Tag Archives: Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship

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.

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.