ESU’s First Fulbright Scholar Learns and Teaches
Last spring, when the United States was preparing to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, East Stroudsburg University Dr. Sam Quainoo’s public policy and administration class had a spirited discussion about the pros and cons of that controversial move.
At the center of that debate was Ghadir Aburokba, a Palestinian from Gaza, who is the first Fulbright scholar to come to East Stroudsburg University. Aburokba has been studying for her master’s degree in political science since arriving at ESU in August 2017. She graduates Saturday.
In that class, Aburokba was able to bring real-world experience and understanding of the troubles in the Middle East to her classmates in an engaging and productive way.
“It was a very heated debate,” recalls Quainoo. “She gave both sides of the argument in a very knowledgeable way. She brought a kind of understanding that only somebody who has lived this experience can actually share. We all left the class better off because of her contributions.”
Most likely, that is exactly what the late U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright had in mind when in 1946 he shepherded through Congress the legislation that created the Fulbright program to sponsor international educational exchanges. Fulbright, of Arkansas, had studied at Oxford University in England in the 1920s and traveled extensively in Europe, learning firsthand what a transformative experience it could be.
Fulbright scholarships are extremely prestigious. The U.S. State Department sponsors the Fulbright program with more than 155 countries, enabling students from abroad to study in the United States and American students to learn at universities around the world. Fulbright scholars have gone on to become Nobel Prize winners, heads of state, ambassadors and leading scientists, innovators, educators and artists.
Aburokba went through an extensive application and interview process for the Fulbright. Once she found out she was selected, she chose ESU as one of four universities she would like to attend. The Fulbright program then selected ESU for her and she arrived on campus in August 2017.
Aburokba said she’s had a great experience here and found the campus community to be welcoming and eager to learn about her life in a refugee camp in Gaza, where her parents and most of her four sisters and two brothers still live.
Though she had spent her junior year in high school as an exchange student in Minnesota, Aburokba wasn’t sure what to expect from ESU students.
“They were all really nice,” she said. “I made a lot of friends. I was really happy to find that some Americans are really interested to know about my country. They would sit with me at lunch and ask me so many questions about my country.”
She also found mentors in the faculty, with whom she hopes to keep in touch.
L. Johan Eliasson, Ph.D., professor of political science, was her faculty advisor for her master’s thesis, while Sam Quainoo, Ph.D. professor of political science and chair of the department and Ko Mishima, Ph.D., associate professor of political science, served on the committee that heard her thesis defense.
Aburokba said from Dr. Eliasson, she learned a lot about how to research subjects in international relations, something she had done little of during her undergraduate studies in English language and English literature at Alaqsa University in Gaza.
“I love his classes because they’re international relations and I benefitted a lot from these classes,” she said. “He has great research experience and knowledge, and he guided me through the entire research process.
“He was very patient with me and even though he had a lot of work with his classes, he managed to read my chapters right away and give me feedback.”
Aburokba wrote her master’s thesis on how the personalities of five Egyptian presidents affected their decisions regarding conflicts in the Middle East and impressed Eliasson with her work ethic, attention to detail and writing ability.
“I have great admiration for her work,” Eliasson said. “I have no doubt she has the talent and skills to go on to get her Ph.D.”
Aburokba loved ESU’s proximity to New York City and was especially impressed with such destinations as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art.
“We don’t really have museums in my city so it was quite the experience,” she said.
After graduation, Aburokba plans to go to Ottawa, Canada and work for a few months, perhaps heeding advice from ESU professors that she use her skill in speaking Arabic and English working in the translation field.
She is considering pursuing her doctorate after gaining some practical experience and said she would love to work in diplomacy at the United Nations in New York City.
Quainoo and Eliasson said having Aburokba on campus was a valuable learning experience for everyone.
“Having someone who has lived in the midst of a conflict zone for the vast majority of her life – hearing her prospective was very insightful to the students,” Eliasson said.
“The world has become a global village so it’s really important that our students understand and experience what is outside our national borders,” he said.