Tag Archives: Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship

The Unexpected Journey, By Mildred Gonzalez, 2011-2012, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Spain

It was only spring of my senior year at Lafayette College, but I could already feel the sun beating down my neck, my best friend and I quickly regretted the trip to check our mailboxes, but chatted as we walked. I was happy to have accepted a job offer, but told my friend that a part of me still felt unsettled about life after graduation. After all, we were about to say goodbye to our home for the past four years. This was as obvious and as painful as the sun stinging our eyes, but neither of us spoke about it. When we arrived at our mailboxes, I reached into mine and unexpectedly discovered a thin manila envelope. It contained a letter congratulating me on being offered a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Madrid, Spain.

If someone came up to me a few years ago and told me that I would one day become a Fulbrighter, I would have laughed. The Fulbright Program was something that I had heard about in presentations, but not something I imagined myself doing. The first time I heard about the program, I was attending a Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) college retreat. Fulbright Alumni Ambassadors talked about their overseas experiences and the application process. Liking what I heard, I decided to apply, never thinking that I would be awarded a grant.

I am grateful to have had an opportunity to participate in the Fulbright Program. It is not every day that someone has the chance to work with students in another country. Through my assistant teaching experiences, my students’ perspectives on the United States changed as well as my own. My presence in the classroom allowed my students to experience another culture, as I made sure to give presentations on American holidays and traditions. While my students learned about Thanksgiving, I learned about Spanish traditions. I started a pen pal program between my students in Spain and a group in Texas. This project not only helped with students’ language acquisition, it also created a format for cultural exchange. Through my Fulbright experiences, I learned that I do not want to be just a teacher; I also want to be a student. Living in Spain created a desire within me to learn about other cultures and gain different perspectives.

Looking back, if I hadn’t received a Fulbright grant, I still wouldn’t have regretted applying. The application was hard work, but putting it together has prepared me for applying to other competitive programs I might pursue in the future.

If I could give future applicants any advice, it would be the following: Don’t just know why you want to receive a Fulbright grant, know what you can do in your selected country. It is important to research the country in which you would like to carry out your grant. Remember that the Fulbright Program is about cultural exchange. It is not just about how you will change as a result of your Fulbright experiences, it also involves asking how you’ll have an impact on those you’ll meet. You are applying to become a cultural ambassador. It is a big responsibility, but one that I enjoyed every minute of.

Photo: Mildred Gonzalez, 2011-2012, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Spain (far right), with her first year high school students at IES Al-Satt in Madrid, Spain

A Letter to Fulbright Applicants, By Julia Anderlé de Sylor, 2009-2010, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Germany



You have made it past the first stage of applying for a Fulbright grant. Those hours spent writing and revising Personal Statements and Statements of Grant Purpose, filling out seemingly never-ending forms, hunting down and begging professors for recommendations and language assessments, making copies, printing and finally, submitting your electronic application— it’s all over, finito, basta, fertig. You are officially halfway through the Fulbright application process.

You are now, to quote my father, a potential “Halfbright.”

Still ahead: what I found to be the most difficult aspect of applying, months of torturous uncertainty. 

Why am I congratulating you, then, when it’s not even over and you may not have been awarded a grant? Because just getting past stage one is a very remarkable accomplishment. I have spoken to many Fulbright alumni and it is universally agreed that the Fulbright application is one of the most time-consuming and energy-draining scholarship applications. It’s practically the equivalent of applying to ten graduate schools at once!

But is it worth it?


My Fulbright experience in Germany, in 2009 as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant literally changed the course of my life. Before coming to Germany (when I was still in the first stage of applying), I had planned on being in Germany for a year, and then applying to grad schools in the United States. I hoped to improve my German, take a few German literature classes at the Universität Bonn, and naturally, teach English in a German high school − all activities which would, with luck, increase my chances of getting into a prestigious Ph.D. program.

That was the plan. But, as Robert C. Gallagher once said, “Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.”

Now it’s 2012 and I am back in Europe. I had enjoyed assistant teaching English and studying in Germany so much that I decided to enroll in a dual master’s degree program in French-German studies at the Universität Bonn and l’Université Paris-Sorbonne. My first year, post-Fulbright, was spent studying at the Sorbonne and working as a Teaching Assistant in two Parisian high schools. This just goes to show that Fulbright really can change your life.

I am also incredibly grateful for the friends I met through Fulbright. Germany has a very strong Fulbright alumni network (which you can become a part of, even if you are not yet an alum), and they have both national and regional networks. The national network organizes four to five big events per year (including the unforgettable Winterball, which this year will take place in the beautiful Schwerin Castle in northern Germany), while the regional group helps to organize outings and smaller get-togethers such as Fulbright Thanksgivings. These networks emphasize an incredibly important aspect of the Fulbright Program: the meaningful, life-long connections you are bound to make. I cannot express how thankful I am for the long-lasting friendships that I have made through Fulbright.

I wish all of you perseverance and steady nerves for the next few months; despite all of the paperwork and countless hours, it really is worth it. I’ve been in your shoes and I know how the uncertainty feels.

Best wishes and good luck to all you stalwart “Halfbrights!” I stand with you in Ful-support!

Photo: Julia Anderlé de Sylor, 2009-2010, Fulbright ETA to Germany, with Ulrich Götz, German Fulbright alumnus and Fulbright Alumni Coordinator for Bonn and Cologne, attending a Fulbright information fair and speaking to high school students about the program

An American in Uşak, By Leslie Esbrook, 2010-2011, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Turkey

When I found out that I would be going to Uşak, Turkey, for my Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA), I didn’t quite know how to react. I looked online and only found references to ancient carpets. I looked on the map and saw that Turkey’s big cities were hours away. I looked in the dictionary and still did not know how to pronounce the name Uşak (it’s ooh-shock).  Needless to say, I knew I was in for a culture shock.

In reality, Uşak, as well as the other non-touristy towns of Turkey, are bursting with beauty, life and hospitality. I was assigned to Uşak University, a brand new university that possessed the dynamic energy and openness to allow me to design my own curriculum for courses, mentor students with aims of visiting the United States, improve a study abroad program and design a faculty class (with significant leeway to use non-traditional teaching methods and incorporate learning outside the classroom). As a first time teacher, I was consistently impressed by the breadth of English learning opportunities and the commitment campus-wide to support English-language activities. While statistics may indicate that Turkey is a country with rather high anti-U.S. sentiments, I experienced that the political divides cutting across ideological identities can dissolve by taking field trips to ancient ruins and sharing meals. Every day spent in Uşak was a new opportunity for me to both learn from and to teach others.

My first and main interaction with my town came through classroom experiences. Teaching at a five-year old institution with a developing English department, I helped to create curricula for first-year students and implemented them in classrooms of up to sixty students. When I started, it was challenging to be in a room of sixty raucous students, but I came to eventually know and appreciate all of them for their talents and abilities. Even the students who did not particularly want to learn English wanted to know more about American culture and asked questions about pop music or U.S. landmarks. Once I had acquired a better mastery of Turkish, I took over a class for the director of the health college and translated medical anthology texts with third year students from English to Turkish. The students’ participation and attention to detail made the two hour class pass by quickly, and left us all with a better understanding of the nuances of translation.

While eager to travel and visit other parts of Turkey, the best moments were often ones spent most simply: a picnic with students in the park, a stroll around the public gardens and a drawn-out game of backgammon over a constantly refilled strong glass of tea. By living in a place with relatively few social amenities, I became more in touch with myself. I learned, after a long while, to feel the extreme joys that Turks feel in offering help to strangers, in being with their families and in maintaining connections with friends. Turkish culture is one of a never-ending “pay it forward” mentality that is boundless in its act of giving. Sometimes in the United States, the sense of trusting those around us can be off-put by a sense of individualism and self-entitlement. Living in Uşak provided me with an opportunity to rediscover the communal trust most of us lose after childhood, an absolutely beautiful and unexpectedly rewarding gift.

This is not to say that my time in rural Turkey did not challenge, frustrate or disappoint me at times. I felt the push of bureaucracy against my American classroom conduct norms and the social pressures of conforming to my colleagues’ preferred teaching methods. Walking the streets, I suffered through high temperatures as I stuck to the shoulder and knee-covering outfits the majority of women wore, and I became frustrated at the more fluid sense of time after multiple get-togethers lasted well into the late evening hours. I constantly fielded questions from a nice older woman at my local gym as to why I was working out when from the looks of it I did not need to lose any weight. I was told repeatedly, and in a worried tone, that my diet consisted of enough sugar to fill thousands of cups of tea — even without my annual Halloween boost of candy supplies. Yet the benefits of sticking out my time as a Fulbright ETA in Turkey well outweighed any frustrations I may have had. I returned to the United States with a strong love of most things Turkish and a desire to maintain my connection to Turkey as part of my professional goals.

When I speak of Turkey, a final question that comes up frequently is religion. What was it like for me to be in a Muslim country and how was my own religious practice affected? Most people I speak with really have no sense of how religion impacts Turkish society. They have a sense that everyone walks around in hijabs and burqas. I tell people that Turkey should really be thought of as a Westernized country with an underlying respect for their traditions and culture, which emanate from religion. While this is not the place to delve deeply into the meaning of that statement, I assure Americans that moving to Turkey is culturally fascinating. As for religious practice, I found Turks to be nothing but accepting and curious to hear about holidays and observances to which they have never been exposed. I am Jewish and never hesitated to tell Turks about my religion. Everyone I met was overwhelmingly curious to hear what exactly that meant for me.

Lastly, my Fulbright ETA Program gave me an opportunity to strike up friendships over meals and, more often, dessert sampling. Experiencing the fresh tastes of Turkish food and receiving all of the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet led me to pursue an intensive side project. I published an English language cookbook of easy Turkish recipes, which was released this fall. I am proud to say it is the only Turkish cookbook written by an American non-native Turk (that I know of), and while the recipes are great, it also includes anecdotal tales of my travels in Turkey and short fun facts about the origins of the foods that underscore the rich history present in all things Turkish. In sharing my work with friends and family back home, I proudly added another dimension to their understanding of my time in Turkey and was able to bring back the intangible gift of the communal table that made my days in Uşak so joyful.

My experience in Uşak was a life-changing one and I have no doubt that it would have been so in any Anatolian town. Living in Uşak taught me an immense amount about myself and gave me a unique opportunity to impact the lives of those around me whom I never would have had the pleasure to meet otherwise. After completing my Fulbright grant, I began my first year at Yale Law School this fall, where I plan to keep up my Turkish language skills and eventually pursue a career in international law and diplomacy. In my limited free time, I even managed to publish an Op-Ed in a leading Turkish-English daily, with more hopefully to come. I encourage all Fulbright applicants to Turkey to take the time to explore towns like Uşak and see for themselves what makes the country a true cultural crossroads.

A few pieces of advice for future Fulbrighters:

  • Accept every invitation. More likely than not, you, as a potential cultural curiosity in small towns, will be an immediate celebrity. In your role as a celebrity and cultural ambassador, it’s likely that you will be invited out to dinners, lunches, picnics and a whole host of other meal-based events. Say yes! The learning curve for new cultures is always infinitely steep and befriending one person inevitably leads to befriending their friends down the line.
  • Be willing to experiment. If you’ve never taught in a formal setting and are worried about following precedents or your country’s common teaching practices, take a moment to consider how much potential your unique and fresh approach could bring. If you were particularly influenced by certain teaching styles in your own education, don’t be afraid to try them out or suggest them to colleagues; more often than not, your suggestions will be well-valued and respected.
  • If you need help, ask. I was often faced with a situation in which I simply did not understand what was being asked of me. It is completely appropriate to pause a conversation and ask colleagues or anyone in your town for help, advice or cultural clarification. If you are one of the first American Fulbrighters living in your host community, they may not know how much knowledge you are coming in with in regards to your particular assistant English teaching assignment. The responsibility falls on you to ask for necessary information. This may even include asking about the dates of holidays and exams, grading procedures and expectations on how much material to cover.
  • Make Fulbright your family. Overseas, we can all experience moments of loneliness, feelings of isolation, homesickness or frustration. Fulbrighters are one of the most intelligent, outgoing, and excited groups of people I’ve ever met. The friendships I made with fellow Fulbrighters will last a lifetime. We gave each other moral support and often discussed our comparative problems. Fellow Fulbrighters are a great source of inspiration and positivity, and can help remind you that you’re not alone.

Top photo: 2010-2011 Fulbrighters to Turkey Leslie Esbrook (left) and Kara Zinger (right) running the Istanbul Eurasia Marathon across two continents

Middle photo: 2010-2011 Fulbrighters to Turkey Jaime Gusching (left), Leslie Esbrook (center) and Jenny Coronel (right) hiking in Cappadocia, Turkey

A Slew of New Opportunities

In the last couple months, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program has added several new opportunities throughout the world, from Laos to Greece to Senegal, in both English Teaching Assistanship and Study/Research (full) categories of grants. Here’s a quick listing below, with three from just the last two days!

With the deadline only a few weeks away, could one of these new opportunities be the one you were looking for?

Interesting Times, By Dustin Gee, 2010-2011, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Montenegro


What does it mean to live in interesting times and what sort of qualities do they demand of young professionals?

As I concluded my Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) in Montenegro, I found myself contemplating these two questions in relation to how I had developed as a young professional and how I intended to use my Fulbright experiences upon returning to the United States.

Fulbright showed me exactly what it means to live in interesting times. Most notably, the program helped me to learn what it’s like to live in a post-communist country navigating the rapid demands of globalization. Assistant teaching English at the University of Montenegro allowed me to hone my intercultural communication skills, learn the basics of another language and develop relationships founded on mutual understanding and respect. I consider these skills to be important for thriving in interesting times and for working with others across cultural, racial and geographic boundaries. I also credit Fulbright for having awakened my calling to pursue a career in international education.

Since returning from Montenegro, I have pursued this calling by enrolling in a master’s degree program in higher education at New York University (NYU) and by becoming an administrator at Pace University’s Office of International Programs and Services. Fulbright expanded my search for graduate programs to those that support international experience as essential to any higher education curriculum. For example, this past March, I had an opportunity to participate in a two-week, global perspectives course on higher education in Turkey through NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

For those applying to the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, I would offer the following two recommendations:

First, get an early start on your personal statement. The personal statement is one page long, so a common pitfall is to think, “Oh, I can easily crank something out a week or two before the deadline.” Avoid this mindset. As I discovered while developing my application essays, they demand a considerable amount of time and effort because you have to ask yourself critical questions about your background, academic interests, qualifications and future aspirations. Remember, applicants are not interviewed on the national level (only by campus committees for those applying through an institution), so the personal statement must be well-written and constructed strategically. This is your only chance to tell the National Screening Committee about who you are and how you came to this point in your life (i.e., why Fulbright?). To help guide and structure your writing, I encourage you to give your personal statement a purpose. This involves creating a “residual message,” or, what I like to think of as a dynamic sentence in the first paragraph summarizing your intent.

Think of it this way, when the National Screening Committee members have finished reading your application, what is the one thing you want them to remember, know, understand or see in your application? It’s a powerful, concrete sentence (deeply rooted in Aristotle’s ethos, pathos and logos) which will reside with your reader.

Second, you should conduct research on your prospective Fulbright country and region, and identify resources and individuals who can offer guidance. I highly recommend checking your prospective host Fulbright Commission’s or U.S. Embassy’s website. Fulbright Commissions and U.S. Embassies are excellent resources for learning about Fulbright priorities, current public diplomacy initiatives, political issues and other hot topics being addressed by U.S. officials and host country governments. Ask yourself: Does your research topic or Fulbright ETA community engagement project align with Fulbright Commission or U.S. Embassy goals, objectives and programs? How might this information be used in your application to communicate that you are knowledgeable about that particular country or region?  Check to see if they have a Facebook page and join it!

Overall, you must plan ahead, pay attention to details, and manage your time well. The Fulbright application process will not seem as overwhelming if you stay on top of things.

Photo: Dustin Gee, 2010-2011, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Montenegro, in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, near the Stari Most or “old bridge” over the Nerveta River