While their time as a Fulbrighter is often a life-changing experience, for many alumni the real journey and the benefits of the program begin once their grant period has concluded. We asked FLTA alumna Arwa Elabd to give us some insights into her post-Fulbright experience by sharing her experience returning to her US host institution as a presenter at a conference.
My Fulbright scholarship has opened incredible doors for me. I was a Fulbright foreign language teaching assistant (FLTA) in 2017–18 at Bowling Green State University, and the year enriched me personally and professionally on so many levels. During my time there, I attended several conferences and presented a paper myself for the first time ever.
After I came back to Austria, I missed this connection so much. I missed professors who constantly supported and encouraged you to bring out the best in you. But I was lucky enough to have been supported by amazing supervisors who were still encouraging me from overseas and convinced me to participate in the Austrian Studies Association Conference. It was an incredibly opportunity for me to do research in a topic I care about a lot here in Vienna and not only to present it in one of my favorite places in the world but also seize the opportunity to see my old friends again.
My research was about Vienna as the cultural capital of Europe—but for whom? I investigated museums and the art and artist scene in Vienna and its perception of marginalized people. I interviewed so many artists who told me about their struggles of finding a safe space within the dominant group in society where they could present their art without being pushed into an “ethnic category.” It was also very important to me to include the voices of people who barely see themselves represented in museums and therefore avoid visiting them. After I presented my research results at the conference, a lot of people connected with me. There was also criticism, which I appreciate because that is how I will learn for the next time.
Attending the conference means getting to connect to more people who enrich me in many ways. In the mornings, we engaged in discussions about politics, literature, history, and many more interesting topics. And in the evenings, we would do the same, but in a more casual way, while drinking pop (for me!) and booze.
Not only did I meet amazing scholars, I also became friends with the Austrian author Clemens Berger, who allowed me to play a role in one of his readings. Coming from Vienna, we both connected in the small town of Bowling Green and enjoyed some time off in the local bars and restaurants. The friendship with him is one of the greatest outcomes during this conference. I need to mention that this is the second Austrian author I have got to know during my time as a Fulbrighter: I was personally taught by Anna Kim for an entire semester, which was pretty lit!
Being a Fulbrighter means being part of a world which opens doors for you—if you take advantage of it. The amount of people I have met and got to know through the program before, during and after my program year is something I am thankful for every single day.
To end this with the words of my friend and fellow 2017–18 FLTA Sebastian Braunsberger: Shine bright like a Fulbright!
Arwa Elabd was an FLTA at Bowling Green State University in the 2017–18 academic year. Photos courtesy of Arwa Elabd.