My experience as Bush Fellow was transformative. As soon as the fellowship had been published I received contacts from different people congratulating me on the opportunity. Many of them offered me help in my project. The offer of support gave me a sense of confidence and hopefulness, especially since I felt that was taking a risk in my project, which is exploring indigenous oral traditional knowledge. I sometimes questioned the viability of my project and felt that I was walking a fine line between feeling excited about its potential and not sure if I was being realistic about its potential for success. The fellowship gave me the boost I needed to pursue my project and develop my leadership ambitions. During my fellowship I have learned that as leader one has to take a risk into uncharted territories, but at the same time one should assess and evaluate to make the necessary adjustments.
From the start, the Fellowship challenged me to clarify both my objectives and my leadership skills that I need to develop. During that past few months, I have to analyze both my skills and my goals on a constant basis to make sure I have defined them well. Over all, the process was helpful: I am learning more about myself, my leadership skills, and the project I am working on.
One of the highlights of the past six months of my Bush Fellowship include attending the retreat with other Bush Fellows and staff. The retreat helped me connect with other Fellows and staff at personal level. It also helped me learn more about the importance of self-care. Different speakers talked about self-care and its importance for achieving goals and becoming a more effective leader. The exercises we did during the retreat brought to life some of the ideas shared in the retreat and made them more fun.
Since the Fellowship, I have applied to a doctoral program to pursue my goal of learning research techniques, improving my communication skills, and developing a deeper understanding of psychology and counseling. I am looking forward to starting classes next fall. In the meantime, I have been working on my project of gathering indigenous proverbs that communicate psychological concepts for use in my research. I have been talking to elders to gather their insights about oral culture and psychological concepts communicated in proverbs. I have also reviewed books written about the subject.
I was invited to present on refugee mental health at Minnesota ELL teacher’s conference in Northfield, Minnesota. It was a good experience; I received a positive feedback from the audience about the presentation. It gave me the opportunity to share my experience and my project with others. I also attended the rest of the conference and learned more from other presenters who shared insightful information.
Another highlight of the past six months was attending a gathering between Somali community leaders and leaders from Iron Range town of Tower, MN. Reps. Rob Ecklund and ilhan Omar were present at the meeting. During the meeting we listened to leaders from the Iron Range talk about their economic situation after the loss of mining jobs. They shared with us how their life was prior to the closure of the mines. They also shared the emotional reactions of the community members who lost their source of income and how it devastated the community. After they finished, we described the refugee experience in Minnesota and some of the challenges refugees face in the current political climate. We also shared some of the struggles refugee went through prior to their arrival to the United States. At the end of the conversation both groups—longtime citizens and newly arrived refugees--were more sympathetic to each other’s challenges and showed empathy toward each other’s feelings. It was a very good experience for all of us. It helped us develop deeper understanding towards each other.
The Iron Range experience helped me develop an insight about the importance of dialogue and communication among different groups to foster deeper understanding. I learned that as leader one has develop the skill of facilitating and promoting dialogue among different groups. This experiential process promoted the idea of bringing together two different groups who have little or no knowledge about each other’s experience. I learned from the process the importance of skills such as empathic listening to others even if you have a different view about issues. I learned the importance of building rapport with others; in this case we shared some of our traditional food and clothes with our host. We had an opportunity to socialize before the discussion. It seemed that each group felt that they were heard by the other group and felt comfortable with each other.
Another highlight of the Fellowship was the opportunity to travel to Africa and learn more about traditional African culture. I had the opportunity to talk to the local leaders about their culture and gather information from them. It was humbling experience, which gave me both an insight and a deeper appreciation of cultural difference and similarities.
I continue to participate in events and lead discussions that promote the mental wellbeing of refugees and immigrants. I also participate in events that promote deeper understanding between new Americans and the mainstream community. I am planning to attend more events and trainings that will help me learn more about both cultures to develop a deeper understanding. I feel the need to participate in events that will give me the opportunity to practice leadership skills to become an effective leader. I have learned the importance of continuing education about different issues and getting engaged and exposing myself to different events. The training I have attended opened my eyes to new possibilities.
Over all, it has been a very exciting experience; I hope the new skills and knowledge I develop during my Fellowship will enable me to contribute to my community and to the society in general. I am grateful for the opportunity given by the Fellowship.