Time has flown since the Legislative Fellows Program-North Africa delegates left the United States in November. Since their return to Libya, Tunisia and Egypt, they have had a chance to reflect on their experience in the US, the value of their fellowships, and the lessons they will be taking home with them. Here they share some of their thoughts in hopes of illuminating the value of their experience to others, and hopefully inspiring the next generation of participants, both fellows and hosts.
Asked about their most valuable fellowship experience, some cited specific meetings (such as those with Former Members of Congress). Others mentioned our trip to Colonial Williamsburg. Several also named their fellowship placements in Congressional offices or organizations “off the hill.” One participant from Tunisia shared that the connection he developed with a former member of congress was the most valuable part of his experience because they have made plans to continue to work together and collaborate on an upcoming project.
Ammad, from Libya, felt that for him the highlight was getting to know the other fellows, and building a network with them. He was excited that Legacy “gave me a chance to be a member of the Legacy family.”
The Professional Fellows Congress, which brought Legacy’s 12 fellows together with about 200 fellows from around the world, was another highlight. Chiraz valued this part of the program because “it was a unique opportunity to meet and interact with people from different cultures and backgrounds,” while “attending high level trainings.” Legacy’s Legislative Fellows Program is one part of the “Professional Fellows Program,” which is sponsored by the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs through a series of grants to non-profit organizations and universities.
The fellowship experience was valuable for many because of the nuances and insights it brought to fellows’ ideas about democracy and governance as practiced in the US. Their conclusions and new ideas differ greatly from one another, and shed light on the diversity of experience that participants have in the United States.
Shaimaa from Egypt said that the most surprising thing she learned about the US was that the country and the people have their own share of difficulties, even though, “the media always portrays Americans in a very superior way. In real life, they are not so superior at all.”
Amna, from Libya, now believes that the old Arab saying that “Egypt is the mother of the Universe,” should be updated to state that “America is the mother of the Universe.” Chiraz was surprised that she wasn’t surprised: “I found American people very warm and friendly, and they reminded me of people from the Mediterranean.”
The shutdown was a perfect opportunity for the fellows to witness firsthand the ongoing struggle of American democracy. Chiraz observes that “the American system is a sure example of democracy but it’s not a perfect example.”
Ammad, on the other hand, observes that the US is the global leader because of “the basic strong foundation of government systems,” and feels that although “the legislative process is long and complicated, it is worth all the effort to shape the future with freedom, fairness, and rights.”
Muhammed, from Egypt, noted that his best meetings were with American youth working in election monitoring and political reform because he was “amazed at how much dedication and resourcefulness the youth have.”
Upon returning home, Ammad, like all of the fellows, hopes to share his experience with friends, family and coworkers. He says he will share this experience by “implementing my project based on new principles I have learned, such as the importance of opportunities for all and helping others to achieve their goals. I hope to be a good example and influence for the youth, and encourage many youth to apply to such programs abroad.” He added, “I plan to make a positive contribution to my community by being committed to contribute to reforming our system and social life however I can.”
On the impact of this experience as he returns home to Egypt, Muhammed says, “we are now in a transition period and there are a lot of debates going on concerning the constitution and the future of the country. Therefore I find it extremely beneficial and valuable to convey some of the wisdom and knowledge behind the debates that occurred between the founding fathers amid the development of American Democracy. I had the chance to meet with very inspiring people and I think I have learned that there are many things that we have in common that we can work upon.”
In reflecting on the best lesson she learned, Shaimaa of Egypt says that, “people are people. What brings us together is way more important than what sets us apart.”