Fulbright Scholar Achieve Dream Of Studying in the U.S.
After a year and a half of working on an application, participating in interviews and taking exams, Arwa Aljawadi was finally able to achieve her dream of studying in the United States, something she had been dreaming about since she was 15 years old.
That was several years ago.
"Fulbright is the most prestigious scholarship you can get and an honor that stays with you forever," she said. "Once a Fulbright, always a Fulbright. Besides the great educational opportunity I was awarded, it was an amazing way to develop and focus on mutual understandings between the U.S. and the Middle East, and it's a great cultural experience."
Aljawadi said the moment she found out the Fulbright program had been reopened in Iraq, she immediately applied.
She earned her master's degree in nutritional sciences at Texas Tech University as a Fulbright scholar, then went on to pursue a doctoral degree in the same department. When she set out to become a Fulbright scholar, Aljawadi said the goal was to earn a master's degree in interdisciplinary studies in biotechnology, but she realized she wanted to study cancer, so she chose nutritional biochemistry. Her current doctoral research involves studying breast cancer in post-menopausal women who also suffer from obesity.
"I found it really interesting that obesity is a complex disease and not only a lifestyle problem, and that it plays a significant role in the development of many diseases including cancer," she said. "It was a hard transition between majors, I was an engineering student in Iraq, but I'm happy I did it."
Aljawadi said her trip to the United States was the first time she had ever traveled outside Iraq, and she did it alone – without her family, who was supportive of her Fulbright journey. The process taught Aljawadi many things: it resulted in her becoming more self-dependent and self-confident and helped her figure out how to push herself beyond her limits, but the thing she misses most is her family.
"Unfortunately, now Iraq is going through a tough war with terrorism," she said. "Thousands of people have lost loved ones, homes and the simple life they used to have, including my family. It's heartbreaking, so I'm really hoping this war with terrorism will come to an end and people will have their normal lives back and live in peace."
Aljawadi had never heard of Texas Tech before the Fulbright team had let her know that's where she would attend, but she said she was really excited after she received the admission and looked up the university.
"Many individuals made my transition to Texas Tech easy and welcoming," Aljawadi said. "Stephanie Cloninger and Alexa Smith (Office of International Affairs) both helped me from the moment I arrived, as did Naima Moustaid-Moussa and Debra Reed in nutritional sciences. Joseph Pearce and Ayad Zein from the Department of State were like a family to me and helped me from the moment I arrived."
During her time as a scholar, Aljawadi has met many people, including Christopher Hill, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, whom she met in 2009 at the Fulbright award reception at the U.S. embassy in Bagdad.
Naima Moustaid-Moussa, a professor in the College of Human Sciences, director of the Obesity Research Cluster and Aljawadi's adviser, also was a Fulbright scholar, but she was a faculty member when she participated. She said in the time Aljawadi has been at Texas Tech, she has immersed herself in the American and West Texas culture along with her graduate studies.
"What is common about the Fulbright experience is that it's primarily designed to enhance the cultural understanding along with academic learning," Moustaid-Moussa said. "Over the past three years I worked with Arwa, she has made outstanding progress in her research and has embraced the new environment and transitioned very well into Texas Tech and our program. She has already completed her master's degree and is now a doctoral candidate working on her dissertation research."
Moustaid-Moussa said without the Fulbright scholarship, Aljawadi probably would not be pursuing the work she is doing now and wouldn't have been able to experience American life and culture firsthand. The scholarship and coming to the U.S. has opened the door for additional career and life options, both in academia and industry.
"Fulbright is a life-changing experience," Aljawadi said. "It's a very competitive scholarship, but it offers a great educational opportunity where everything is covered by the Department of State. I have met amazing people and fellow Fulbright scholars from across the world and made new friendships. I also attended enriching seminars organized by the Fulbright alumni and traveled and visited places I've always dreamed about."