Alumni Reflection: Philippines

Mussah Karsum Jalaide representing the Philippines in front of the Lincoln Memorial

Hello! My name is Mussah Karsum Jalaide (“Kars”), and I am the pioneer recipient of the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program scholarship from my home university, Mindanao State University-TCTO. Tausug by tribe and Muslim by religion, I was one of the nine finalists of the 2022-2023 Global UGRAD Exchange Program from the Philippines and I studied at Keuka College in New York during the Fall 2022 semester.

It was scary and overwhelming to apply, because of the stiff competition. However, I did not view it through the lens of impossibility. I was determined to achieve my far-fetched dream, despite so many “what-ifs” in my mind.  

The magic wand does not exist in the process of achieving our dreams. We must have grit, which is an integral part of success. My application was not easy as a result of the unstable internet connection in my home province of Tawi-Tawi, the southernmost province of the Philippines. So, I invested my time, money, and effort to accomplish the application requirements in Zamboanga City. I traveled all the way from Tawi-Tawi to Manila just to take the TOEFL English Language Exam. I took risks and persevered through hardship, and that makes my journey indelible and interesting.   

Kars at Niagara Falls

My dreams turned into reality in 2022. This is what happens when we are courageous enough to overpower the fear in our minds and when we don’t listen to naysayers. The fictional world that I had imagined for myself became tangible through this exchange program. It has been a bridge that connects me to my dream of viewing the world from different angles and becoming an asset of my community. Indeed, this program is a life-changing opportunity.  

My stint in the United States was the best four months of my life. I finally visited those places that I had only seen in books and movies, crossed paths with people that I thought only existed in the fictional world, experienced three out of four seasons (summer, autumn, and winter), completed 20 hours of community service, immersed myself in American culture without stepping on my Islamic principles, lived with my American host family during Thanksgiving break, and gained life-long friends not only from the Philippines but from many other countries around the world 

Kars with Fall 2022 Philippines UGRADs (Wika Nadera, Anna Beatriz Suavengco, Melbourne Samper) at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC

Moreover, I have learned invaluable lessons in the United States that I could not get within just the four corners of the classroom. My experience contributed to my personal growth; it empowered me to be self-sufficient and self-reliant. Sometimes I could not even recognize myself, which means I’ve outgrown my old habits and integrated new principles into my life. Hence, the pain and expenses that I had during the application process were all worth it.  

To Fulbright Philippines and World Learning, thank you for believing in my ability to partake in this prestigious exchange program. Even after my tenure as a Global UGRAD student, I will continue to embody the characteristics of a scholar. The journey continues even if the semester has ended. Once a UGRAD, always and forever a UGRAD. This is Kars, and I am living proof that wherever you come from, your dreams are valid and achievable no matter how big they are.