Tag Archives: Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship

How Do You Teach and Learn Diplomacy? By Linnette Franco, 2009-2010, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Spain

As a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in Madrid, Spain, I worked with over 120 students in a citywide bilingual program. The highlight of my year was working with 14- and 15-year-olds in the Global Classrooms program for Fulbright ETAs to Spain. In 10 Madrid high schools, Fulbright ETAs helped to prepare students for an annual Model United Nations conference. Actively participating in a Model U.N. conference is a rigorous endeavor for any high school student, but even more so when they are expected to participate in another language. I adored my students, but they succeeded in proving every cliché about high schoolers true; they often complained, whined and put more effort into not doing work than doing it. They didn’t want to participate in an extracurricular activity involving more research, writing, or public speaking in English. My students were very opinionated about their hesitation and initial dislike of preparing for the conference.

I myself was ready to take on the challenge of developing and strengthening my students’ skills. As Fulbright ETAs, doing this would be an easy enough task compared to providing our students with the more abstract lesson required for them to be successful at the conference: we had to enhance our students’ understanding of the importance of diplomacy. We had to find ways to help them recognize the value in promoting thoughtful conversations and effective relationships. Our students had to think more outside of their classrooms, school, neighborhood, city and country, in order to understand better that actions and relationships overseas can have an impact on them. I had to teach my students an abstract concept that I myself was actively experiencing and reflecting on during my Fulbright grant.

When you are a Fulbright ETA, you always have to be “on,” readily available to answer any question or assuage concerns your students, new peers, neighbors and friends may have. As an American abroad, you can become the be-all and end-all resource for everything American, but you will want to avoid proving every cliché about Americans true. You must be available to answer many questions about the United States, sometimes whether you like it or not, and this can be a real learning experience. At the end of the school day, you can leave your Fulbright ETA self at your assigned school, but you can never leave your American self. As Fulbrighters, we become educators to everyone we meet, not just our students. We inform others about the United States. We can dispel myths and correct misinformation while making a temporary new home for ourselves in our host countries. 

Sometimes, you will have a great desire to answer questions and explain American laws, politics, customs, or food.  Other times, the discomfort generated by questions about the U.S. is so palpable you almost wish you didn’t have to speak for the whole country. Therein lays the beautiful and positive dilemma of being a Fulbright ETA. How one handles those sometimes uncomfortable conversations with grace and tact can make for a successful Fulbright experience.  But it is not until you are a Fulbrighter abroad that you really get an in-depth understanding of how to manage these kinds of conversations. Having experiences in which you have to speak for a culture and country is how we truly learn diplomacy, and, also how we can teach it. When you are “the foreigner” to others and they are “the foreigner” to you, you are compelled to communicate and find things that will help you to connect with others. This is what my students had to do during the Model U.N. conference and what I had to do each day as a Fulbrighter in Spain.

After weeks of researching, writing and debating, my students ended up thoroughly enjoying themselves at the Model U.N. conference. The conference flowed naturally, and they met other bilingual students and formed new friendships. They garnered the confidence to speak about their assigned country with assurance and listened actively when questioned about its policies. They were graceful and exercised tact, and had learned that seeking to foster mutual understanding is an accomplishment in and of itself. I had learned the very same.

My advice to prospective applicants is to seek out opportunities that involve working with diverse groups of people. Whether it is through internships or community service, it is important to place yourself in settings that will encourage engaging in all kinds of conversations and events. Take time to reflect on how you might navigate your way through tough conversations during your grant. Be ready to dispel myths about Americans that may make you giggle, frown or feel surprised. If you have reflected and are eager to pursue a Fulbright grant, then be prepared for one of the most amazing experiences of your life.

Photo: Linnette Franco, 2009-2010, English Teaching Assistant to Spain, helping her students interpret a popular American rap song during one of her English classes (photo courtesy of Jermil Sadler)

The Bridge-Builder Redux, By Chase Stoudenmire, 2010-2011, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Georgia

My Fulbright grant lasted nine months; however, my Fulbright story is a bit longer.

It’s tempting to think of my Fulbright year as my story. In a sense, it was and is. But it’s important to step back and remember that what I may consider my own story – complete with a beginning, middle and an end – is also just another chapter in a larger, ongoing story. You might say I made my contribution to a fictional periodical entitled Educational Exchange, published on an annual basis by the (also fictional) Fulbright Press since 1946. You would find it on the ‘Mutual Understanding’ shelf located in a back corner of the Library of Congress.

I’ve been back in the United States for eight months. Recently, however, I’ve been reminded that like that ongoing collection of Fulbright stories, mine doesn’t have an ending; at least not yet.

My initial decision to apply for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Georgia was inspired by one of my professors who happened to have been born and raised there. She first came to the United States on a graduate school fellowship. Years later, she was tickled to inspire an American graduate student of her own to pursue a Fulbright grant in Georgia. Here, we see the first bridge connecting a story I might consider my own, to a larger story to which I’m simply adding my piece.

My signature project as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Georgia was leading a full production of an English-language play with a cast of 15 teenage students titled Beauty IS a Beast, a fairy tale set in an ancient kingdom featuring two princesses, one of whom was homely and sweet, the other, beautiful and vain. The latter sister learns a few things about true beauty when a prince from the neighboring kingdom pays a visit. Pulling together such an effort was no small task, but these students had the talent to match the challenge. I remember clearly the day I discovered some of those students could sing in English better than I could speak it.

I had three goals for the project. First, no matter what the end result, I wanted those students to have a positive experience. Subordinate to achieving the first goal, I hoped that we would put on a good show. Third, of course, I hoped their English language skills would improve as a result of preparing for the performances. Three weeks after those 15 students took a bow on the night of our final performance I left Georgia knowing that I could say with confidence that at least those first two goals had been achieved.

I thought that was the end of my Fulbright story. I was wrong.

One of those 15 students was also a member of Georgian teen pop group called CANDY. Months later, her group went on to win the 2011 Junior Eurovision contest. In their subsequent interviews, two members of that group responded in Georgian. Another two responded in Russian. My student spoke English. Good English.

Goal number three, check. But the story still wasn’t over.

I had a Georgian professor in the United States. Then, I became an American teacher in Georgia. And just like my Georgian professor never expected to inspire one of her American students to go to Georgia, I never expected that I’d end up inspiring one of my Georgian students to go to America. But that’s exactly what happened.

Another one of my 15 students won a scholarship to spend a year at an American high school. My former student had an American teacher in Georgia. Now, she’s a Georgian student in the United States. I can’t help but smile – in my own way – any time I hear Elton John’s ‘Circle of Life.’

My former student has done more than just go to class here in the States. Five months after taking her final bow on our stage in Georgia, this student auditioned for a school play in suburban Virginia. She made the cut. On stage, she played a foreign spy. Off the stage, she’s been playing a different role; the forward bridge in an ongoing cycle of teaching, learning and understanding.

I don’t presume to take credit for the accomplishments of my former students, but I know that I’ve played some small part in their story. For those of you interested applying for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship, you’ll become an assistant teacher. You’ll leave with a wonderful story of your own and that story may well end up being longer than you think.  You’ll also become a partial author of a larger, ongoing story, filed under ‘Mutual Understanding.’

Photo: Chase Stoudenmire, 2010-2011, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Georgia (back row, fifth from left in light brown tie), celebrating with the cast of students from Kutaisi Public School #3 after their final performance of “Beauty IS a Beast” at the Aleksi-Meskhishvili Theater in Kutaisi, Georgia

Want to hear more about Chase’s Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Georgia?  Click here to hear an NPR interview featuring his Georgian University of Arkansas Professor Kate Mamiseishvili and Chase discussing his experiences.

Yarn: A Fulbright Storytelling Project in Bulgaria, By Dena Fehrenbacher, Kate Maley and Hillary Traugh, 2010-2011, Fulbright English Teaching Assistants to Bulgaria

Yarn, a storytelling project highlighting the voices of Bulgarian youth, evolved incidentally. We did not go into our Fulbright year expecting to take on a project as large as Yarn became. In fact, we did not expect to do much more than assistant teach English at a foreign language high school—after all, we had applied for Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) grants, not research grants.

Yet, we were consistently inspired by the strength of our students’ insights and impressed that language was not a barrier to having meaningful conversations about life in Bulgaria. Hillary came up with the idea for a project.  We would utilize an online storytelling format, in the tradition of popular podcasts, to create a platform for youth perspectives. And so, Yarn emerged.

We recorded the interviews in the spring of our grant year. After we returned to the United States, Kate and Dena met to edit the hours-long interviews into minute-long stories. We sought to preserve the core intentions of the interviewees as we worked to weave together their disjointed, yet deeply intertwined experiences towards a larger narrative. The topics inevitably threaded through the students’ stories spoke to issues of globalization, identity and the politics of daily life in a post-socialist state as perceived by youth born after 1989.

All of the individuals interviewed for this project have had the opportunity to study English at specialized language schools.  The fact that their lives can be narrated in English, in their own voices, relates to their particular place in history and opens questions about contemporary life in Bulgaria and beyond. The experiences recorded are positioned to spur discussion and broaden the frameworks through which Bulgaria is often interpreted by outsiders.

Yarn is not a comprehensive study of Bulgarian youth. Some voices are heard more than others; many voices are not represented at all. Still, we feel that together the individual stories on Yarn tell one larger story—a story whose texture both shapes and is shaped by the opportunities that exist to speak and be heard.

Advice to future Fulbrighters:

1) Take the initiative to meet the people around you. Trust us: there is no more enjoyable way to spend your year than with the people of your host country. Make friends earlier rather than later. If you are a Fulbright ETA (and if it is appropriate in your host country), spend time outside of class with your students. Go out to coffee with them, or ask them to show you things in your town.

2) Take the initiative with projects, especially if you are a Fulbright ETA. Projects and outside activities are possible and Fulbright is supportive of them. If you are a Fulbright ETA, don’t be afraid to start extracurricular activities or individual side projects as long as they don’t eclipse the primary reason you are on your grant – to assistant teach English.

Photo: Hillary (left), Kate, and Dena (right), 2010-2011, Fulbright English Teaching Assistants to Bulgaria, pose next to a statue in Bulgaria’s capital city, Sofia

Are you attending the Hispanic Conference of Colleges and Universities (HACU) this October? If so, stop by to meet Fulbright Alumni Ambassador Marylin Rodriguez on Friday, October, 28.

On Friday, October 28, representatives from the Fulbright, Gilman and Boren Programs will be participating in workshops prior to start of this year’s Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities Conference (HACU)

We are pleased to announce that the Fulbright Workshop will feature Fulbright Alumni Ambassador Marylin Rodriguez.  While she will be attending all of HACU next weekend, this workshop will be an excellent opportunity for students and applicants to ask her questions about what it was like to be a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in Uruguay and how her Fulbright experiences continue to have an impact on her personally and professionally.  To learn more about Marylin and her Fulbright ETA experiences, watch the video below:

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

If you’re attending HACU or are located in the San Antonio area, we encourage you to stop by and participate in any of the following sessions:

1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.  Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarships

2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.  Boren Scholarships and Fellowships

3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.  Fulbright Program for U.S. Students

Location:

University of Texas at San Antonio – Downtown

Buena Vista Street Building, Room 4.304A – Conference

To view a map, click here.

Registration:

You do not need to be registered for HACU to participate in the workshops and the cost to attend is free.

To RSVP, please send a message including your name, institution and which sessions you’d like to attend to gilmanadvisors@iie.org.

We hope to see you there!

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.