A Tale of Two Back to School Nights

Excitement and enthusiasm were in the air as teachers in my new high school in a middle class neighborhood prepared their classrooms by decorating their bulletin boards, displaying student work, and straightening desks. Welcome messages abounded, Remind.com messages were sent, and we opened our doors to meet the parents.
I have done these events for 24 years, four times a year at my former school in South Central L.A. But this year’s Back to School Night left me reflecting, and perhaps shedding a tear.
First, my new parents were fantastic. They were friendly, enthusiastic, and supportive of the new ideas I bring to the school. I knew in them I would have allies to incorporate my findings from my Fulbright exchange in Finland earlier this year. Parent after parent nodded their heads and strongly affirmed that break time was important to students, teachers, and workers in general. They were excited to hear about the summer travel programs I had prepared.
As I looked at their warm and s…

The promise of Fulbright

The morning after the conclusion of the Fulbright Forum in Helsinki, three Fulbrighters boarded a plane to Berlin to continue our learning. What greeted us were no less than 550 Fulbrighters based in Germany!

Now to recap, Fulbrights are merit-based grants managed by the U.S. State Department, whose funds often come from our taxes. However, budget cuts have recently become a recurring issue and many countries have binational commissions that also supplement or fully pay for the cost of Fulbrighters to come to their country.

The German and American Fulbrighters bonding

Fulbrighters are scholars, students, teachers, scientists, artists, and mid-career professionals that want to embark on a cross-cultural exchange that will lead to increased cooperation and mutual understanding between nations. This may seem like a lofty goal, but it has been happening for over 70 years.

I still can’t believe I am a part of this inspiring group of people.

The Berlin Seminar was different than the one in Helsinki, each with its own flavor. The German organizers were loose and witty, with no problem bantering during welcome speeches and interviews. An impressive array of speakers and panels were presented, and I couldn’t get enough of the learning.

Fulbright Germany Alumni Association encouraging folks to join

I was a little disappointed to see no participants from my alma mater, UCLA. I wondered why.

Most participants were in their early 20’s, with just a few years of college under their belt, but with a fierce focus on their area of interest. The German Fulbrighters were eager and excited for their upcoming trip to the states, and asked key and relevant questions to us teachers.

Three student presentations I really enjoyed were:

  • Researching the idea of bidding on solar energy

  • Studying air flow

  • Incorporating Incan maxims into cross-cultural exchange
Elizabeth Gamarra presenting It Takes Two to Tango: Bridging the Gap Between Us vs Them Rhetoric

Sawsan Chebli made an electrifying speech to the Fulbrighters and deftly and astutely answered audience questions. She is a Muslim-German woman serving as a political leader in Berlin. From her twitter account I can see she takes a lot of heat but all I saw was a fierce, brilliant mind that was proud to be the face of Germany.

Sawsan Chebli, left, photo credit Sam Northern

The evenings were filled with receptions and dinners that gave us all a chance to mingle and chat. The last evening was pretty special because I met a fellow who had spent time in South Central L.A. as a visitor and we bonded over our love of Mexican Food. I was also interviewed for my impressions of the program and of course I had nothing but great things to say.

On our way to our final presentation on the last morning, we released balloons into the sky with our wishes for Fulbright written on them. Some of us were hesitant to release them in consideration of the environment but followed the lead of the organizers. To my amusement and pride, many students had no reservations about protesting and popped the balloons when ordered to release them. Then they collected the trash. As I get closer to retirement I am always looking to see who is going to take the lead in this charge to leave the world a little better than how we entered it. If Fulbrighters are any indication of our future, it is certainly bright!

My new friend who knew about South Central L.A.


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