Fulbright Hijazi Isaili
Palestinian Hijazi Isaili won a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the university during the 2010-11 academic year. He serves as a T.A. for Arabic classes, studies Americana and enjoys experiencing North Carolinian cultures. He plans to one day work to improve the Palestinian government.
How is it that you came to the university?
I applied for the Fulbright – my friend from Egypt had sent me a link. I applied to be a student and teacher at the same time, and I left the options open to anywhere in the United States. The university chose me.
What are you studying here at the university?
I’m in a non-degree program that emphasizes cultural exchange and allows me to be a T.A. Classes are open for me to take what I want; Fulbright requires one course in American studies. I’m taking a class on race, gender and housing in the United States and another on immigration practices in the United States and European Union. My favorite is the race and gender course. I took a linguistics course in the fall, and that was really nice. I also took public speaking, which was a helpful course.
What has been your favorite aspect of the university?
My students. It was a nice experience for me to teach adults for the first time. In Palestine I was teaching younger children English, especially in conversation. I like the faculty in my department, the religion department. They are all very helpful in trying to find the classes that I need to take and with American culture.
When did you first arrive in the United States?
In August, but I had been to the states two years ago. I was in Nebraska as an Ambassador for Undergraduate Student Universities for two months at the University of Nebraska in Omaha.
When was your first time traveling outside of Palestine?
The first place was Nebraska. Leaving Palestine, I had to go to Jordan because we don’t have airports. I was 22, and for me to have never been out of Palestine, and going to Nebraska! Also, before coming to the university I had a conference in Cairo, but I have spent the most time here in North Carolina.
When will you be returning to Palestine?
As part of the contract with Fulbright, I will be going back after the end of this semester. I have to convey the experience I got here to my country.
Where do you see yourself in the future? Here or in Palestine?
After the Fulbright, there is a two-year residency requirement for me to be in Palestine. What I’m thinking is continuing my master’s degree in Palestine or here, but my mom doesn’t want me to apply for the master’s here because she misses me a lot. I would like to apply for a master’s as soon as possible in media. It was my dream from the beginning, especially since I graduated from high school, to study media but it wasn’t available in my city, so I studied English language and literature at Hebron University.
I also know it’s easy to find a job in media if you are working with media in Palestine. To be honest, in life here, I find freedom that I could not find in Palestine. I like life here … like with friends, technology, everything here is easy. But in Palestine it’s going to be hard for me. If my family were here, I would love to live here. I have seven sisters and six brothers, so I’m from a big family. I cannot imagine my life without my brothers, my sisters and my mom and dad. I would choose to live with my family, but I would like to come back to the United States if I have the chance to.
What does your family think of you being here?
They’re happy because I’m the only one in the family who has even traveled or been in a plane. They’re proud of me and awaiting my coming back.
Has your view of America changed since you have been here?
I used to think it was like in the movies with gangs, mafias, drugs, police, police chasing – just like Hollywood. We had a stereotype that Americans were stupid. I was shocked when I’ve seen most of them are friendly, but some, some of them are ignorant about the Middle East. I never thought I would see homeless people in the street like I first saw in Chicago. In Palestine we are under occupation, but we don’t have homeless people. It was a shock for me that in America, there are homeless people. When there was the economic crisis, I felt that crisis here. I saw that people could be out of their homes in one night with foreclosures or being bankrupt.
What do you feel you can offer to both countries after your experience?
Well, first of all, I’m thinking of conveying my experience here to my country, especially teaching methods — if I go back and I teach again I want to use the methods they use to teach here. In our country we are using really old textbooks and we are so strict with students. It should be more like friends with students. I would like to, even here, convey a message for Palestinians — we are not all terrorists, as they say sometimes. And convey a message of living in peace between the two countries, if there are two countries of Israel and Palestine.
What is your biggest hope?
My hope is to be one who is working in the Palestinian government who can help the Palestinians. We don’t have good leaders now. The situation is getting worse every day in Palestine; the people are suffering actually — prices are high, everything is expensive.
What do you miss most about back home?
The food. Gidra is my favorite. It’s put in a pot and over a wood fire. It’s meat and rice and they put local fat, made just in Palestine, Jordan and Syria I think. You can’t find it everywhere.
What do you think you’ll miss about here when you leave?
Friends … freedom … moving freely … parties… You can go from one state to another state here without checkpoints and without carrying your ID. Since I came here I haven’t had to show any ID. In Hebron, I live next to a settlement, just ten meters from the fence, so I have to go through checkpoints even in my neighborhood.