Over the years, Cenet has had a lot of luck in getting consistently great interns who come from incredibly diverse backgrounds. This spring, we snagged Houyem Rais, a fellow for the Tunisian UGRAD Thomas Jefferson Scholarship. Houyem was placed at Southeast Missouri State University for the year-long exchange program, which includes undergraduate study and skills building, community service, alumni engagement, and an internship (that’s where we come in!). Houyem spent the second half of her program completing a part-time internship with us, and she was a great addition to the team. We were interested to hear her reflect on her experience as a fellow for a U.S.-government funded exchange program.
Could you provide a short summary of your exchange experience?
Before going to the United states as an exchange student, I had never traveled anywhere outside of my country. Therefore, living here was very different from what I am used to. Everything was new and exciting. Living in the United States for 10 months allowed me to not only try new things and discover different places, but to also completely immerse myself in American culture.
I used to think that traveling is one of the hardest things to do, and that it takes a lot of money and time. That’s why I always thought of it as a privilege. My exchange program made me realize that it is not that hard after all; all you need to have is passion for traveling and persistence. After I made that conclusion, I will definitely be traveling a lot more now.
Needless to say, living by myself in the United States helped me grow stronger and more independent as a person. I definitely consider my stay here as one of my top achievements in life that made me who I am today.
What was your favorite memory of your program?
It is really hard for me to choose just one memory. I got to travel to a lot of places during the breaks and I also got to meet a lot of people. But my favorite period was the last month of my stay (ironic huh?—since I was leaving soon). During that month I met a lot of great people. Two of them became some of my closest friends whom I am still in contact with, and of course I met the amazing Cenet staff with whom I became closer during that month (you guys are great, and I miss you already).
If I had to choose one memory, it would have to be one day where my friends and I stayed up all night just watching movies and studying. At dawn we drove to the river to see the sunrise, which was so beautiful.
Where’s the next place you’d like to travel and why?
The next place on my list now is Spain. Not only do I think it is a very beautiful place to visit, but lucky for me, I met a very close friend from Valencia, Spain during my stay in the U.S. We promised each other that we would visit one another, and that is going to be my plan for next year. Also, Spain is very close to Tunisia—it would be such a shame if I didn’t visit.
How has your program changed your ideas and/or viewpoints about yourself or the United States?
Thanks to the program, I was able to live a completely dependent life, which I think helped me a lot and only made me stronger. It taught me how to not only solve my own problems, but to also enjoy my life as an independent woman. Before coming to the U.S., I thought that traveling to different countries is the most complicated and difficult thing to do. Well guess what? I don’t think that anymore. It turns out that if you really want to travel, then it is really not that hard to do. That’s why for me the United States is only the start. However, the program didn’t only help me grow my personality; by living in the U.S. for 10 months and getting to experience the culture, I realized that the country is a lot more than the news we watch on our TV, and I can’t wait to tell people about it!