From Lebanon to the US: How the Fulbright Program Changed My Life


HOUSTON — As a Lebanese citizen and an aspiring student, I always had a dream to continue my graduate studies in a foreign nation with the goal of acquiring new skills needed to initiate the development process in my country. Luckily, the U.S Department of State, in collaboration with the Embassy of the United States of America and AMIDEAST, designed the Fulbright Student Scholarship Program.

The Fulbright Program grants students who are citizens of countries within the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region a prestigious scholarship covering a maximum of two academic years of study at a renowned university in the United States. AMIDEAST, the America and Mideast Educational and Training Services, administers the program and receives the needed funding from the U.S. Congress.

An Overview of the Fulbright Program

In 1945, the Fulbright Scholarship Program was created following a bill proposed by Senator J. William Fulbright, after he succeeded in convincing his fellow Congressmen about the importance of hosting international students in American institutions in order to foster a culture of exchange and to spread peace across the world. The aim of the bill was to invest surplus war property into funding goodwill at a global level through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture and science.

On August 1, 1946, the bill was passed by President Harry S. Truman and became law, which in turn enabled Congress to create the Fulbright Scholarship, an international educational exchange program funded by the U.S government. Bilateral relationships were created between the U.S. and other developed and developing countries to set up a collaborative framework for the program to benefit both of the involved parties. Despite the numerous conflicts taking place all over the world, the Fulbright mission of international partnership persists in the face of numerous challenges.

A 12-member board, entitled the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, was created by Congress and appointed by the President of the United States to monitor the progress of the Fulbright Program. The board sets the necessary administrative policies, has final authority for selection of all scholarship grantees and conducts ongoing surveillance for the program both in the United States and abroad.

How Does a Fulbright Grantee Benefit?

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is considered to be one of the largest American exchange programs providing international students and aspiring young professionals with the opportunity to earn a graduate degree and take part in advanced research, university teaching and primary and secondary school teaching on different continents. Each year, more than 8,000 grants are awarded to students residing in more than 160 countries worldwide in order to receive a higher education degree in many different fields of study. Fulbright alumni have gone on to successful careers as ambassadors, members of Congress, judges, artists, professors and teachers.

Personal Experience as a Lebanese Fulbright Scholar

If I were asked to name my most life-changing experience, it would definitely be the Fulbright Scholarship. In August 2017, I traveled from Beirut, Lebanon to become a full-time graduate student at the University of Texas Health Science Center Houston. I was granted the opportunity to complete a dual master’s degree in public health, focusing on global health as well as health promotion and behavioral sciences, with the goal of acquiring new skills and strategies and learning the latest health innovations in preventive care. After resuming my studies, I am expected to return to my country and invest all the knowledge gained in the development and enrichment process of my own nation.

My favorite aspect of Houston is the diversity of its residents and the continuous cultural exchange process happening between children, teenagers and adults. I was able to share my background with my colleagues from 25 different countries across the globe. I also had the chance to integrate myself into the American community through volunteering, research opportunities and most importantly, being an intern with The Borgen Project. The Fulbright Program has paved the way for future successes in my field that will certainly help me in my upcoming career in Lebanon.

Proposed Budget Cuts to the Fulbright Program

Earlier this year, the President of the United States proposed a 47 percent budget cut in funding allocated to the Fulbright Program. This led all 8,000 international Fulbrighters to join together to save this one of a kind program by signing a petition that will be discussed in Congress.

The Fulbright Program not only gives hope to students like me residing in developing countries to initiate a change within their society, but also fosters greater economic, social and cultural exchanges across countries worldwide. By investing in the educational sector of third world countries, poverty rates can be significantly reduced as members of the underprivileged communities themselves design and implement programs seeking sustainability and development.

– Lea Sacca

Photo: Flickr


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