way that has changed my life. For the first time, I know what I want to do for my future, and I am not stopping until I reach my goal.
FRIENDSHIP AND CULTURAL DIVERSITY
Nothing compares to the beauty of leaving a piece of yourself through every friend you make in every corner of the world.
The first friend I made in the U.S. was a Vietnamese girl from Vancouver. We went to the city for the first time, learning how to take the subway in the freezing cold, following the path of sunlight on the sidewalks of NYC with no idea where we were. Someone from a country I knew nothing about became family. Then I went to Washington, DC for the Global UGRAD summit and the entire world was in a room. The most unique individuals from around the globe were right there for me to meet, laugh, and dance with. To learn so much about so many drastically different cultures only showed me how none of us are different at all. A few months later, I was in tears to part with the dearest group of people to my heart from the U.S., France, Germany, Costa Rica, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Serbia, Hungary, and so many more. I plan on visiting each one of these countries for they must be beyond marvel to have produced such incredibly outstanding people.
TRAVEL AROUND THE U.S.
Every single time you discover a new place, you discover a part of yourself that you did not know existed.
One of the greatest things I got to do in the U.S. was travel. During spring break, I went to Los Angeles and Las Vegas. To see the empires of entertainment and then go to Washington, DC to the empire of history and the American Dream was necessary to this experience and I would strongly encourage future Global UGRADs to do so. I also made the most out of New Jersey and visited NYC every chance I got.
“Once a UGRAD, always a UGRAD”
As exchange students, I believe every one of us knows what it’s like to come back home but as a new person rediscovering their own country. Every one of us understands the bittersweet feeling of reuniting with your family and friends after just saying goodbye. Being back home, I am today more ambitious and dedicated than ever, believing truly that we can achieve absolutely anything we set our minds and hearts to. I still speak to my friends and fellow Global UGRADs all the time. A number of the friends I made in the U.S. are visiting me in Lebanon in the upcoming months and one already did, which makes it easier to accept that it’s a small world and family will inevitably cross paths, hug, and make memories again.
I am forever grateful for World Learning, the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon, and the U.S. Department of State. Now, it is time to go out there and change the world.
Written by Carla Gurunian, 2018-19 Global UGRAD student from Lebanon at Fairleigh Dickinson University