Tag Archives: Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship

Wonder what it’s like to be a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA)? Listen to Shiela Lee, 2008-2009, Fulbright ETA to Taiwan, discuss what her experience was like and how it has inspired her career choices.

Shiela Lee – to Taiwan, 2008 (ETA) from Fulbright Program on Vimeo.

Fulbright Italian Style: Classroom, Community, and Culture, By Jessica Orton, 2010-2011, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Italy

During my Fulbright grant, I worked as an English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in three different schools: one in Rome and two in L’Aquila.  In each school, I played a slightly different assistant teaching role and covered a range of topics.  When conducting lessons on everything from American culture, to literary analysis, to practical English phrases and grammar, I had to constantly adapt as an assistant teacher.  The students viewed me as a cultural ambassador, which led to cultural exchanges on a daily basis.  Often, lesson plans became secondary to discussing current events such as the war in Libya or the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden, where we could exchange Italian and American perspectives.

The most important aspect of my success as an ETA was in building relationships with students.  I created an encouraging classroom environment and as students became more comfortable and confident, I would often hear from teachers, “Wow, this student usually never speaks.”  My rapport with each class allowed students to take chances and let go of their inhibitions when speaking English or explaining their points of view.

My relationship with students also extended outside of the classroom.  In every school, I had the opportunity to organize community events for my students, such as walking together in the Race for the Cure and participating in a class trip from Rome to L’Aquila.  This last activity, where I took one of my classes from Rome to see and learn about L’Aquila’s current condition, was particularly important for my students.  The grim situation of L’Aquila’s city and people after the 2009 earthquake is not widely known in Italy, and my Roman students were legitimately shocked to see the city’s current state.  These opportunities to engage with my students in an informal setting fostered not only personal relationships, but also enhanced their self-confidence in public speaking.

While I had an amazing, positive experience in Italy, I still had to cope with early morning commutes to L’Aquila from Rome, organizational and bureaucratic issues, and the struggle to keep students motivated in class.  Yet, I also learned from these challenges and improved my ability to handle conflicts. Professionally and personally, I became more adaptable, creative, and more confident as a leader.  I learned new things every day: discussing topics with my students, attending cultural events in Rome, and simply chatting with Italian friends over coffee.  I want to offer my sincere appreciation to the Fulbright Program for truly building bridges between cultures.

To future Fulbright grantees, I would say believe consistently in your abilities, embrace new experiences, and don’t be afraid to take risks.  Be ready to adapt to new situations and challenges.  It’s amazing how often obstacles turn into opportunities.

Wonder how a Fulbright grant can help you professionally? Listen to Fulbright Alumni Ambassador Marylin Rodriguez’s (2008-2009, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Ecuador) story.

Marylin Rodriguez – to Uruguay, 2007 (ETA) from Fulbright Program on Vimeo.

Answering Everyday Questions: A Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Experience in Jordan, By Emily Hagemeister, 2009-2010, Jordan

Since I completed my Fulbright Program, I have often been asked a variety of questions about my time living as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in Amman, Jordan.  I find that people are curious about everyday life in other societies and, given recent events, particularly in the Middle East.  From September 2009 until June 2010, I experienced Jordanian culture and had multiple opportunities to share my story.  Everyone asks, “What was that like?” or “How was that?” with wide eyes.

Here are a few of my answers and tips for applicants…

Being a Fulbright U.S. Student Program grantee helped me to become a more adaptable person both personally and professionally.  At one point, I thought that my Fulbright story was unusual because I originally applied for a Fulbright ETA grant in Egypt and ended up in Jordan.  The Egyptian Fulbright ETA Program was a better fit for my experience and skills but was canceled very late in the selection process.  A few of the Egypt ETAs, including myself, therefore, were diverted to Jordan.  Despite the long wait and transition, being placed in Jordan was great because it allowed me to reconnect with friends and professional contacts that I had made during my participation in the 2008 Critical Language Scholarship Summer Language Institute in Amman.

Talking to other Fulbrighters, I’ve come to realize that there is no typical path toward becoming a grantee.  Some applicants end up applying multiple times before being selected, some receive grants after being named alternates, and still others, like me, end up going to locations not mentioned in their applications.  Flexibility, persistence, and a sense of adventure are important when applying.

The Fulbright ETA Program offers an exciting opportunity to become a part of a community in a new country and share experiences.  At the Abdul Hamid Sharaf K-12 School, where I was placed, I worked side-by-side with a mix of Jordanian and expatriate teachers and assistant-taught students from a variety of countries.  I loved being able to share stories about my life in the United States and learning about the lives of my friends and students.  We talked about food, clothing, religion, politics, celebrities, cultural quirks, and so many other things.  I can honestly say that our similarities and differences helped to foster rich and lasting relationships.  Sharing your story and listening to others’ are big parts of being a successful Fulbright participant.

My time working on what I like to call my ‘unofficial program’ was equally as important as the time spent on my ‘official program.’  My ‘official program’ included teaching at my assigned school and studying conversational Arabic.  This is what the Statement of Grant Purpose in a Fulbright application covers.  Conversely, my ‘unofficial,’ but equally important, program included volunteering to teach English to Iraqi refugees, building meaningful friendships with people from other cultures, and using my skills in other ways to help my local host community.  You may not know what effect your ‘unofficial program’ will ultimately have, but this investment can make a tremendous difference in the lives of others long after you’ve left your host country.  A Fulbright U.S. Student Program experience can and, in my opinion, should be enriched by making giving back to your host community a priority.

From these answers, I offer the following pieces of advice to prospective applicants:

  • Flexibility, persistence, and a sense of adventure are all important applicant qualities.
  • Preparing to share your story should begin as early as the application process (remember, your story makes you unique as an applicant).
  • Spend time thinking about your ‘unofficial program’ and how you can give back to your host country.
  • Take time to enjoy the process…good luck!

Emily Hagemeister (center), 2009-2010, Jordan, posing with her first graders at the Abdul Hamid Sharaf School in Amman, Jordan.

Questions for Emily about her Fulbright experiences?  Feel free to email her at EHagemeister.AlumniAmbassador@fulbrightmail.org.

On Using Your Time Outside of the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) Classroom, By Mark Beasley-Murray, 2008-2009, Fulbright ETA to Brazil

• What use you will make of your time outside the classroom? (Most ETAs work no more than 20 to 30 hours per week.)

Although this question is the last bullet point listed in the Fulbright U.S. Student Program website’s section on developing the Statement of Grant Purpose for Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) grants, it is certainly not least in significance.

Because I’m a Fulbright ETA alumnus and because there is much room for interpretation on how ETAs might spend those 20-30 hours per week outside of the classroom, I thought I would delve a little deeper and offer some suggestions.

So, how does one plan a worthy ETA side project in one of over 50 countries when the location and placement circumstances are initially unknown? Good question. Although there is no easy answer (sorry), there are several considerations to keep in mind while crafting a description of your proposed side project. The suggestions below have proven helpful to other Fulbright ETA applicants I’ve advised – and who were awarded the grant. My hope is that my two cents may prove helpful to you, too.

First, do not underestimate the importance of your time outside the classroom. Since much of your time will be spent outside of the classroom, Fulbright application reviewers are curious to know what you might be up to the other quarter or half of your work week. This is an opportunity to show what you hope to gain from your experience and how you might contribute to your Fulbright host country.

Second, keep in mind that the reviewers evaluating your Fulbright ETA application understand how difficult it is to describe a potential side project without knowing the particulars of your placement. Even though they recognize the difficulty of this task, they still expect you to be able to undertake it, however. Your ability to successfully describe an adaptable, worthwhile project will distinguish your application from other candidates with similar credentials who have not thoroughly thought through what they hope to accomplish. That said, it would be wise to heed the advice offered in the ENGLISH TEACHING ASSISTANTSHIPS: Developing the Statement of Grant Purpose section of the website: do not be overly specific or grand in your side project proposal. You may have a five-star, phenomenal, blockbuster idea for a research, vocational, or community service project. However, if the project is too location-specific or too involved, this may doom your otherwise strong application if it is seen as detracting from the primary focus of your grant – being an English teaching assistant.

Third, know the range of possibilities in the country to which you are applying. These may vary considerably (as was the case in Brazil where I was an ETA). Your placement may turn out to be far from what you anticipated. It may be urban or rural, in an institution of higher education, in a primary or secondary school with access to educational materials and resources (or without), in one school or several, and so on. Often, the range and nature of ETA placements are described in each host country’s profile. Research those country-specific placements as best as you can. However, keep in mind that, if awarded the grant, you may end up piloting a new ETA placement, let alone one that hasn’t been listed yet on the Fulbright U.S. Student Program website. If you have a preference for a particular type of ETA grant, describe how your side project would fit well with that specific placement but would still be adaptable to other placements as well.

Fourth, despite the uncertainty regarding your eventual placement, reviewers will want to be certain that you will be able to accomplish your proposed side project – regardless of the circumstances. While you should not to be too specific in your project proposal, this does not mean that you cannot outline the particulars of your project. Reviewers want to be able to envision your project as clearly as possible. This requires at least a few details. For those who are considering a community group or school-related project, there are some universal points you may want to consider when writing your project description, such as:

  • Is your project appropriate for the country to which you are applying? If so, why?
  • How does the project align with your expertise?
  • Who are the stakeholders in your project? If your project involves community members, how many participants do you aim to have? What is the age group? How will you attract participants? How does it benefit them?
  • What are the resources necessary to undertake your project? (Physical location? Art supplies? Computers or Internet connection?) And how would you go about ensuring that these resource needs would be met or overcome? (Additional non-Fulbright funding? Personal out-of-pocket funds? Jettisoning an online component?)
  • Where would the project take place? (In a school classroom? In a community center? In a park? In your host country apartment?)
  • When and for how long would the project take place? (How many weeks? How many days per week? How many hours per day? Will the project coincide with your placement school’s academic calendar?)
  • What will be the tangible outcome of your project? (Student projects? Theatrical productions? Artwork?)
  • Who is the audience for your project? How large is that audience?
  • How does your project promote the Fulbright Program’s mission of promoting cultural exchange and mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries?

The list above is not exhaustive. Each project will have its own particulars. Also, remember that it is not necessary to address every one of these questions in your Statement of Grant Purpose (in fact, given the online application space limitations, this would be a Herculean feat). Still, you should clearly and thoughtfully describe the details of how you will spend your time outside the classroom.

I hope that these suggestions on how to plan a Fulbright ETA side project prove helpful. If you have any questions regarding the ETA application process, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Good luck!

Photo: Mark Beasley-Murray, 2008-2009, Fulbright ETA to Brazil, reading to his students in a Pirai classroom.