A Bond beyond the Boundaries
There are some bonds that neither possible to explain though words nor with metaphors and similes, but it creates a concealed expectations and left a long lasting impressions in life. Such a bond like that I made through the SUSI for Students Leaders program with 26 amazing friends from USA, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, India within five weeks in USA. When I flash back to those 35 special days which offered me many different new things to learn, I can see how every single magical moment helps me grown up as a leader and widened the horizon of my knowledge.
The Study of the United States Institutes (SUSI) for Student Leaders program is four to six- weeks long intensive academic residency and an integrated educational tour. With the purpose of fostering mutual understanding between the people of United States and the people of other countries of the world from diverse background, this program has opened an extensive learning opportunity for undergraduate students from all over the world. As this program is facilitated by the U.S. Department of State and academic institutions across the United States, this year, the program was funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, hosted by The University of Oklahoma, and administrated by Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. Besides as a memorable experience, the whole program was an inimitable and compressive insight into the U.S. culture and the massive usages of new media in journalism and mass communication in relevance to the rest of the globe under the theme of “New Media and Journalism”.
This year, five finalists from Bangladesh were,Shehreen Ataur Khan (Dhaka University), Nur-E- Makbul Fortune (Dhaka University), Imran Hasnat Palash (Jahangirnagar University), Md. Yazdani Ul Islam (Islamic University of Techonology) and I, representing Asian University for Women . To participate in the SUSI program students have to pass through rigorous applications leading to vigilant selection process. Universities from all over Bangladesh recommend students from their own university for the program and the selection process of SUSI begins with students who properly filled up forms, write essays and finally are interviewed.
Our 5 weeks long journey to the media- propel “Wonderland” or “The most powerful nation in the world” began with experience sharing with past alumnae and pre-departure prepping form the American Center, Dhaka. On May 15, 2011 we five depart from Dhaka airport on the way to our first journey to USA with the amalgamation of emotions. On the evening of May 21st we arrived in Norman, Oklahoma and cordially welcomed by John Hockett, the Assistant Dean for student affairs and administration at the University of Oklahoma's Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication and Kathy Adams, the Assistant to the dean at the University of Oklahoma's Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.
Days in “Sooner State” :
We were taken from the airport to the Traditions Square student apartment, where all the twenty enliven youth from four different countries meet with each other and created a mélange of cultures, to give enough rooms to settle in our new “home”.
Norman, which is a quaint, traditional, calm and picturesque city in the state of Oklahoma, where we passed almost our first four weeks, including three days short trip to Dallas, Taxes. After the arrival, the next couple of days were hectic with juggling between calling home, overcoming with jetlags, meeting with the friends and family, filling out pre-program surveys and trying to make new friends; we were taking in as much of Norman as possible.
Almost immediately we jumped into lectures, so at 7 o'clock each morning, phones would start ringing with banging on doors and beckoning of their new found friend(s) to wake up as the easiest way to reach the Gaylord Hall from the Traditions Square was CART (Cleveland Area Rapid Transit), which is a free bus ride for subtends and comes in front of Traditions at 8:00 am sharp.
These weeks includes Skills Laboratory on Multimedia distribution where revision of skills related to broadcast, mobile, online, social media, news editing, citizen journalism, website development and most importantly throughout this program we got chance to use Appel’s latest technology iPad-2 with which we were taught to do video shooting, recording, photography and video editing intensively. Besides regular classes with an amazing teacher like Chris Krug who is a journalism instructor, and lab classes with some wonderful and peppy graduate students, we had variety of lectures from many amazing professors of the University of Oklahoma. Moreover, we had some remarkable guest speakers and some of them gave their lectures and have discussion with us via Skype which shows not only the powerful uses of new media tools but also its influential implications and demonstrations. Therefore we got opportunities to meet with some of the remarkable guest speakers like Victor Hernandez from CNN, the Mayor of Norman Cindy Rosenthal, Omar Galaga from Austin American- Statesman and blogger for NPR, Houda Elayazgi from Saxum Communication, Venu Rao from Apple, Inc. and panel discussion on ethnic media with Jeff Harjo who is the executive director for the Native American Journalists, Carlos Toledo who is news director for Telemundo Oklahoma and Kevin Perry from Perry Media Oklahoma City. Along with the learning from this amazing personalities we got chance to visit some renowned newspaper offices, advertising agencies, and television channels to have a glimpse of their work process and work environment. In addition, lessons went beyond the borders of four walls, and took us to Oklahoma State Capitol Building, Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, Sulfur, the Chickasaw Nation Cultural Center, Paseo Arts Festival, Horseback riding at Thunderbird Riding Stables, Norman City Council meeting, Fred Jones Jr. Museum Art, Sam Noble Museum, Oklahoma History Center, 3D movie at Warren Theater, Concert of John Conlee at Riverwind Casino, Sooner Mall, farmers market, and dinner with Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan families. However, Best Buy and Wal-Mart were the places where we visited more than once as these were the most popular place among all the participants for shopping.
Besides lectures on leadership and leadership training of Ropes Course with executive training team quest challenge, another salient feature of this program was to involve us in some community services to have a real world experience. We took part in three totally different but equally interesting and motivating community services like Habitat for Humanity where we helped at a home construction site, J. D. McCarty Center where we spent time with some children suffering from Cerebral Palsy and at Full Circle Adult Day Care Center where we spent spending time with senior citizens.
In addition, the thrilling experiences of tornado, exploring food at different restaurants, an amazing evening enjoying the baseball match between Oklahoma City RedHawks VS. Albuquerue Isotope, where we cheer for the OKC RedHawks team and sang songs with the audience and all this experience made us feel like an Oklahoman. With all this things our friendships grew deeper and it went beyond the group of twenty and spread among the people surrounded us. We became more accustomed to dinner parties in different friends places with different South Asian cuisines and the post midnight walks. Moreover, home stay weekend with an American family gave us great opportunity to see American life style and culture closely. Thus, when the time comes to say goodbye to Oklahoma with the closing ceremony of academic sessions, it was the most heartbreaking event for all of us. However, we had to leave as the program was scheduled with the visits in Dallas, Chicago, and Washington. DC.
In the mean time of our stays in Oklahoma, we had 3 days long trip to Dallas, Taxes. There we stayed at Hyatt Summerfield Suit. It was the very first trip to explore US out of Oklahoma. During crossing the border of Oklahoma and stepped into Taxes, Kathy make us to sing the song in chorus “Boomer Sooner, Boomer Sooner, Boomer Sooner, Boomer Sooner, I'm Sooner born, I'm Sooner bred, and when I die I'm Sooner dead, Rah Oklahoma, Rah Oklahoma, Rah Oklahomaaaaaaa, ...” and we came to know that Texas is rival of Oklahoma and we had to hear some funny comments and wired gestures due to our T-shirts and bags written Oklahoma. As soon as we reached Dallas everybody cheer with joy to see the eye-catching skyscrapers with a great relief that their imagination of “US and skyscrapers” did not go to vain. Besides the unique beauty and traditions of Dallas, Taxes, visits at TM Advertising Agency to talk about their client American Airlines, The Sixth Floor Museum, West End Historic District, Fort Worth Stockyards to see the Cattle drive where we got chance to meet with real Cowboys and watch live dramas of Cowboys, yummy foods at Hard Rock restaurant, House of Blues to see the Ultimate Tribute Concert of the Fab Four, and the Amusement Park Six Flag Over Texas made this trip the memorable one.
Besides the troublesome starting of the journey at Chicago, Illinois and a distinctive experience of travelling a bumpy domestic flight, the time in Chicago was one of the best parts of the trip. There we stayed at hotel Chicago Hilton. The awesomeness of Chicago city mostly amazed us with its night view which made us to walk uptown to downtown till late midnight. Moreover, the visits at Chicago Tribune, The Field Museum, Sightseeing Tours, Millennium Park, and The Signature Room at the ninety- fifth floor and the Skydeck made us stunned. The awesomeness of the Chicago city not only fascinated us from the skyscrapers, but also the boat cruise on the lake of Chicago and Navypier Dock Street amazed us. The spell bounding firework on the lake of Chicago and the crazy dance floor gave a new flavor to this journey.
Last leg of the Journey: Washington DC:
At the last but not least, we reached the capital of USA, Washington DC with the love stuck memories of Chicago. However, the red, blue, orange, green, yellow lines of metro made us busy to keep counting the stops and looking to the system maps over and over again. Although the busy platforms of metro and the sightseeing tour to Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Iwo Jima, Jefferson Memorial, U.S Capitol and Congress, and White House, made us bogged down with exhaustion, the rickshaws between limos and street performers never failed to surprise us! Moreover, the visit at Smithsonian, Us capitol, Newsuam, and national archives were memorable. By the time McDonald and Starbucks became our favorite option to have dinners and lunches. The program officially ended with the certificate giving ceremony of the State Department. Our last dinner took place in a Mexican restaurant where we had spent a long time reminiscing our moments together and talking a lot about our friends in Norman, Oklahoma. It seemed that the time was running so fast and our stories were never ended, as each day had a story to tell. Then the last morning at USA came, everyone came to the lobby to say buy to their friends, a moment that tricked a tear down our cheeks. None from the group of 20 will ever forget those memories of joy, love, pain, trust, and unity as this life changing experience were something that is not easy to erase.
Three months later when I look back to each of those moments, the realm of memory full of love and loathe take me to that places as it is something that is not easy to rub out and to forget in whole life. The invisible bond that we made by overcoming the hackneyed prejudices, not only in context of different countries in the East, but also East vs. West. Truly, the SUSI for Student Leaders program is a something that brings positive changes in your life to see the world with deeper understanding through the eyes of a leader inside you.
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