Posted On April 28, 2016 By In Arabic With 1890 Views

The Long Way From Cairo to Canada

by Starr Brainard, NSLI-Y Arabic, Egypt Fall Semester 2009

I had the honor earlier this month to be a presenter in the “Coming Back, Giving Back” webinar  to talk about my experience working in environmental sustainability. As a high school student, I had the good fortune to be awarded the NSLI-Y scholarship to spend a semester abroad in Egypt to study Arabic my senior year of high school.

From then on, the rest is history. I returned to Egypt in the years following my NSLI-Y experience for both study and work. I carry the lessons I learned abroad at that formative time in everything that I do. Without this program I may never have considered applying for a Fulbright, and I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today.

Starr camping in Egypt's Western Desert during her college semester abroad funded by a Boren scholarship, 2012

Starr camping in Egypt’s Western Desert during her college semester abroad funded by a Boren scholarship, 2012

When Katy, fellow alumni of my program, asked me to do this presentation, I was very flattered that she thought I was a good example of an alumni doing community service. At first I wasn’t sure what to say because I don’t go out every weekend giving blood and volunteering at soup kitchens. However, the more I thought about it, giving back to the community is really what drives me in much of what I do. I’m certainly not researching ecological agriculture for the money or fame. While I know I am just a drop in the bucket, I am doing my best to be a darn good drop. I am so grateful that at this point in my life my equivalent of a job, my research and internship, fulfills my personal need to contribute meaningful to my community. Because of this I don’t have to compartmentalize “giving back” and “working.” Putting together this presentation I realized how important this integration of service into my day job and life is to me. I hope I can do my best to maintain this balance throughout my life, because I think it might just be the key to happiness…

Starr on the job in Egypt's Western Desert with the American University in Cairo's Research Institute for a Sustainable Environment (RISE), 2015

Starr on the job in Egypt’s Western Desert with the American University in Cairo’s Research Institute for a Sustainable Environment (RISE), 2015

I was also excited to do this presentation because I want to show the young students out there that no experience pigeon-holes you, it only gives you more wisdom to draw upon. Many of my peers in NSLI-Y were set on foreign policy and working for the CIA even as high schoolers, but I never doubted I would have a career in environmental sciences. Though I differ from my peers, my experience in Egypt has been put to good use in my environmental career. Many people give me strange looks when I tell them about my background in the Middle East, and they all wonder what it has to do with alternative agriculture in Canada. The beauty of world we live in is that everything is interconnected. I have no doubt in my mind that the things I learned in Egypt are making me better at my job here in Alberta.

If you are interested in more details about my journey from the Sahara to Red Deer, and how I believe the experiences are linked, check out my webinar segment below:

Click here to check out Starr’s blog from her Fulbright research in Canada and read more about her work.

Click here to check out the whole “Coming Back, Giving Back” Virtual Event recording.

This story is part of the “Coming Back, Giving Back” campaign sharing how NSLI-Y Alumni are using their study abroad experience to make a difference. Submit your story today to nsliystories@us.iearn.org! 

Starr very excited to see her Fulbright Canada-RBC Eco-Leadership Program funded composters up and running during her Fulbright research term in Alberta, Canada, 2016

Starr very excited to see her Fulbright Canada-RBC Eco-Leadership Program funded composters up and running during her Fulbright research term in Alberta, Canada, 2016

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