PFP Blog 3- For Norman

Minhaz Fahme
8 min readAug 1, 2023

[During the fateful Spring of 2023, the United States Department of State nominated me as one of the Professional Fellows. I got invited to participate in an entrepreneur exchange program in the USA. It is called Professional Fellows Program (PFP). My partner organization was the University of Oklahoma, which matched me with a similar entrepreneur in Oklahoma to expose the professional side of American business to me, and the beautiful people from the partner organization OU took us everywhere for cultural exchange. Eventually, it became an adventure of a lifetime. Here goes the detail of it in phases.]

This episode is dedicated to the newborn Adriel (Norman) Tryonne. Welcome, our nephew. It was a privilege to have shared a couple of months of your pre-birth.

The following morning 19 out of 20 of us started for a half an hour hike towards our destination where the orientation was supposed to take place. Only Shivani had a pickup by car because of course, she was 8 months pregnant! She was brave enough to come to the States for a month in this condition. We have chosen to give her unborn child the name “Norman”. Norman is a university town where we stayed for the month during our fellowship. All of us were always on high alert so that Shivani didn’t have any discomfort. (By the time you read this blog, the baby has already landed, and we celebrate him!)

Since Elanie mentioned before, there wasn’t any particular dress code, so 20 of us, from 4 countries, wore a variety of outfits. Some were formal, some super casual, some business casual. Elanie wore a rather exotic one on that day; she was the one to kick it off officially, rightfully so! Although some of us were still struggling with jet lag, some others were awake the whole night trying to put out fires at work. The timezone difference was 11 hours with our home countries, so they essentially did office work staying awake the entire time. Kathy for one, did a fantastic job of matchmaking regarding flatmate allocation. Ifran and Sagar were flatmates, and both of them stayed awake the whole night. Well, we saw uncanny resemblances of habit matching or balancing in other rooms as well. Anyway, back to Elanie’s slide. She gave a constructive overview of the history, purpose, and impact of the program. While going through all the other details, she also mentioned that it is statistically more difficult to get into this particular program than getting into Harvard. Over 2000 people fight for 20 places, and there’s this substantial logistic challenge involving immigration as well. I wasn’t one of those feeling particularly homesick, but everybody knew many weren’t feeling the same. Elanie tried to make all of us feel better, by stating these interesting facts, while urging us to focus only on the program in the next month, even at the expense of the risks involving much less involvement in affairs back at home, because this was supposed to be a once in a lifetime thing for us all. Some of us believed some didn’t, and most wondered. Who knew, in less than a month’s time, all of us would cry that it was over?

Lunch was supposed to be sponsored by the grant that day, and we had Couch Restaurant at Campus Corner as the venue. Well, for students, it was a buffet for only 15 bucks. They literally had everything — salad, Italian, custom Mexican bar, Pizza, Chic o Fillet, Steak, Burgers, Fruits, and whatnot! Apart from unlimited fountain drinks, there was Starbucks and the dessert bar with so many variations of sweet delights. Honestly, it felt like a steal at 15 bucks, although we understood that much later. After lunch, we went back to Gaylord Hall to attend the welcome session by Jeff Moore- the Director of the I-CCEW. This guy probably knows every business owner in Oklahoma! Each year he connects 40 entrepreneurs from the subcontinent with 40 businesses here in Oklahoma — that’s no small feat! Not to mention that it goes the other way around as well when people from the US go to visit the subcontinent. Jeff is a super cool guy and has been in this role over the last decade. His center also helps people from Oklahoma avail business consultancy for free in their center, should they want to pursue something. We were supposed to meet Jeff once again the following day for another session. The orientation from the OU part was over with this, and we headed back to the duplexes.

The afternoon, for me, took an exceptional turn as Disha (My former student who I mentioned before in the first blog) decided to show up. A friend of hers, Dillon, appeared with her and their sole mission was to take me around since the rest of the evening was totally free. They asked me where I wanted to go. They were throwing literally everything at my face — from baseball to mountains, and even Dallas! At that point, I pointed out that I should not travel out of state without letting Elanie and Kathy know, and I didn’t want to have a super weird first impression. So they chose to take me to the city!

Oklahoma sunset

We were headed towards Oklahoma City and made our first stop at a Bass Pro shop. I have never been to one before, and as soon as I entered, I got mesmerized. It was a huge space, probably the size of half a stadium or more, filled with all sorts of things you need if you want to go hunting! From sunglasses, socks, trousers to arrows, guns, and crossbows — they had everything! There were a few dozen off-road tracker cars lined up for purchase and beside them, they had a few dozen (I kid you not) actual boats! Unfortunately, my trip plan didn’t include any room for hunting endeavors, but I took part in a shooting simulation just to test out my reflexes from my short and long-gone esports career when I was in my undergrads. Dillon was a veteran who served his country, so it was not a fair battle at all, but I did what I could.

As we got out, we found the evening lights in action and a night downtown sky on the horizon where a tall Devon tower stood. Took some pictures of that view, barely knowing that a couple of months later, this particular picture would do emotional damage to my nostalgic soul.

Evening lights and Devon Tower

We headed towards an Arcade bar next, and it was the best decision ever! As a child, I grew up loving arcades. Unfortunately, they became extinct slowly. But here, I was amazed to see over a hundred machines in a single cafe! It was a themed place, so they had their food and drinks renamed after games as well. As for the collection, they had all the retro games — starting from ATARI games, different versions of Mario, Sonic, Street Fighter, Space Invader, Pacman, and whatnot! Well, I was sure I was gonna come back to this place once again because I couldn’t get my fill even after staying there for over an hour. Well, although I didn’t come back to this particular one, I did visit many other arcades eventually during the rest of the trip. More than once each week, maybe, and that was a ridiculous stat!

Arcades!

The following morning, we walked to the I-CCEW. Jeff had some ice-breaking activities planned for us. We thought we already knew each other since all of us talked in these couple of days. But Jeff’s exercises brought out some interesting knowledge on the fold. For example, Jagruti (who calls herself Jags) had a secret passion for writing! She writes in her notebook when nobody else is noticing, and she never lets anyone read those! My roommate Gajanan had mind-reading abilities. All this info came out in the open as we had fun together. The next part was the Zoom call with the hosts. Hosts are the organizations that we are paired with to exchange our professional experiences. My host was Brent Wheelbarger, owner of Trifecta Communications, and co-founder of Kidvation Global. The previous day both Elanie and Jeff told me that I was super lucky to have paired with Brent. They were like, “Oh, you’re Brent’s guy!” Jeff said, “Just like us, he has been a host in this program for so many years now. Can’t go wrong with Brent.”
The brief Zoom call all but emboldened that notion they gave me. I was super excited, and he seemed super eager too. One thing was clear-we could not wait to meet!

The remainder of the day was supposed to be nothing, but that changed quickly as Elanie launched a sudden plan on us. She asked, ”Who wants to visit a lake?” At times, she felt like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, you know? All of us jumped in, saying yes, even the sleep-deprived ones. Now, Oklahoma didn’t have any natural lakes, but it was famous for its man-made ones. Thunderbird was the one nearby and apart from a giant lake, it had a forest around that hosting bison, and deer as well.

On the way to the lake

I hopped onto David’s iconic “big van”, and was lucky enough to call shotgun. I sat beside him in the front seat, listened to his crazy stories, and tried to manage the music situation by rotating the radio channels because the van didn’t feature any Bluetooth music players. David was a 55-year-old veteran who has done and seen so many things, and one thing that got better with his age like fine wine was his sense of humor. The dude was out of the world! Anyway, we saw some big American deer inside the lake arena and eventually stopped by the water. There was a photo place that read “Love” and featured locks tied by lovers. We shot an iconic group photo that became the alumni group cover photo on Facebook that night afterward.

The famous alumni group cover photo

Some of us got our feet wet whereas Faraj went the extra mile to actually go some way into the lake. He didn’t have any shortage of photographers, thanks to his valiant endeavors in the Thunderbird water.

Calypso Cove Marina on Lake Thunderbird

Everyone was so happy from the little escape, and Kathy’s ice cream break at her favorite ice cream joint after that was the cherry on top. We were once again shocked to see the serving size of the ice cream. It was way too big! Rafee took a sundae, and it probably took 3 people to finish it eventually.

Icecream break!

We thought this was the end of our “picnic” period, since from the next day our placements would begin. Little did we know, the fun was merely at its early stages!

This will be the last of my chronological stories, the remaining stories will be topic-wise! Thanks for hopping in on this!

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Minhaz Fahme

Penning fictions, reviews, and memories | Author of “How to Make a Game”, Entrepreneur, Game Designer & Metaverse Enthusiast