Students, I Am Not Crying Because of You

Disclaimer: this is a personal website. All views and information presented herein are my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.

April 16, 2014. I’m sitting, laptop open, listening to my freshmen students give historical and cultural presentations about Iran as pre-reading for the graphic novel Persepolis.

Because my cursive handwriting is far too enthusiastic — it often looks like an acrobat flipping through the air instead of A, B, Cs — I often reach for my computer to type my feedback to the students. And there I was, typing and listening to the social implications of the veil, when a new e-mail popped up on my screen: “Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program Selection Notification.”

My first sensation was that I was going to throw up. I glanced over at a student sitting near me, and he looked back at me with a quizzical look. Oh gosh, I even look like I’m going to throw up, I thought.

I then had the big decision: Should I open the e-mail, or should I wait until after the students danced out of the classroom?

When I first applied, I had been honest with all of my classes about the Fulbright and what getting it would mean to me. I didn’t know if I could handle reading the decision in front of them. If I didn’t get the award, I would certainly start openly crying; I wanted it so deeply. As I thought about the prospect of public humiliation with my pots-banging heart and finish-line breathing, I decided I should certainly wait until after the class was over.

But it was like my hands were possessed. I hit the “open” button before I could even register I had done so. And there was that first line, “On behalf of the U.S. Department of State, I would like to congratulate you on being selected…

What I didn’t anticipate before robot hands took over was that I would cry because I got the award. I decided to shoot my gaze at the ceiling, tilting my head back to encourage the tears to stay inside my eyeballs instead of skiing down the slopes of my cheeks.

I soon heard some awkward shuffling of desks and then noticed the three presenters were having a hard time with their Google slides. It dawned on me that stopping typing abruptly and then fixating on the ceiling was a bit unsettling to my freshies. In fact, they looked as if they thought I was upset about their presentation.

I put my hand up to my mouth in sheepish shame, and encouraged them to continue with a quick smile and a thumbs up.

Once they were done, and I had somehow focused long enough to type their notes, I shared the big news. The presenters looked relieved. The class broke out in enthusiastic applause.

For one of those weird, freeze-frame moments, I felt like I was in a movie — that scene where your mom starts crying next to you in the theater, and you make fun of her while you dab at your own wet eyes with the Kleenex you brought along because you knew you would cry in advance? Yeah, that scene. But it this one was real.

Jessica points to New Zealand

Here is where I’m going to be: Wellington, New Zealand!

So here I am, three and a half months after that fateful e-mail. I leave in days. And I’m so, incredibly grateful. (I’ll be even more grateful when I figure out how to pack my belongings into two little rectangles for four months.) I hope you’ll follow me on this journey that I have been anticipating for almost 10 months now.

So much has changed since I applied December 15, just moments before the application cut-off. Before then, I had spent seven difficult months on my master’s thesis at Northwestern. It was (finally) approved by my readers five days before the Fulbright deadline. I was going through some big personal changes, and the polar vortex was looming.

I had felt like spring, literally and figuratively, would never come. But it did. And here I am embarking on this amazing new adventure. What. A. Gift.

Jessica's Fortune

This was my fortune a few months before I got the Fulbright. I kept it in my pocket for good luck.

Thank you for embarking on this adventure with me.  I’ll be honest and open with you as I go.  I hope you enjoy these tales of hope, overcoming obstacles, and soul-squeezing moments.

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