Aug 21, 2014
By Erica Molfetto
The first time Ali Reza Sarwar had ever flown on an airplane was four weeks ago and his destination was Ohio University.
A native of Afghanistan, Sarwar received a coveted Fulbright Fellowship, which allows him the opportunity to pursue a master's degree in international affairs at Texas A&M University this fall.
The Fulbright Fellowship Pre-Academic Program, which was hosted by the Ohio Program of Intensive English (OPIE) at Ohio University, sponsored 35 distinguished scholars from all around the globe.
The Pre-Academic Program, which ran from July 19 to Aug. 9, serves as an introduction to American academia and culture for the students before they begin their studies this fall.
Fulbright International Scholars are encouraged to enroll in the three-week immersion program in order to learn more about American university life and culture as to make a smooth transition into a new environment.
The scholars also learn academic skills that allow them to successfully pursue graduate degrees.
The Fulbright Fellowship Program was originated by U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright in 1946 and operates in more than 155 countries globally. The program's mission is to promote "international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture and science."
According to Luke Coffelt, the 2014 Fulbright Pre-Academic Program director and lecturer for OPIE, the summer program uses a variety of presentations and workshops conducted by professors and lecturers to teach the Fulbright scholars.
While some workshops focus on conducting academic research or learning more about higher education in the United States, others focus on improving the students' English language skills or providing practical information like how to find an apartment.
"In short, our main goal is to maximize the chance that they all succeed in earning their degrees," Coffelt
said. "The Pre-Academic Program is designed to give them an adjustment period so they can better focus on reaching their academic goals at their universities."
For many of the scholars, living in Athens was their first experience living in America.
In order to immerse scholars in campus life, the scholars were housed in the Biddle residence hall on the East Green and ate meals at Shively and Nelson dining halls.
In their spare time, the scholars traveled to various parts of Ohio such as Amish country, and participated in a weekend homestay in Cleveland. Some other excursions included kayaking on Dow Lake in Strouds Run State Park and traveling to Chillicothe to see a staged production of the popular outdoor drama, "Tecumseh."
"Americans like to keep themselves on a very tight schedule," recalled Jose Martinez, a scholar from El Salvador.
Scholars recalled their experiences in Athens to be very positive, although some were very culture-shocked by the portions of snack food at Walmart, according to Kirsten Lawrence, an OPIE graduate assistant.
After the Pre-Academic Program, the scholars traveled to their respective American universities to pursue graduate degrees.
"These Fulbright scholars represent the best and brightest of their countries," noted Coffelt. "It is an honor to help them achieve their goals."
As for Sarwar, he says he will always be grateful for his experience at Ohio University. He hopes to utilize his Fulbright Fellowship in order to gain the necessary experience needed to one day fulfill his dream of becoming president of Afghanistan.