Tag Archives: Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship

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


University of Texas at San Antonio – Downtown

Buena Vista Street Building, Room 4.304A – Conference

To view a map, click here.


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.

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.