Tag Archives: Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship

A Whole New World, By Kelley Whitson, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Malaysia, 2011-2012















The District of Besut, the State of Terengganu … are you struggling to find those places on a map? I did too.

In 2001, my interest in education led to me to pursue a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) in Malaysia. Little did I know that for the next ten months I would be working in one of the most ethnically, religiously, linguistically and culturally diverse nations on the planet.

I applied to be an ETA because I had truly enjoyed teaching English in Peru a few years ago. From that experience, I became very interested in education as a component of economic development and wanted to explore this subject further. Although serving as an assistant English teacher in Malaysia was initially challenging because of the cultural differences I encountered such as how men and women are regarded, religion and food, I adapted and grew to love Terengganu because of these differences.

In the classroom, I learned that as an ETA working with students from different religious and ethnic backgrounds, it’s important to respect their cultures and to recognize that you have a unique opportunity to share your views about the United States. There were instances when students and teachers asked difficult questions. When navigating these kinds of circumstances, the best advice I can give to prospective ETAs is to be open and honest. Doing so will strengthen your relationships and your colleagues and friends will appreciate your candor. While your students may initially be shy and hesitant to approach you, don’t reciprocate with shyness. Sometimes being silly, creative and energetic can help. The more open and relaxed you are, the more your students will gravitate to you and seek you out for academic and social reasons.

In addition to spending time in the classroom, I tutored; participated in school clubs and competitions; organized English camps; and planned community service trips. These events were extremely beneficial because they allowed me to interact with my students, and others, outside of the classroom.

My advice to those applying for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship:

  • Be yourself when you write your Fulbright essays and during your grant.
  • When writing your Fulbright essays, make sure that you demonstrate your flexibility and passion for assisting local English teachers.
  • You never know what might happen during your grant, but you want to reassure reviewers that you’ll be able to adapt.
  • Get outside of your comfort zone and try new things while in your host country because that’s where you’ll receive the highest reward.
  • Mingle with your local community outside of your professional circles.

Photo: Kelley Whitson, 2011-2012, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Malaysia, learning how to fly a traditional Malaysian kite

Are you attending an upcoming webinar or do you need to get up to speed on the basics of applying for a Fulbright grant? If so, check out our new tutorials.

New for the 2013-2014 application cycle, Fulbright U.S. Student Program tutorials are up-to-date, online slideshow videos designed for applicants and Fulbright Program Advisers (FPAs) to learn program and application basics.  Since some tutorials may be prerequisite for attending webinars, we recommend applicants and FPAs take time to review them before registering.

Tutorial 1: Intro to the Fulbright U.S. Student Program


Tutorial 2: The Research/Study Award (Including Arts)


Tutorial 3: The English Teaching Assistantship (ETA)

Turkey: The Home of Ancient Monuments, Legendary Folklore Heroes and Eternal Hospitality, By Rebecca Anderson, 2009-2010, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Turkey


I’m a Fulbright cliché. Like many alumni, my Fulbright experience was life-changing. My first visit to Turkey as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) at Pamukkale University enriched my development as a global citizen in unexpected ways. Living in the industrial city of Denizli, my colleagues, friends and students shared perspectives that continue to influence me both personally and professionally.

I applied for a Fulbright ETA grant to Turkey to assistant teach English and explore how Turkish culture has influenced folklore tales featuring a trickster-ish character known as Nasreddin Hodja. American and British translations of the Hodja tales are the focus of my dissertation project.  By using my analysis results of how these translations reflect resistance and receptiveness to Turkish culture, my project aimed to create a global citizenship pedagogy. The teaching approach involved students using Turkish Nasreddin Hodja tales and Western folklore as investigative tools, and identifying story themes highlighting similar and different cultural patterns. For example, although there are big differences in their motivations, the queen in Rumpelstiltskin and Nasreddin Hodja both use trickery to achieve their goals. The students and I then worked together to apply these identified patterns to contemporary local and global events. These exercises not only helped students’ critical thinking skills but their ability to negotiate and articulate their roles as global citizens.

My ETA assignment immersed me in the kind of cultural engagement that my dissertation – and the Fulbright Program – promotes. I assistant taught hundreds of students in the Hazırlık (English Preparatory Program) using my department-wide, cross-cultural studies approach.  Instead of simply relating anecdotes and facts about American culture in the classroom, I focused instead on exchanging information and perspectives. I created a series of interactive PowerPoint presentations on a range of American cultural topics (such as important historical events, contemporary family and community life, the educational system, popular books and body language) which served as a model for my students. They, in turn, reciprocated with PowerPoint and video presentations about similar Turkish cultural topics. We found many commonalities between our countries and cultures (not the least of which is the popularity of the Twilight series!). The end result of these exchanges was that we developed new understandings about being global citizens in relation to each other’s culture.

My schedule was busy, but when a colleague mentioned that the understaffed department needed a discourse analysis instructor, I volunteered, excited to help create a course about analyzing the construction of meanings in communication. My colleagues appreciated the help and I was pleased to develop further my dissertation research on discourse analysis.

My relationship with my colleagues changed after this. Previously, it had been mostly social; now, my colleagues began inviting me to university workshops and international conferences located in such beautiful historic cities as Efes (Ephesus) and İstanbul. Workshop collaborations with one of my colleagues cemented a valued friendship. When I returned to Turkey during summer 2011 to participate in the U.S. Department of State’s Critical Language Scholarship Program, she and her family welcomed me to their home in the beautiful coastal town of Çeşme.

Students and their families also extended generous hospitality. On learning about my plans to visit Konya, the home city of one of my students, Ferhat Ak, he and his family appointed themselves my tour guides to the city’s beautiful mosques and gardens. They also invited me to their second home in nearby Akşehir, the purported birthplace of Nasreddin Hodja. Ferhat and his classmates explained that my interest in the Hodja tales had made them feel proud about a part of Turkish culture that previously hadn’t been very important to them.

By my assignment’s conclusion, my interactions with students, colleagues and so many others helped me realize that the Fulbright experience is about more than promoting mutual understanding between cultures; it is about individuals extending and receiving support for each other’s cultures and values.

A few application suggestions:

  1. Be flexible and open to new ideas.  Make sure your application reflects that you are both.
  2. Give yourself ample time to draft and revise your application components. Ask at least two or three people (I asked several professors) to review and comment on your drafts.
  3. If you are applying through an institution, take your institution’s Fulbright committee’s critiques of your drafts seriously. I did, and my application benefited.

Photo: Rebecca Anderson, 2009-2010, Turkey (center), with the Ak family and a friend in their rose garden in Konya

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.