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My Journey as a Professional Fellow: A Tale of Two Cities and New Friendships

Published: Jun 25, 2024

Country: Kenya

Caroline Kanana Makena is a 2024 Fellow in the Professional Fellows Program on Inclusive Civic Engagement. This program is sponsored by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and is administered by the Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) at the University of Massachusetts Boston in partnership with Humanity and Inclusion (HI). The following blog post was written by guest author Caroline.

Being a Professional Fellow has been an incredible adventure filled with cultural experiences, professional growth, and meaningful connections. I've had the chance to experience the vibrant city life of Boston, Massachusetts, and the charming, slower-paced lifestyle of Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

Experiencing American Culture: Boston vs. Hattiesburg

Boston is a fast-paced city, buzzing with activity and excitement. Every street is full of people rushing around, and there's always something new to explore. The historical sites and diverse food scene kept me on my toes, making each day an adventure.

 A blue road signage with white texts that read “Welcome to Mississippi” and “Birthplace of America’s Music” The sign is positioned near a road with trees and shrubs in the background.
Figure 1: Spring 2024 Fellow Caroline is welcomed to her host site in Mississippi.

In contrast, Hattiesburg offers a warm, friendly atmosphere. The slower pace was a refreshing change. I especially loved learning new recipes from Master Chef Madam Nellie, who made me feel right at home with her incredible cooking and welcoming spirit.

Two tacos on a red plate with ground beef, lettuce, cheese, sour cream and salsa. One Taco is folded, and the other is open with a spoon placed underneath.
Figure 2: Spring 2024 Fellow Caroline cooks homemade tacos with her host family.

Professional Insights: Learning from the Best

One of the highlights of my Fellowship was working with Joseph and Danielle from the University of Southern Mississippi’s Institute for Disability Studies (IDS). I joined them for a training session at Oak Grove High School, and it was amazing to see their impact on the students. They teach career readiness, ensuring kids are prepared for the future and promoting inclusion for everyone. The dedication to making sure "no one is left behind" was truly inspiring.

An African woman wearing a gray jacket with black and gold accents and black pants stands beside a black statue of a bird with two logos painted on its body. The statue is positioned outdoors in front of a brick wall.
Figure 3: Spring 2024 Fellow Caroline Kanana Makena visits the Oak Grove High School during the PFP Fellowship in the US.

Another eye-opening experience was attending a career fair where every organization present had open job opportunities that were disability inclusive. Seeing the commitment to inclusivity across various industries was both encouraging and motivating. It highlighted the importance of creating workplaces where everyone, regardless of their abilities, has the opportunity to thrive.

Building Connections: New Friends and Mentors

From my first week, I connected with the wonderful team at IDS. Their passion and commitment were infectious. I’m excited to continue building these relationships and making new ones. The sense of community and teamwork has made this experience even more special.

Conclusion

My PFP Fellowship has been an exciting blend of discovering new cultures and growing professionally. Experiencing Boston and Hattiesburg has deepened my appreciation for American culture. The insights and friendships I’ve gained from working with IDS are invaluable. I ca