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A Fellowship From Ford's Foundation Gives Indian Student An Opportunity To Further Special Education Skills

University of Kansas is the college of choice for Rashida Banerjee. After working with children with special needs for a while back home, it was a fellowship award that brought her to the United States. “I’m originally Calcutta India the west eastern part of India and I was working in the school with special education children and I applied for a fellowship with the Ford Foundation which I got and I decided to come here for further education because there were greater opportunities of learning here than I would have probably got back home.”

Although Rashida was given a bit of an orientation as to what to expect in America, she says it wasn't until she got here that she was able to learn the culture. “We did have an orientation with the scholars of the Ford Foundation about to acclimate us with the culture and to let us know what to expect here, but there is quite a bit of a difference,” she says. “This is my first trip from home where I have had to live outside [home] and the first time I think getting use to the vending machine was hard or even making a call home or even using the mailbox for instant I needed help everywhere initially and then just being away from home was very, very hard leaving my husband, my house and my family, but then like I said it doesn’t take long getting use to people who were so supportive and then I lived in a community where we had a lot of international students I lived in on campus housing for quite sometime initially,” she says. “Everybody was away from home so that got us to knit together and it was fun there.”

Rashida says she also enjoys the fact that even though she is from another country, other students as well as the faculty make her feel like she is from there. “My program special education is an excellent program. It has been top-ranked number program in public universities for the last eight years and that is how I eventually initially came here actually because the Ford Foundation suggested it was one of the best schools here and then the faculty is absolutely great and it is such a welcome here that is what I like best about the place,” she says. “You are always welcomed where ever you go and accepted and you can talk to anybody and not feel different.”

Since being here, Rashida is busy learning all she can about her major, but that hasn't stopped her from volunteering in the community as well as join a few campus activities. Besides classes I did have a lot of time on hand to and then being active in India I was the president of the KU unicef a campus organization for the U-S fund for Unicef here for about a year and we did a few activities basically raising awareness about unicef and raising funds for children,” she says. “I have been mainly involved with some of the other organizations on campus. Even with the international student services volunteering every time they have orientation for new students just being a part of that it has been fun to see people come in new and go through the same feelings, similar feelings that I had that I had and I been volunteering with the community outreach program here where we go to different schools and help with the afternoon programs, boys and girls clubs and things like that basically.”

Rashida plans to graduate in 2007 and will then return to India to work in early intervention with children of primary school age. Her advice to others is “Plan out and know where you are going because initially it can be hard away from family particularly if you have not been away and just be ready to accept a whole lot of differences initially I think that is where some of us folks have problems and be open to things not just with learning that happens inside the classrooms, but what happens outside,” she says. “I think I learned so much more from meeting friends outside or even related to my field of work not necessary just by the culture here, but there is so much that goes on out outside of the classroom.”