IT’S BITTERSWEET TO SAY GOODBYE. You leave an experience behind but you also look forward to a new chapter in your life, eager to apply what you have learned and feeling enthusiastic to share your international experience in your home country.
Due to the pandemic, graduating Fulbright students were not able to attend in-person ceremonies at their host institutions, an event most of us look forward to participating when achieving a life milestone. Our Chicago chapter replaced the traditional Spring Farewell event for a virtual graduating Happy Hour.
On June 18th, 2020, we gathered online to congratulate our newly graduates, listen to some music and learn about some of the latest activities of our returning American Fulbrighters from their host countries abroad.
Our Chicago Chapter Vice President Teuta Peja led the program along with fellow board members Tatiana Orlova and Suzanne McBride. The initial connection issues did not affect the enthusiasm we all were feeling. Our President Dr. Edel Jose, who is currently in California, welcomed the guests. “It’s a time to come together and celebrate being a Fulbrighter,” Jose said.
Graduating with a master’s in software engineering at Loyola University Chicago, Shend Vishi from Kosovo said he didn’t know what to expect when he arrived to Chicago and that he couldn’t point out one single unpleasant experience.
“I created friendships that will last a lifetime,” said Vishi, who added he was proud to have represented his country in the United States.
Board member Dr. Bill Peterman addressed the graduating students by sharing some of his Fulbright experience many years ago in the UK. “Once a Fulbrighter always a Fulbrighter,” Peterman said adding that now is the time to share their learning in their home countries.
Five-time Fulbright award recipient and board member Dr. Ana Gil-García delivered a message encouraging the departing students to fulfill the mission Sen. William Fulbright envisioned, to become leaders and to strengthen ties of understanding between countries and cultures. Gil-García, an education leader and community organizer, was president of the Chicago chapter in 2007 and 2008.
Then it was time for music! The first song arrived from Honduras by Fulbright alum Joan Miguel López, who pursued a master’s in cultural and educational policy at Loyola University Chicago in 2018. Playing the guitar and singing “Before Our Time” directly from Tegucigalpa, López delighted the participants with his performance.
Walid Elshanshoury, a current Fulbright student from Cairo, Egypt, who is studying for a master of science in architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), also played the guitar, in his case, an electric guitar.
Board member Suzanne McBride introduced Rachel Jacoby, Lori Niehaus and Amy Verrando, three recent returning Fulbrighters from Malaysia who shared their experience and their entrepreneurial endeavor, Feed the Front Line Chicago.
Jacoby, Niehaus and Verrando met during their 2109 Fulbright in Malaysia. They saw the toll COVID-19 had on the country and in Chicago. Wanting to make a difference along with members of the Fulbright Malaysia cohort, they thought big, envisioning a national campaign calling it Feed the Front Line.
By collecting individual donations to purchase meals from local businesses, this organization delivers these meals to front line workers. Seeing the impact and success of the campaign in Portland, Houston and Pittsburgh, they have been doing similar work in our Chicagoland community.
This entrepreneurial model helps both the local, family-owned food businesses (restaurants, bakeries and cafes) and the front line workers (Chicagoland hospitals, COVID-19 testing centers, fire stations and nursing homes, among others).
Donations come from individuals, and organizations. They created a GoFundMe to receive donations that ranged from $10 up to $2,500, and they’ve raised more than $40,000. Now that Feed the Front Line is part of an official 501c3 tax-exempt organization — they continue to receive donations through their website at ftflchicago.org.
What a great way to celebrate accomplishments! Jacoby, Niehaus and Verrando’s project show us how a Fulbright experience brings people together and enhances the collective human experience.