My Fulbright Journey: So much more than just a Master’s

By David Liew, Fulbright Foreign Student Program
Master of Science in Sustainability Management
Kogod School of Business, American University

In 2022, I left my role as a petroleum geologist because I wanted to align my career with my passion for sustainability. The Fulbright Scholarship presented me the perfect opportunity to take a break from the work life and explore my next move. As I look back to my past 13 months in the States, I realized that my Fulbright journey gave me so much more than just a master’s education.

At the outset, I had concerns about feeling lonely, but the welcoming nature of American culture helped me ease into my new life abroad. Sports, especially basketball, became my common language with many locals, while my weekly battles at the local community centers became my after-class routine. The US’ prowess in sports can be seen even at the club level, as people pour so much passion and respect into the game, as if their lives depended on it. My fondest memory was meeting a senior citizen who could barely walk, yet his determination to be on the court shooting baskets, taught me that the love for the game can transcend even the most formidable physical challenges.

David and another Bruneian Fulbrighter Samuel Shie (seated, far left) celebrated Brunei’s National Day with fellow international students in Maryland.

When interacting with Americans, I also noticed a striking difference in culture between Brunei and the United States. In Brunei, we often tread cautiously when engaging in small talk, but in America, it’s a warm and common practice. I had to adjust to this openness and learn to voice my concerns and opinions. This cultural shift was both challenging and liberating, as it encouraged me to speak up and engage more actively in discussions.

My pursuit of a Master’s in Sustainability Management at the American University Kogod School of Business was truly enlightening. I had the privilege of attending lectures delivered by experts from a diverse spectrum of industries, including renowned companies like Marriott, Lego and Patagonia – it was surreal to hear from the founder himself who opted to give away his company to fight climate change, which made me think hard about my own green initiatives and the pursuit of wealth. The program also compelled me to reevaluate my preconceived notions of sustainability, and see beyond its environmental aspects, where social and governance issues such as labor rights and ethics violations are intensely debated. Being a student in my 30s also meant collaborating with those in their early 20s. The generational gap posed a few challenges at the start, especially with the ‘Gen Z’ slang, but it was refreshing to meet people who are so vocal on working for organizations that align with their social and environmental values.

Outside the classroom, I was also able to explore the rich vastness of the United States. I visited the bustling streets of New York City, the vibrant beaches of Miami, the hipster vibe of New Orleans, the winter wonderland of Vermont, and the laid-back California lifestyle. Road trips of over three hours were common, a stark contrast to my weekly commute from Kuala Belait to Bandar, which I have learnt to complain less about now.

David and his peer visited Great Falls in the state of Montana.

In keeping with my Fulbright duties, I connected with a YSEALI group during a trip to San Diego and volunteered for Magnolia Project 1:1. It was inspiring to learn about the founders’ challenging past with homelessness and drug addiction, and how they have dedicated their lives to providing food security to those in need, regardless of their background.

David Liew tosses his graduation cap in front of the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C.

I am forever grateful for all the amazing opportunities and lifelong friendships that Fulbright has provided. As the Dean of Kogod School of Business at American University once said to me, “Find something that you are good at, something that you are passionate about, and something that can benefit your community.” These words will stick with me as I embark on my new journey in sustainability and inspire others to reduce their carbon footprint.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The U.S. Embassy in Brunei Darussalam is currently accepting applications for the Fulbright Foreign Student Program until April 30, 2024. The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). The goals of the Fulbright Scholar Program are to (1) strengthen bilateral ties by demonstrating the cultural and educational interests, developments, and achievements of the people of the United States and other nations and (2) promote international cooperation around educational and cultural advancement.”

For more details on other Fulbright Scholarship programs, please click here.