By Melina Piatti-Chayan
Mobeen Ahmed is a graduate student at the University of Chicago and a recipient of the Fulbright U.S. Student Award. As a student undergoing this Fulbright track, Mobeen is working with advisers and institutions of higher education in Taiwan. Prior to this work, Mobeen attended Fordham University at Lincoln Center, where he double majored in International Political Economy and Visual Arts, along with a minor in Arabic.
While in his undergraduate studies, Mobeen exposed himself to a multitude of teaching communities and arenas. He tutored elementary and high school students, along with serving the local Midtown community as summer counselor. During these experiences, Mobeen quickly realized that his calling in life was to teach.
Given his interest in teaching in an international context, Mobeen applied for and was awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship. His teaching assistantship was initially in Indonesia; however, due to the covid-19 pandemic, the Fulbright Commission (AMINEF) decided Indonesia could not safely house non-citizens. After reapplying for a Fulbright the following year, he was offered a position in Taiwan, and the rest is history!
Despite his numerous academic achievements, Mobeen’s identity is far more than these accomplishments. He is a proud American Muslim and son of Pakistani immigrants whose upbringing has allowed him to deeply understand the dynamics of the American Muslim community, which in his eyes, is “desperately needed in the 21st century.”
The following is a conversation that has been edited and condensed between Ahmed and I, where we actively discussed his experiences as a teacher in Taiwan, the effect Fulbright has had on his professional goals, and his advice to Fulbright applicants:
Mobeen, how would you describe your typical day as a Fulbright Scholar in Taiwan?
Busy and exciting! As a resident of Penghu, I’ve had the unique opportunity of being a part of a community that takes tiny steps every day to build relationships. During the week, I go to the school I teach at from 8 p.m. to 4 p.m., where I am a resource and door to another world to my students and always ensure to make myself available to my students and fellow educators. During the weekend, I go to the traditional market, haggle with the auntie’s over seasonal fruits, play with kids in the neighboring playground, get a traditional breakfast or lunch, and expose myself to new experiences, businesses, and nature. Most importantly, I practice the little Chinese I know with everyone I interact with, leading me to share dishes with the local 7/11 employee!
That is so exciting! When did you first get interested in education and why is it significant to you?
The creative and formative aspects of teaching is always something I’ve enjoyed. My very first introduction to teaching was storytelling to my younger cousins to get them to sleep. However, the stories were too captivating and they refused to sleep, always clamoring for more! For me, it was a beautiful way to teach, act, and entertain in such a simple way. While at Fordham, I had the opportunity through a work-study to work with the American Reads and Counts Challenge (ARCC) that focused on public schools. Immediately, I was surrounded by minority elementary and grade school children who saw themselves in me. This showed me the impact a good role model can have. Aside from that, teaching allows me to be young again, to think like a child, and to discover and explore the world.
I’m sure teaching in a foreign country had its obstacles: what challenges or unexpected events have you had to overcome so far? What have you learned from them?
The language barrier was something that I’ve had to work on, along with cooking with Taiwanese ingredients. For example, as a native New Yorker, pizza is a must in my diet. However, because of the Taiwanese dough being too sweet and soft for pizza, I had the idea of substituting the dough with frozen scallion pancakes! I added some tomato sauce and hard to find mozzarella, and there I had it: a homemade pizza! Sometimes, I add Bok Choy, a Taiwanese equivalent to spinach, for an even better taste. Each challenge has allowed me to become a better learner, laugh at myself with my community, and use them as interesting talking points in conversations!
How will Fulbright advance your professional goals? How else will you share your experiences in Taiwan with your community in the U.S.?
Fulbright has taught me to value thinking beyond borders and instead, thinking of myself as a member of the global community. Local actions can have global repercussions, so raising awareness about the opportunities available around the world are key. The little things that have the capacity to connect us will be something I remain committed to throughout my life, whether it’s food, music, or religion.
To end this interview, what advice would you give to other Fordham students applying to Fulbright or other teaching fellowships?
Always remain open, but true to yourself. The world wants to know who YOU are. Work on removing your inhibitions early on, as students can smell fear a mile away and learn best only when they love you for you. Cherish your time, but be realistic about your needs and life abroad. It’s still life: it comes with ups and downs. Compromise, compromise, compromise!