The Women of Distinction gala luncheon comes once a year, supporting a Palm Beach Atlantic University scholarship. But daily at the university, we see the fruit of such scholarships, in the terrific impact PBA students and graduates are having in their communities and across the globe.
From Uzbekistan, via Skype, Chanel Nassir recently talked about receiving the Women of Distinction Scholarship, finishing her degree in international business, and taking on an English teaching assistantship under the Fulbright Program. The bright faces in the photo above give you a clue about how well she is doing in Uzbekistan.
That’s Chanel at far left, posing with members of a girl’s book club she organized after landing in the Uzbek city of Navoi. What better way to teach English than to share classics like “Sense and Sensibility”?
“It was wonderful,” said Chanel. “These young girls have such a desire to learn, like a fire about them.”
She landed in Uzbekistan in September 2021, reporting on Facebook: “My first week in Navoi has been an absolute joy! While I may be thousands of miles away, I feel right at home thanks to the kindness of those around me. What an honor it is to spend this year exchanging language and thought, all while experiencing beautiful Uzbekistan.”
Indeed it is an honor. The highly competitive Fulbright Program is the flagship international academic exchange sponsored by the U.S. Government. Chanel is one of 14 PBA graduates to earn Fulbright placements since the university created its Prestigious National Scholarship Program several years ago.
Fulbrighters are goodwill ambassadors
The Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) Programs place Fulbrighters in classrooms around the world to provide assistance to local teachers of English. Working under the auspices of the U.S. State Department, college graduates like Chanel serve as cultural ambassadors as they teach, building relationships and goodwill.
In Uzbekistan, formerly part of the Soviet Union, the people speak mostly Russian, Uzbek and Tajik, a Persian language. In the region where Chanel began her assistantship, to her knowledge, she was the only American. That brought some loneliness, she acknowledged, “but also, it forced me to dive into the community and assimilate with the people in a way that I probably wouldn’t have if I had another American as a social crutch.”
So she dove in! In addition to the structured English classes she taught alongside an Uzbek teacher, Chanel enthusiastically took advantage of Uzbek hospitality: “the thing that really marks these people.” She received many dinner invitations to Uzbek homes, where she would join the family, sitting on lovely floor mats arranged around a low table.
Though the high school students in Chanel’s classes were eagerly learning English, the language barrier was tougher with the adults she encountered in students’ homes. “But we’d meet halfway,” she said. “I have very broken Uzbek, they have very broken English, and we learn to get to know each other a little bit.”
Working through the barriers of language and culture could be emotionally draining. She learned that these things simply take time. “Sometimes it’s just day in and day out being beside people and loving them, serving them, and contributing to what they need. And trusting that that’s enough before the Lord.”
Now teaching English to college students
She was so well received in Uzbekistan that she was invited back for a second year. She’s now in a different city, this time teaching English to college students. And as an unexpected bonus, she started a lacrosse club, introducing the sport to students there with a grant from the organization World Lacrosse.
Back home, one of Chanel’s Facebook friends posted, “You amaze me with everything you get yourself into. It’s like watching an adventure movie!” Chanel’s former professors would smile at that comment. At PBA they loved her enthusiasm for learning, her thoughtfulness for classmates, and the role model she became for her peers.
She graduated summa cum laude, a member of PBA’s Frederick M. Supper Honors Program and a veteran of varsity lacrosse. Now as I celebrate her remarkable accomplishments, I also celebrate the supporters of the scholarships she received. Scholarships “were huge,” she said, “lifting off some of the financial weight and allowing me to devote myself to studies in such a way that opened doors for me.”
This is what scholarships do. They open doors. Observing the paths of graduates like Chanel makes me conclude that supporting college scholarships is one of the most powerful forms of philanthropy. That’s why I’m happy to invite you to the gala I mentioned earlier, the Women of Distinction Luncheon, on Feb. 21 at The Breakers Palm Beach. (See www.pba.edu/wod.) We’ll be honoring philanthropists Mary Freitas and Monika Preston, and proceeds will fund scholarships for deserving female students.
This year, six students will receive Women of Distinction Scholarships. I offer my heartfelt thanks to all of you who contribute to this fund or to other scholarships. As students graduate and begin their careers of service, their impact is also your impact.
Dr. Debra A. Schwinn, a physician, researcher, and innovator, is president of Palm Beach Atlantic University. (www.pba.edu)