A Fulbrighter's year in the U.S- "What I wish I knew" by William Ackah

Jul 17, 2017

"What I wish I knew" by William Ackah, Fulbright Scholar (2016-17) Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

I wish I had known about the esteem in which being a Fulbright scholar is held in the US and around the world. When a US colleague of mine suggested I apply for it, I knew little about the actual programme, but throughout this year when I have mentioned that I am a Fulbright scholar, some amazing things have happened. I have had lunch with two college Presidents, had my picture taken with famous US news anchor Ted Koppel and had rich conversations with an amazing range of people.

I wish I had known more about specific state regulations. In the UK although we have devolved administrations, rules on what you need to do to drive and own a car for example are uniform. Here as I discovered in the car dealership, different states have different laws. In Pennsylvania, I could drive on my UK license for a year (although you are advised to have an international driving license which you should apply for in the UK before you leave), but I could not buy a second-hand car without having a Pennsylvania ID card and to get that card I needed a social security number. It took a month from going initially to the dealer and finding this out, to getting the required documentation and eventually a car. If I had known this earlier I would have saved myself a lot of time and energy.

I wish I knew to ask. As a stoic Londoner, I am used to figuring out things for myself and muddling along to find my way, but my experience with the car taught me that people are very helpful here and that it is easier to ask for help than struggle on your own. The car dealer after telling me I needed a Pennsylvania ID drove me the licensing agency which was 30 minutes away. We had to wait 30 minutes to be seen and then when we found out that I did not have the relevant documentation to get an ID card, he drove me home which was over an hour away. From then on, I asked, where were the best places to shop, to eat, how to get from a to b and who is who. People have been very helpful, but I had to learn to ask.

I wish I had known about Frank Lloyd Wright, not knowing about him nearly cost me a wonderful experience. I had seen his name in my guidebook for the region but had not paid much attention to it. A friend however came from the UK and was interested in architecture and wanted to visit one of his designs and she does not drive. So, I took her to see Falling Water the most amazing single dwelling I have ever seen. Partly built into a mountainside with a waterfall running through it, it was a sheer wonder to behold and to think that I nearly missed it!

Finally, something that I wish for you to know. Fulbright has an initiative called the Outreach Lecturing Fund, which gives you an opportunity to give a lecture and engage with students and staff from a University that serves underrepresented groups (you and the institution you wish to visit both need to apply to do it so look for a place you would be interested in going to reasonably early and make contact with them). I had the privilege of going from Pittsburgh to New Orleans and lecturing at Xavier University a historically Black Catholic Institution. It was truly an amazing experience. Alongside teaching, I got to tour the city, experience the great food and music and enjoy rich conversations with community members on their struggles to resist gentrification and keep the city diverse. I still smile as I remember dancing to live Jazz on Bourbon Street. It was an experience of a lifetime and am most grateful to Fulbright for this and for the amazing year that I have had. I have done and seen so many things and don’t have enough space to write it all down. If only you knew!


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