Being the good old procrastinating developer who has 10 million ideas none of which is finished and most of which are not even started, I’ve been trying to write an article about the Fulbright program, my experience as a Fulbright scholar so far and some thoughts about its value. But a chance never came: I was busy fighting code bugs with a laser saber it was simply a headache to try to summarize such an intense experience in one article without making it a long boring “yet another PR piece”.

Recently however, news came that the Trump administration is planning a huge budget cut to the Fulbright program. This made the idea for this article resurface in my mind and start to take shape.

As I’m writing this, I’m sitting on a bench in Central Park in NYC. A big deal for a Pittsburgh resident, right? The contrast between the old-looking trees, wild rocky shady green surfaces and the skyscrapers in the background is haunting.

To be honest, I don’t have a particular affection for big cities. New York is different, in a way that still puzzles me. I mean this is still the same place where Leonardo Di Caprio lead a ferocious knives-and-teeth battle and murdered the psychopath butcher and his lackeys! This is also where theater, late shows and musicals blossom! And yet it’s also the home of the monstrous Wall Street and its Charging Bull, with people lining up to touch its scrotum and wish for money. New York City is weird. Delicious Pizza and ground smoke. NYC public library, the very edge of sophistication, and huge advertising screens and billboards. It’s unclassifiable, a big mass of everything American and non-American. A shake of protein and carbs with a touch of animal lard, something awe-inspiring yet aggressively bold for the sensitivities of a quiet-loving OCD-stricken guy like me.

I used to roll my eyes whenever that moment comes in a Hollywood movie where someone says “The U-S of A, greatest country in the world”. Other than the fact that Tunisia is that for me, and that I associate chauvinism with other -isms that aren’t that nice, I used to think from the outside looking in: what’s the big deal? Okay so the US is living its historical prime, but so did many empires that eventually declined, and people should be aware of that cycle and should therefore stay humble and skeptical about such statements.

9 months in, I started to see why people say that and feel that way. I mean yeah, we could drown into the liberal discussion of “they don’t know anything else, they haven’t seen the world, so it’s an illusion”, etc. but I still realize why someone would say that more than I did in the past. It’s not about the numbers, nor is it about the good life (well, that depends actually, like CMU software engineers like to assert all the time about everything). Some kind of magic is in the work, to make this place the Eldorado of the world. Obviously, I’m not speaking out of some knowledge in sociology or any other -ology, really. It’s personal experience, from a guy who lived in different countries, so take it as you will: but it is nothing more than my personal sincere experience, if that has any value.

I personally believe it’s about people, what their interactions are creating and the general proliferation of passion in the nature of people here. For a 200-some-year-old country, the US has way more history and stories than that number indicates. It hosts a uniquely amazing mix of cultures and ways of life. And as much as that sounds cliché, I have experienced it first hand and can assert it now with more certainty than ever. Diversity in people, cultures and origins makes this place the miniature world it is. The best - and worst - of everywhere in the world is represented here, and is constantly brewing and boiling, accelerating processes that evolve slower in isolated cultural and social sandboxes in the rest of the world. The greatest country in the world is actually the focal point of summation of humanity’s experiences and drive to produce the new, the unpredictable and the awe-inspiring.


What’s the Fulbright program? To spare you the Wikipedia search, it is a program financed by the US Department of State and other organizations to sponsor academic exchange from and to the US. I, personally, am a grantee of the Foreign Fulbright program, which sponsors international students like myself to come to the US and pursue Master and PhD degrees in domains across the spectrum, and sponsors US students to do an academic exchange abroad with the same rationale of learning about the other, and bringing back new ties and knowledge to one’s society. Why does it matter? Why is it important to keep financing it and supporting its long-established legacy? Well, I offer two reasons.


The first reason is extremely subjective in that it stems from my own personal experience, and only from that. The Fulbright program saw something in me, and offered me, a 27-year-old software developer with international experience and big dreams, the opportunity to come to the US seeking knowledge from Carnegie Mellon University (my literal reply to the grant offer email from Amideast’s Matthew was: “Thank you for what is the most awesome news I received in my life!”, and I’m married, ladies and gentlemen, so I’m probably going to get questioned about that after this article goes public, so wish me inspiration for evasive answers), as well as the opportunity to come get a taste of that constant summation of the human experience fueled by passion for the better, in a big boiling magic potion that makes this country “the greatest country in the world”. I mean sure, it’s phrased in more sensible terms on the Fulbright website, but that’s my own version of it. I wanted to know what makes US universities the best in the world? What makes the US the birthplace of most of what matters in software engineering and technology in general? Why do people succeed here when they can’t do it elsewhere? What does the US provide that the rest of the world does not?

Being given that opportunity, and seeing its initially reputation-backed importance become more and more clear in practical personal experiences as days go by makes me reflect that I owe this country a big debt for irreversibly transforming my views on how humanity works and evolves. I know more now. I learned, I worked, I interacted, I befriended, I went around, I observed people, organizations and systems, I unconsciously internalized social and economic mechanisms and I answered most of the questions I came with to this country.

And for that, I owe the Fulbright program and the United States a big debt that transformed me to a friend and an ally of the people that made this happen: the Fulbright program, Amideast, Carnegie Mellon University (more specifically my beloved Institute of Software Research faculty, staff and friends) and more broadly the American people who supported the Fulbright Program and made it all possible for me and for thousands of people like me. I also assume I’m not a unique case when it comes to this feeling. In a Fulbright graduate, a small community in the US, as well as the country itself have a new ally and friend.


The second reason comes to answer the question of: “So what? New friends and allies, big deal! That’s a lot of money to make new friends! Why are we paying for this?”. As you can see I’m not a fan of sugar-coating, and I would legitimately ask myself the same question if my country, Tunisia, was spending on a program like the Fulbright Program.

I will make this more fun: I actually got to know new amazing fellow bright fools (Fulbright, get it?), and I think that in their stories, comes the answer to that question, because not only are they now friends and allies, but I firmly believe that they are the kind of friends and allies any country would love to have.

Let me start with the Pittsburghers!

Cecilia, Jebrane and I first met at the Fulbright Gateway event in Boston (Suffolk University, August 1stto August 5th 2016). We were the three Pittsburghers of the group, and as soon as we settled in Pittsburgh, we kept in touch.

Jebrane is a Moroccan national, “maghriiiibi” (obvious emphasis on the series of “i”s, that’s how Moroccans say they’re Moroccan) who was sponsored by the Foreign Fulbright Program to pursue a Master in International Political Economy at the University of Pittsburgh. For a boy of his age (I’m 28 and he’s 24, so I get to call him a boy to compensate for his overwhelming knowledge whenever we start a political/economic discussion), he is exceptionally well-read and composed when analyzing economic, political and social phenomena. I enjoyed meeting him on a weekly basis to hang out and discuss big ideas, and was always fascinated by his culture and intelligence. His personal history is full of initiatives where he put his strong character and exceptional wits to work in order to establish partnerships across the Mediterranean, managing events, contributing to academic seminars as an undergrad, etc.

Cecilia (pronounce “tchetchiiilia”, but not like Super Mario’s voice, NO) is from Italy (hence the Super Mario voice reflex I suspect). She is a smart young lady, passionate about architecture and design, and is completing her Architect knowledge with a Computational Design Master degree at CMU. Her team recently won the first prize of the HP-Intel NASA Design Challenge “Life in Space” “for creating a wearable exercise system for astronauts that relieves muscle atrophy in microgravity”. Big brainy stuff, but more than anything: an ingenious eye for opportunity, a realistic and elegant solution with high impact. If you look at her Linkedin profile, you quickly realize this distinction is not actually an exception: she has an impressive track record of winning and excelling.

Now for the Tunisians!

Seif is my long time friend since my undergrad days in ENSIT, University of Tunis. Seif is a fun person, very smart and talented in entrepreneurship and management. I worked with Seif in different student activities during undergrad, where he and I as well as our legendary gang did so much volunteer work and achieved so much together. Seif is now sponsored by the Foreign Fulbright Program to pursue a Master in Technology Management at the University of Bridgeport. He won “the coveted Best Venture Enterprise Award at the 20th fall Connecticut Business Plan Competition for scholar-entrepreneurs” (, rewarding the great potential that I have always seen in him.

Narimane , or Nari like Americans like to call her, is one of those people about whom you discover amazing things little by little. Today we actually met during her lunch break and took the above selfie, and I learned that she grew up in Saudi Arabia, surrounded by Egyptian and Lebanese nationals, studying in a French school, returning to Tunisia at age 14 to integrate into her home country for the first time and to join its educational system, which is a tremendous challenge she successfully completed. She later joined INSAT (one of Tunisia’s best engineering schools) to graduate as a biology engineer, then working in healthcare management, now pursuing an MBA at William and Mary, and interning this summer at CBRE (leader in real estate) in New York City doing real work instead of dummy intern tasks. And there’s a reason for that, she knows her stuff. Changing specialties or rather application domains never stopped her from adapting quickly, learning and making impressive progress each time. It shows on her CV, it shows when you talk to her, in her people skills and in her exceptional intelligence.

I also met amazing US Fulbright grantees in San Francisco, who did an academic exchange outside the US. Stories such as the observation of difficulties in teaching medicine in third world countries and deciding to launch a startup to create the largest library of annotated medical imagery in the world, or being inspired by Tunisian traditional craft of “fouta” to create a startup which shares the charm of those products in the US are what happens when US nationals are sponsored to go on an academic exchange elsewhere an bring back new ideas and inspiration to add to the United State’s magic potion of diversity.

There’s a pattern here , recognized around the world beyond my personal experience: Fulbright grantees are exceptional people with amazing potential, tremendous ambition, and unique talents.

I could really go on, but the article is already too long. The gist of it is this: the Fulbright program benefits the US by supporting people like Jebrane, Cecilia, Seif and Narimane, people who will someday achieve great things. Fulbright grantees are selected among thousands and thousands of candi

The Fulbright Program is the ingenious product of that unique US magic potion: senator J. William Fulbright got the idea, fought for it, successfully implemented it, and since then, the US gained an incomparable edge in terms of international networking thanks to the dynamic of partnership and mutual understanding this program created.

That is why the Fulbright Program is worth it. That is why I hope the US keeps funding it even if I’m finishing my program this August: it is one of those rare experiences working towards improving the United States’ and the world’s condition, and I deeply hope it does not get killed by a temporary self-isolating political impulse.


The Fulbright program is now threatened by a budget cut that would incapacitate it and gradually destroy it if budget cuts like the one suggested become a habit.

So to you American reader, and to you international reader: save Fulbright.