It’s much less dramatic and more literal than it sounds. I know I’ve talked about so many life-changing experiences throughout the years, but Fulbright has been the one that’s forced me the most to grow and to learn simply because it’s been the longest of all my abroad experiences. I wanted to do some reflection now that I only have 4 months left and talk about the ways – everyday and extraordinary – that my life has been changed during my 6 months here.
She cooks! And cleans!
Okay, I’m still an awful cook, but I used to only know how to boil pasta and fry up veggies. Now I can make my own homemade pasta sauce, and I’ve never met anyone whose broccoli I like more than my own (besides my mom’s because I got my recipe from her). My ability to clean is an even bigger work in progress, but I’ll leave it at this: day by day, I become a better and better kelin (Uzbek bride – they’re usually forced to do all the cooking and cleaning for their new family, especially their mother-in-law).
I signed up for a gym right next to the cafe I go to every day, and I usually go three to five times a week. I used to be a runner, so it feels good to be doing longer distances on the treadmill again. I don’t want to sound like one of those annoying workout people, but exercise truly has helped with my mental health and physical health. I’ve struggled with chronic fatigue since I was a child, and exercising consistently has given me more energy than I’d felt in years. People usually say they don’t exercise because they don’t have time, but exercising actually gives me more time. I used to spend 3 hours a day napping to get the same energy boost as only 1 hour in the gym gives me. After exercising, I’m also more focused, so I get work done faster. This all saves time, people!
I had no teaching experience before I came to Uzbekistan and barely any tutoring or leadership experience either. In the beginning of the year, I relied heavily on textbooks and free-flowing conversation, but now I’m able to find a happy medium between the two, with structure but not too much from textbooks, and with natural conversation but within the guidelines of the structure. I’m also working with all different ages and levels: beginner high school students, advanced high school students, advanced university students, beginner adults, intermediate adults, and advanced adults. I thought working with beginners would be difficult, but it’s been so much fun! I incorporate a lot of visual aids, charades, and running around the classroom pointing at things. All of these people from different backgrounds that I teach have me growing as a professional. Even though I don’t want to become a teacher, these are all skills that will serve me well as I pursue careers in international education and diplomacy.
I started a Girls’ Club through the U.S. Embassy’s American Center and beginner English classes for the staff and at-risk girls of a local organization combatting human trafficking, Istiqbolli Avlod. I’ll admit that thinking of content for Girls’ Club has been difficult for me because I’m not as well-versed on feminist topics as I should be, but the English classes have been incredibly fun to prep for and conduct. I’m excited to challenge myself to innovate for my Girls’ Club too and make it a useful and safe space for Tashkent’s youth. For my Academic Writing class, I create my own handouts, and I’ll soon be reading Divergent with my Practical English class and Animal Farm with my Academic Writing class. I get some discussion questions and activities from the internet, but I come up with most of them myself. I’ve never seen myself as a creative person, so sometimes I feel a little bit stifled in that I don’t have an outlet for creativity; I don’t draw, sing, act, nothing! I’ve found that creating material for my classes and clubs, though, allows me to express my creativity. 🙂
She challenges herself!
Giving presentations at professional events, writing a speech for my rector, and helping host a workshop were things I didn’t expect to do on my grant, but that I have done and succeeded in! In my first semester here, I had the opportunity to present at a conference but passed it up because I felt unqualified and scared. There’s another conference coming up this semester, though, and I knew I wanted to prove myself wrong. I submitted my proposal long ago, choosing a topic I’ve taught in various settings: in my Academic Writing class, at a writing workshop, in a presentation for EducationUSA. This morning, I made the handout for it, and I’m pretty damn proud of it. Last semester, I kept asking myself, “Why should anyone listen to me?” This semester I’m challenging myself, “What can I say that is worth people’s time to listen to?”
She fights back!
If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably already heard about some of the resistance I’ve faced during my time here. I want to give the caveat that my university and everyone associated have been absolutely wonderful and are not a contributing factor to any of the difficulties I’ve faced – actually, they’ve been some of my biggest supporters. Anyway, there are people who underestimate me, who turn their noses up at me, who would rather that I not even be in this country doing what I’m doing. It put me in a great depression for the longest time. Of course, I didn’t believe any of the negative things I heard about myself, but it still felt pretty shitty to know that not everyone around me believes in me like I believe in myself. And yet, that belief in myself has been the torch guiding me through the darkness, the light not only at the end of the tunnel but in the tunnel with me. The belief in me of so many people around me – physically and metaphorically – has reassured me that as I walk down this tunnel, I walk with an army behind me. I’ve proven time and again that I work hard, go the extra mile, and love everything about what I do here – the teaching, the outreach, the citizen diplomacy. I can prove myself a hundred times more and there will still be people waiting for me to fail. But you know what? They can wait for me to fail, but they can’t take away the smiles on my students’ faces as a concept clicked, the stimulating conversations about difficult social topics, the rudimentary exchanges in Uzbek and laughter, the love I radiate into the people around me.
My life has been profoundly changed by my time on Fulbright in Uzbekistan. Those effects can never be terminated. Everything I’ve learned and felt here will be invested back into the lives of everyone else I have the privilege of working alongside, the rest of my life.