A Year in the Fulbright Life: Hanan’s Story

For the next year, Fulbright MENA will be showcasing a handful of students as they study in the United States with their new series, A Year in the Fulbright Life. Each month, spotlighted students will share an update as they continue on their Fulbright journey.

August 2017

“What better way to start off the new school year than by witnessing such a magical natural phenomena such as the eclipse? People flew in from all over the world to see it but I was lucky enough to already be here where we had a 99.5% coverage! Absolutely breathtaking — I’ve never seen such beauty. It was a great experience especially that I got to see it with my new roommate which gave us the perfect opportunity to bond and have fun!”

Fulbright student Hanan had the perfect view of Eclipse 2017 from Red Hill at Idaho State University! She said this was the perfect start to begin the new school year with the Fulbright Program.

Hanan shared a few other photos of her school pride:

September 2017

“Last week Muslims celebrated the biggest holiday of the year, “Eid Al Adha.” In order to share our joy with others, I brought some sweets to the GIS (Geographic Information Systems) department at my school to share with students and professors. I explained to them what the holiday was and its significance in the Islamic religion.

For those of you who are interested in how to share joy with Muslims on this holiday, normally we say “Adha Mubarak,” which translates into wishing the other a blessed Adha, or a simple “Happy Eid,” or honestly any phrase is appreciated. It is the thought that counts. “

October 2017

For Halloween this year I went as Harley Quinn! It was so fun incorporating my hijab into my costume, and it showed people that Hijabis do have fun as well! I am proud to say that lots of people at my department didn’t even recognize me at the party! It was a blast and the timing was great — right after I submitted my research paper for my upcoming conference for publishing. It was so fun to relax and have a great time with friends.

I also attended a GPS field work trip where we stayed at the ISU — Geoscience Department’s Lost River Field Station overnight. The next day we collected sample data for processing and analysis to better understand the geology of the area. Despite being a bit nervous at first about this trip, it turned out to be a great one. One of the greatest advantages of being in the Geosciences field is that your office expands to the outdoors and you get to experience and explore new cool places, such as Mackay, Idaho in this case. The view was breathtaking as snow started to pile on the mountains.

In mid-October I gave a lecture to a group of senior citizens on “Islamic Misconceptions: Uncover the Facts” where I discussed some sensitive topics that people sometimes fear to ask about such as Islam’s take on violence, women, and Sharia law. I’ve been enjoying reaching out to my community to help teach them about my culture and religion.

November 2017

I recently participated in the Pecora20 Conference in Sioux Falls, South Dakota last week. I gave a poster presentation about a section of my thesis research titled “Utilizing Sentinel-2 Satellite Imagery for Precision Agriculture over Potato Fields in Lebanon” highlighting the results I have so far as well as the next steps and future considerations. I also submitted a paper for the conference proceedings under the same title. It was a great opportunity where I got to meet with professionals in the remote sensing domain and learned about cutting-edge technology in the world of satellites and the potential we have ahead of us. I also had the chance to expand my network of connections within the remote sensing and precision agriculture field.

I was able to attend this event and participate through funding from ISU graduate school, remote sensing consortium America View and Idaho View, as well as Fulbright. I am very grateful I was given this opportunity, and I look forward to sharing more of my research with the world.

December 2017

My friends and I in the Idaho State University Geosciences Department had a pizza night out before finals week to de-stress and refresh before exams. The neat thing about this picture is that there are people from four countries and six different American states! It is just a blessing to be part of this family.

January 2018

January is a fun month! New Year’s, resolutions, parties and the anticipation of a new year full of new adventures ahead. This January, however, was more exciting as I turned 25! It was wonderful getting to spend it with the people I call my family in Idaho, the ISU Geo family. It was the perfect timing as it was the start of a new semester that also happens to be the last semester we will all get to share as most of us are graduating this semester. It was a blast with lots of wonderful friends, food, music and dancing the night away! One of my friends even made me Knefe which is my favorite Lebanese dessert as a surprise — and boy was it one delicious surprise!

February 2018

For February, in celebration of Women’s History Month, the Gender Resource Center at Idaho State University organized a panel discussion titled “Middle Eastern Women in America: Challenges, Experiences and Media.” I was asked to be one of the panelists along with an English professor from Libya, a PhD student from Saudi Arabia and another PhD student who is a Fulbright alumnus from Egypt. The panel was representative of the diversity of women in the Middle East and we each got to talk about our experiences in the United States and in Idaho specifically. The audience consisted of faculty, students and people from the community. It was a great experience and very rewarding especially since I got to share it with a bright group of women from different regions in the Middle East. The ISU Bengal newspaper wrote an article about the event and its importance and highlighted some of the main points covered. They even quoted me on the following: “A lot of stereotypes and fear come from not knowing — if you don’t ask you will never know.”

It was an answer to a question about what can the community do to help make Pocatello a more welcoming place to Middle Eastern and Muslim women, to which I replied that we fear what we don’t know and we wouldn’t know without asking. Thus the number one step to do is to encourage people to ask and reach out to learn more. I supported this by sharing a personal experience that happened to me during my first semester at ISU where I had a gentleman approach me and ask if he could speak to me and despite my answer being yes, he kept on asking over and over if I was sure, and while I kept assuring him he finally said that he was scared of Muslims and afraid they were violent. My response was as calm as I could be and I asked him to tell me what he thinks he knows so that I could clarify things. We ended up chatting for over two hours and are currently close friends. Had I not been patient, and had he not reached out, he would still have that image in his head, but due to communication, not only did we became friends, but I changed his perception of Muslims and he changed the way his own friends think. It’s just like a snowball effect — all it takes is one person to reach out.

March 2018

The semester is half way through, and we are all starting to feel the stress of wrapping up, each one trying to finish their thesis as only a few more months await us in grad school. As spring break comes around the corner, it feels like a nice way to go out, have some fun, and refresh to come back full power. One of the things I got to share with my American friends is my love for Lebanese coffee, and they loved it as much as I do. My friend and I decided to go to Vegas for a couple days to have some fun and enjoy some warm sunny weather away from Idaho’s cold! We even got to enjoy coffee out in the sun and in that moment the world just stopped and everything was just perfect!

April 2018

I presented my research at the ISU Geoscience Colloquium in April where I talked about my thesis work on “Precision Agriculture for Potato Yield Prediction.” I used yield data from fields in Idaho along with high resolution satellite imagery over Idaho and Lebanon to build a model that allows us to predict the yield in Idaho and Lebanon as well as to indicate crucial points in the growing season that would help the Lebanese and Idahoan farmer with their farming practices to improve the yield. Best part? My parents were here to attend it!!

Following the talk, I had someone from Idaho Department of Water Resources reach out to me via email and mention his interest in my work as it is very helpful for Idaho and its farmers. He mentioned the possibility of me presenting to them about my work so I am very excited about this![“1] The next step is going to be to publish the work in a journal related to this field as well as the Lebanese Science Journal. My plan is to present this work to the Lebanese Ministry of Agriculture when I’m back home to hopefully spread my findings as much as possible and hopefully be able to make an impact in my Lebanese and Idaho communities!

May 2018

“It felt unreal to graduate and hold my MS in GIS degree in my hand while being surrounded by my parents who flew in from Lebanon alongside my host family from when I was on the YES Program who flew in with my coordinator at the time from Wisconsin to share this special day.

No words can describe how thankful I am to Fulbright for helping me turn my dreams into a reality and I can’t wait to share everything I have learned here with the Lebanese community.”

June 2018

When I visited the United States my first time, I got to see a lot but I never made it to New York. I made a promise to myself that I’d visit NYC if I ever came back to the States. During my studies at ISU, I took an “International Parks and Protected Areas” course where I got to learn more about parks worldwide and specifically within the United States. We each had to write a paper on a national park of our choice, and I chose the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island National Park because of what it symbolized and it has always fascinated me. After doing a semester-long worth of research on the park, I fell more in love with it and was more determined than ever to visit.

And finally, after living in Idaho for two years, I got to cross NYC off of my U.S. bucket list. Being someone who loves big cities, I completely fell in love with New York City. The culture, the diversity, the food, the city was buzzing with life and it was everything I expected and more. My host mom and her youngest son met me there and we stayed with their friends who live in Brooklyn and knew the city by heart, which made it the more special. I was lucky enough to get the full NYC experience while also meeting locals and hearing about their daily life in the Big Apple. I got to ride the subway everywhere and enjoyed the famous NYC bagels and what may be the biggest piece of pizza I’ve ever had the joy to eat! As a pizza lover, I had to make a decision to choose a side on the big pizza debate “Chicago deep-dish or NYC thin slice” and having had the privilege of trying both in their hometown, I had to choose NYC pizza. Sorry Chicago, but you’re still one of my top 10 places in the United States!

I got to enjoy a breathtaking view of the NYC skyline from the top of the Empire State Building, fed my F.R.I.E.N.D.S. obsession by visiting NBC studios, walked through the famous Central Park, paid tribute to the 9/11 victims at the 9/11 memorial, sipped coffee from the biggest Starbucks I’ve ever seen in busy Times Square, walked on the engineering beauty known as the Brooklyn Bridge, experienced Coney Island right out of the movies, and even had a taste of Chinatown and Little Italy. As much as NYC took my breath away, while visiting Rockefeller Center, I immediately spotted the Lebanese flag and felt giddy and proud inside! But the most magical part of my time in NYC was by no doubt the visit to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. I wish I can put into words the emotions and feelings I had when I spotted Lady Liberty up close or when I walked through the Museum of Immigration but I just can’t! I am proud to say that my research paid off as I ended up sharing facts about the statue and the island with others which felt super rewarding! I had such high expectations for NYC, and sure thing NYC knows how to deliver beyond expectations!

July 2018

Being abroad has countless advantages but probably one of my favorites is sharing my culture with others while experiencing their own culture. This is the case on many occasions and this year around the 4th of July is no exception. My roommate and I invited friends who were in town for a party where we enjoyed lots of food, each one brought a dish. My roommate made the most beautiful 4th of July themed chocolate strawberries while I brought a taste of Lebanon to the gathering. It was a beautiful day with great company and we ended it watching the fireworks show which was a great ending to a wonderful day.

One of the best parts of my Fulbright experience is that I got to live in the beautiful state of Idaho. I have to admit we are spoiled with the beauty this outdoor state has to offer, and those who live in the United States and haven’t visited Idaho are certainly missing out! For this month’s adventure, my friend and I decided to go explore Boise. It is the perfect balance offering the best of what a big city has to offer combined with what Idaho’s outdoor beauty has to offer. The highlight of our trip — aside from the great food and shopping- was floating on the Boise River. It was my first time doing such a thing and it was probably the most relaxing outdoor activity I’ve ever done. We also got to go hiking along the trails of Mores Mountain with a friend of ours who moved to Boise a couple months earlier with her furry baby (dog)! The weather was perfect and the scenery was surreal.

August 2018

In mid-August, the ISU International Programs Office (ISU IPO) along with ISU Outdoor Adventure Center organized a 3 day camping trip to Yellowstone for ISU’s international students free of charge where they provided camping gear, food and transportation. Although this was my third visit to Yellowstone, it was my first camping experience which added a special flavor to being in the world’s first national park!

Being surrounded by international students made it all the more special. There were over 8 spoken languages on the trip!! We got to enjoy the magical beauty of Yellowstone, from geysers to waterfalls and colorful lakes. We also got to experience amazing wildlife interactions.

We were lucky enough to see a ton of bison and their babies, moose and baby moose, elk, river otters and plenty more. The trip was perfectly timed just before the start of the semester, and spending time in nature away from the digital world was a real treat!

I am so thankful for ISU IPO and their constant efforts in helping international students fully emerge in Idaho and the Northwest through continuous trips all year round getting students to places they might not have the chance to visit otherwise! Yellowstone is the one place that should be on everyone’s bucket list while in the United States!!

Hanan is a second-year Fulbright student from Lebanon. She is studying Geographic Information Science at Idaho State University.

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