How should I describe my Fulbright experience?

Well… introductions first!

My name is José Pedro Faria and I am from Vizela, Portugal and I am currently a PhD student at the University of Minho, Braga, Portugal and at the Argonne National Laboratory, IL, USA under the scope of the MIT Portugal program. The reason I am currently at the Argonne National Laboratory (ANL, is because I had the chance to come to this amazing institution during my Fulbright, which laid the foundations for a collaboration that still lasts 2 years after my Fulbright Research Grant ended.

I spent an academic year (2009-2010) doing research for my MSc thesis at both the ANL and at the University of Chicago. It was the first time I set foot on USA soil and from the moment I left the airport heading towards the city I noticed I was in a different world, seeing the Chicago skyline. The second big difference was the University of Chicago campus and how different it was from the University of Minho campus I was used to. Everything looked great in the first day till I discovered my schedule, waking up at 6:30 to be in the lab at 8:00 and back home by 18:30, definitely not the working day I was used to.

I lived at the University International House, which gave me the chance to make friends from over 20 different nationalities. At the lab I was presented with the same scenario. The research experience was very intense and I confess I thought I would not be able to make it trough the first couple of weeks.

On campus I started to discover the American culture. The culture differences are enormous and I believe that difference was what made me start enjoying American culture more and more with time. At the International House I met people with one a common interest, travelling. Every chance I had, long weekends, holydays and school breaks I tried to travel. I had the chance to visit most of the USA major cities like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami and Washington DC. But I also got the chance to explore rural areas in the state of Illinois, small skiing towns in Wisconsin and small coast cities in the coast of California. I will never forget driving up the California coast on the Road 1, with the Pacific Ocean always at my side.

One of the most rewarding trips, was definitely my trip to Washington DC to attend the Fulbright Enrichment seminar. Fulbright brought together 60 students representing 46 different nationalities from universities all over the US, for 4 incredible days. During this event I had the chance to interact with a lot of Fulbright Alumni living on the DC area. They told how Fulbright should be more then an opportunity to gain knowledge from great American institutions, but also about immersing in the American culture. After this event and back in Chicago I left the “comfort” of the international students circle and started to get more close to my American friends. During that time I learned so much more about American culture.

At the lab the research was also going really well, and with only 6 months of research I was already submitting my first research paper to be published and I was already accepted to give a talk in an international conference. At the end of my program I was sad I had to leave, but I made a promise to return. The good working relationships I made during this period allowed that to happen this September and I got the chance to finally see my American friends again. The research conducted at ANL allowed me to conclude my MSc thesis with honors, while having the best social and traveling experience of my life.

I can definitely say that my Fulbright experience changed my life and marked my future plans at least for the next 4 years. I highly recommend everyone to apply and I can only hope everyone to have as good an experience as I had.

José Pedro Faria, Fulbright Research Student of Biology at the Argonne National Laboratory, IL, USA , AY 2009/2010