Aya Chebbi is at Georgia Southern University as part of the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program. She’s been taking the opportunity to teach students and local groups about her country, Tunisia, her religion, Islam, and all about her heritage and culture. Recently she spoke with one group that had a particular impact on how she sees the U.S., and her hopes for her future. Here’s her story:
One of the main reasons I applied for the Fulbright Scholarship FLTA “Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program” was the chance to be an ambassador not only of my country but of my whole region. I hold the complex identity of being a Tunisian African Muslim Arab woman, and I wanted to use that to break a lot of stereotypes and represent Tunisia’s revolution, the African unity, the Arab culture and the true Islam.
I was hoping to be sent to one of my dream universities, Johns Hopkins or Georgetown University, because Washington D.C. is the state most alive with politics, but also full of false assumptions about the MENA region. When the program sent me instead to the very southern state of Georgia, and the very rural area of Statesboro, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to accomplish my mission with people whose accent, lifestyle and orientations I don’t fully understand.
Reading about American history, I expected the south to be very conservative and very Republican, and I doubted I would find opportunities to open constructive debates However, at Georgia Southern University, where I am teaching Arabic and taking some graduate courses (and which I now proudly call “my university”) I found the Global Ambassadors Program. Through that program I get to represent my country, region and culture by speaking to groups both on and off campus.
I have become very delighted whenever I get a speaking invitation, and last semester I got to speak in some of the Global Citizen classes on campus, as well as at high schools around Statesboro. This semester, the experience has already been even more intense and interesting.
Last week, I was invited to speak at the Statesboro First United Methodist Church. I was very surprised that a Muslim would be asked to speak in a church in a very conservative area like Statesboro. Though last year I spoke at the National Cathedral School when I visited the states for the first time as MENA Democracy fellow, that was on the grounds of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., where my expectations were more of an open community to other religions and cultures.