On arrival in the US I flew straight to the Will Rogers World airport in Oklahoma City to attend a four-day Fulbright Gateway Orientation. The orientation took place in the beautiful campus of the University of Oklahoma (OU), in Norman, Oklahoma.
The gateway programme was a wonderful initiation into what it means to be a Fulbrighter, and a great taster of some of things in store for my time in the US. The International Student Services staff at OU did an incredible job of running the event! They organised a wide range of activities for us to get involved in that would prepare us, as Fulbright students, to make the most of our time in the US. Personally, the Gateway programme allowed me to deepen my appreciation of the ideals behind the Fulbright programme, and to gain a better understanding of my responsibilities as a Fulbright student.
Having a chance to meet with other Fulbright students from all over the world was a wonderful experience. We spoke about our countries; discussed cultural norms and traditions; talked, and laughed (a lot!), about stereotypes and debunked some myths about our home countries. We discussed our aspirations for our time in the US, and also how to deal with some of the challenges we may encounter. For me, one of the most enriching things about the orientation was getting to listen to people talk about themselves and their research and realising that, while we were a very diverse group, we shared a certain mentality, or outlook, that had led to us being in the US, as Fulbrighters.
The Gateway Orientation was also a wonderful opportunity to learn more about US culture, history and politics. The organisers took us on tour of the Oklahoma State Capitol where we learned about US political institutions. We also visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial – a poignant memorial to the victims of the Oklahoma bombing. We learned more about the history of Oklahoma by visiting the Sam Noble Museum. The museum provided a wonderful insight into the history of the peoples, places and animals of Oklahoma, but the real highlight of our visit to the museum was the Native American dinner and culture night. We ate Indian tacos, played traditional Native American games, and watched traditional Native American dances.
In addition to the introduction to American history and culture, the Gateway Orientation also gave us a taste of the culture specific to US universities; we met with professors at OU to discuss networking, leadership and academic culture. We also had a thoroughly enjoyable tour of the University of Oklahoma football stadium, and even got to meet some of the players.
The Gateway Orientation was a genuinely enriching experience. While I have come to the University of Maryland to pursue research and to develop my expertise in my field, on leaving the Gateway Orientation I had gained a greater realisation of all the learning opportunities I would have as Fulbright student, outside of academia.
– Marie Hyland