As I said in my previous post, I could not attend with the rest of my Fulbright-García Robles fellow generation to the reception that the Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores prepared as a farewell for us, so in a way I was not able to truly feel like a Fulbrighter, until the 2014 Austin Fulbright Enrichment Seminar.
The US Department of State hosts several Enrichment Seminars for the international students in the US. I was selected for Austin’s, being the topic Civic Engagement. One of my wishes for my PhD is to go back to Mexico and help improving Computer Science education and research in my university and in my community. I can figure why they selected me for this specific seminar.
So there I go, having to finish earlier my semester to travel to Austin, Texas for three days, and I finally was able to live the Fulbright experience, being able to meet so many brilliant students from all over the world working truly hard and sacrificing themselves for a dream of academic excellence. I must say I was also sadened because all of them are very far from home and family, while I am fortunate enough to be able to get my car and drive to see my folks in a little over four hours. It is part of the sacrifice when you want to do something that is worth. My recognition to each and every one pursuing this dream.
After we went to the hotel, and registered, we had some free time before the activities started. I walked the nearby streets looking for something to eat and got some pretty good pulled pork at Stubb’s. I would definitively like to attend a concert someday at the venue. I was also amazed on how green it was all around. I’m living in west Texas, where everything is really arid, but here in the center of the State it is truly beautiful and green.
The topic of Civic Engagement is one with which I am familiar because in my country we have a big discontent with our government and politicians due to corruption, scandals, lack of noticeable work, populism… Our societies try to get away from such activities because people are fed of all that, and do not trust neither democracy nor the government. The seminar was a lot about trying to bring hope again, and show that, though hard as it may be, we still have the power and can regain it… and we should do it by means of thepolitical process, legitimizing the will of the people.
The seminar started with a delicious Salt Lick texan barbeque dinner (the best I’ve ever had) at the Thurman’s Mansion with keynote speaker Larry Schooler, an engagement consultant, giving us points on the importance of engaging in civic activities and how to do it having respect for the political process.
Some other activities were:
- An specially emotive visit to the Austin Harmony Project, an effort to help people with learning disabilities through music. I must confess that I was never very conscious of developmental problems until I met my wife, which is an autism therapist, and through her I have become interested in such topics. Being able to visit the Harmony Project was just the right thing for me.
- A very interesting panel with community leaders from an array of projects that look to engage people in community service, specially from young age. These projects are:
- A home hospitality activity, in which we were divided in small groups and dined with local families. This was such a great experience, getting to know local people, talk about my other country, about Austin… I really enjoyed this activity.
Finally, what struck the most was meeting the other Fulbrighters. Most of them were younger than me and doing their masters, but each of them where brilliant, hard working and driven, without being unscrupulous such as most of the very-driven people I’ve met before. On the contrary, they were all very concious of the opportunity bestowed to us, and were set to make the most of it, in order to bring something different to their countries. Also, they were proud of their culture and would share it gladly with anyone around.
The symposium was just three days, but it certainly was intense in the personal sense. I really think that being a Fulbrighter leave a mark on you; a mark of awareness to go further, not only for yourself but for those around you: your family, your region, your country.
Luckily, during the symposium we had some free time to walk around Austin. I visited the State Capitol (the second I have visited, after California’s some years ago). I regret not going to the river.
And, just before boarding my plane, I was able to give a proper farewell to Austin having a good brisket sandwich…