November 16, 2004
By Julie Lippmann
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- As one of 25 Iraqi Fulbright scholars currently studying at U.S. universities after the program's more-than-a-decade-long suspension in Iraq, journalism student Rawand Darwesh appreciates the opportunity to be exposed to a new experience, a new country, its advances in technology and its media.
"[I]t was the dream of everybody to come to study in the United States. In my example, I applied for the Fulbright scholarship and I got it and it was very great," said Rawand Darwesh, a journalism student from the Kurdistan region in Iraq.
Darwesh, who is a currently pursuing a master's degree in print journalism at American University's School of Communication in Washington, arrived in February as a scholarship recipient of the Fulbright Program. Fulbright is the oldest and most prestigious international educational program sponsored by the U.S. government, with over 150 governments and nations as partners around the world.
The Fulbright Program in Iraq was suspended because of the Iran-Iraq war and was re-established in October 2003. The reinvigorated program sought candidates who concentrated on critical issues such as public health, English teaching, law, economics, journalism and the environment.
Darwesh, formerly a newsman at Kurdistan Satellite TV, initially completed English language training at Indiana University as a Fulbrighter. He then came to Washington to begin work on two academic projects at American University.
He is compiling information and conducting research on a project about the decrease in the number of Muslim and Middle Eastern students studying at American universities and is also working on a Web-site project about the war on drugs.
"There is the international War on Terrorism, but like our professor said, there is another war going on but that's not covered like the War on Terrorism, so I am [researching] the War on Drugs in Afghanistan and I am gathering a lot of information about that," he said.
He commended the choices of readings to which he is exposed as a student and is learning the ways news stories are constructed in English and how that differs from news stories written in Kurdish or Arabic. He said he also sees the online news and newspapers as very good sources to learning more about journalism.
Before coming to the United States, he said, "I used to read American or Western news only online, but now I am learning how to write them and that is good."
Darwesh said he is learning a good deal and meeting new people, which creates "great opportunities" for him to develop by seeing how journalists in the United States work. Being in Washington itself is also a chance for him to learn about his craft in a real-world setting, he said.
"It's a very good chance for me with all these journalists because nowhere is like Washington. I call Washington the capital of the world, where politicians meet, where the best journalists are, so for me actually just being in Washington is like being in a big school," Darwesh said.
Adjusting to differences like the culture and the food was a shock, he said, and he tried his best to adapt quickly to English, his third language. However, recent tours to Los Angeles and Hollywood, California, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, allowed him to see "places that I saw for the first time in my life and they were so great," he said. He has also written a few opinion pieces for American University's school newspaper, recent pieces treating the war in Iraq and the September 11, 2001, attacks.
"They are a little bit political," he smiled. "I am more interested in political issues."
Darwesh often discusses politics with other international students and believes that many students who talk about Iraq do not understand the issue the way he sees it. He said, for example, that many students from different parts of the world think that the United States invaded Iraq and that we Iraqis were sad about it."
"The problem is not between Iraqis and between Americans; the problem is between Iraqis, Americans, and terrorists," he said. "[T]hey didn't hear this perspective before. I told them that we invited the Americans to come. So many of these international students didn't know these facts and I highlighted all these facts."
Ultimately Darwesh will return to northern Iraq, but not without having learned more about the democratic system and the tolerance it fosters and then trying "from my angle to copy that there and to [teach] more people how people live here," he said. "[H]ow the universities work, how journalism functions in Washington and the United States. I hope to learn things from here and to take them back."