Being a Fulbright scholar for four and a half months in Syracuse is an unforgettable experience that helped me change my perception of the world and return to my country with much more knowledge than I had anticipated and friends from around the world that made my life richer.
Even before we left our home countries, all the scholars were prepared in every aspect for staying in the US. Everything was so well organised that we knew what to expect and felt no worries at all. Our professors from Syracuse University welcomed us at the airport and became our family for the rest of the semester, making us feel at home and catering for all our needs. I feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to study at Syracuse University, where I audited two courses about international education and inclusive education but also attended a few technology workshops that provided us with the necessary tools for making our teaching more technologically advanced. Our experience at the university involved a lot of studying and working on assignments but I enjoyed every single day of work, as earning a large amount of new knowledge was absolutely satisfying. I was also given the opportunity to present the education system of my country to the students.
I worked on my inquiry project for the whole semester, which was about inclusive education through the use of Universal Design for Learning. I collaborated with one more scholar from the Philippines, since we both shared the same worries about the way special education is practised in our countries. Both in Greece and in the Philippines, there are special schools for students with disabilities, so these students are totally segregated from children of their age, or they attend regular classes with the rest of their peers, without always getting the necessary support as there are not enough special educators placed in general schools and the teachers of general education are often not trained in differentiated instruction. After observing the practices used in schools in the city and the suburbs of Syracuse and New York city and reviewing the relative literature, we prepared a five-hour long professional development workshop for teachers of primary and secondary education of our countries, introducing them to inclusive education, hoping our education system will eventually offer equal opportunities for all and guarantee success for all students.
Life in Syracuse was not all about work, though. An American friendship family was appointed to each one of us and they had to make sure we experience how Americans live their everyday life. Each one of us also had a peer mentor, another international student from the University, usually from a country close to ours, who had had the same experiences as we did when they first arrived in the U.S. and who could help us with any practical matter. Finally, we were placed at a school twice a week to observe good practices of American teachers, co-teach with them and also talk about our culture and education system with American students. A lot of cultural events were organised for us as a group, as well as a trip to New York city and to Niagara Falls and even volunteering at a Samaritan center. The University itself offered a big variety of cultural events like concerts, plays or dance performances and talks by distinguished speakers and we tried to attend as many as possible. We had limited free time, but many of us took the opportunity for a bit of personal travelling, which gave us an even better understanding of the country. Finally, one the greatest gains of my time as a Fulbright scholar was meeting amazing people from all over the world and getting to know about the culture, habits, religion and history of their countries. I did not only make new friends but I also became more tolerant and open minded, a feature that I wish to pass on to my students as well.
Overall, this has been one of the most unforgettable experiences I have ever had, one that I would absolutely recommend to any teacher who wants to become better as a teacher and as a person.