One year ago I wasn´t sure which university of my four choices was going to be my final destination. Today, I’m at my second semester at University of Florida, pursuing a Master’s degree in Molecular Nutrition and couldn’t be happier about my decision. But my luck doesn’t end there. On February 4th, I was invited to a Fulbright Enrichment Seminar in Atlanta, about US Politics and Elections. The name suits it perfectly, as I can’t think of a more enriching event I have been to. There were more than 130 grantees from 71 different countries. What a cultural exchange we experienced!
On February 4th we all arrived at the Omni Hotel, right next to the CNN center. After a visit to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum where we learned about President Jimmy Carter´s biography, we had the opening dinner at The Carter Center. The following day we had a panel discussion about political polarization in the U.S. Not only did we have the chance to learn about U.S. politics, but we also learned about different political situations in other countries, thanks to some of the grantees who shared their thoughts. That same day, we split into four groups for our cultural visits. I went to The Atlanta History Center, where we had a glimpse of how life was in the 1880’s, during the Civil War. Afterwards, I had the opportunity to experience firsthand the well-known southern hospitality and a traditional Jewish dinner. Two other grantees and I went to our host family´s house in the suburbs. The lady who hosted us invited two of her friends and as it was Shabbat, they performed some rituals: they lit candles before dinner, recited Kiddush (a blessing) over grape juice and then we started dinner with a special bread. We spent hours talking about American culture and that of our countries. Again, cultural exchange predominated.
On our last day, we had the biggest event: an election simulation, where we chose our president. But first, we volunteered at Russell Elementary School in the morning, spending time with children and helping them to perform educational games. Later we learned about swing states, white votes and blue votes and were explained the differences between states in terms of which one has more “political weight”. After an interesting debate between candidates, we voted and had to wait until dinner to find out the result. We went to a Mexican restaurant in downtown Atlanta for the closing dinner. The elected president gave a speech and we said goodbye to our new friends. It all went in a blink of an eye! Suddenly, I was back in Florida.
In Florida I live in a college town named Gainesville. If you like peaceful, quiet places and you don´t like traffic jams, crowded places or high buildings, then this is your place. University of Florida has one of the biggest campuses in the U.S. (I got lost my first day here). There are great facilities, libraries, research centers … and student clubs where you can meet new people. There is even a lake with alligators in the middle of campus! In Spain, I could have never experienced what I’m experiencing here. In half a year I’ve met incredible people from different parts of the world whom I like to think of as my international family. The most interesting and enriching conversations and the best cultural exchanges I have ever had have been with them. I’ve had road trips, joined student groups, gotten used to having lunch at noon… Not all are good moments of course. There have also been stressful situations, homesickness, car crashes…but they are worth it. It is in those moments when you learn invaluable lessons that you can apply to the rest of your life. You need to have bad experiences to appreciate the good ones. For that and for all the experiences yet to come, I thank Fulbright. I have been given the opportunity to belong to a huge family and to grow in every aspect of my life: professionally and personally. It is when you live abroad when you know yourself the most, so I encourage everyone to step outside their comfort zones. The reward is priceless.
Laura Diez Ricote
Fulbright 2015 – University of Florida