Jonathan Remple, 2010-2011, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Rwanda, at the base of the Virunga Volcano Range in Musanze, Rwanda
Before college, I never would have imagined that I would someday become a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. I knew the highly competitive nature of the Fulbright Program, and was initially intimidated, but its central focus on cultural exchange meshed well with my aspirations and compelled me to apply. Once in college, I reached out to my on-campus Fulbright Program Adviser, who was extremely encouraging and helpful in guiding me successfully through the process. After a fantastic year of learning in Rwanda, I’m grateful I did so.
My Fulbright experience was particularly unique because the U.S. Department of State partnered with Peace Corps, allowing me to train for six weeks alongside Peace Corps Volunteers in rigorous language instruction, cultural immersion courses, and teaching methods. From the onset of the program, my goal was to live as close to the earth and the community as possible, focusing my efforts on cultural awareness and exchange. For me, nothing meant more than embracing Rwanda’s native tongue, Kinyarwanda.
Gail Taylor, 2011-2012, Germany, in front of the Herzog August Bibliothek in
The best research goes beyond the book. Thus, my Fulbright year in Germany opened up new ways of exploring an area of interest: the reception of New World plants into the medicine of Reformation-era Germany. My Study/Research grant allowed me to use the renowned early modern collection of the Herzog August Bibliothek (HAB) in Wolfenbüttel as basis for my historical research. I found that each genre located in the HAB—travel narratives, medical books, herbals, pharmacopoeias, almanacs, apothecary regulations—has its own way of looking at imported remedies. Every morning as I walked to the library, plugged in my laptop, and spread my books out on the reading-room table, I saw New World plants, foods, and peoples through the eyes of 16th century explorers, physicians, and theologians. But only outside the library among friends and different places could these findings come to life.
At a library garden party, I met a local woman who once taught beginning pharmacists. She offered to show me her pharmacy and collections of herbal specimens. Over discussions of how medicine has changed over the last 500 years, we became friends. In her specimen box, I saw the New World plants as they would have looked in 16th century Germany: a pale cross section of sassafras, twisted roots of sarsaparilla, and dark chunks of guaiacum bark, the same dried medicinal plants described in medical books and herbals from the 1500s.
Emma Din, 2011-2012, Fulbright ETA to Colombia, giving individualized help to an advanced English student, Alex, who has been attending Fulbright ETA classes for four years
This was it: Thursday night at Tin Tin Deo. I was embracing la vida caleña, or Cali lifestyle, venturing into the “salsa capital of the world” by visiting the legendary salsa bar for the first time. I couldn’t have imagined it more perfectly with its low ceiling, pictures of famous salsa singers displayed on all the walls, dim lights, pulsing rhythms, and sultry atmosphere. I’d taken salsa classes before moving to Colombia and loved them, so I thought I was good to go. Little did I know, Cali-style salsa features quick footwork, unique Afro-influence, and enough improvisation to render the classic movements and foot patterns I’d learned useless; I was forced to give up on the prescriptive combinations and rely instead on how the music made me feel and what my partner was communicating with his steps. That night, I discovered that in Cali, Colombia, salsa is more than a fun activity, more than a sport, and more than an art form; it is an identity and language.
My time spent practicing salsa outside of class influenced my role inside the classroom as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA). I was placed at the Universidad Santiago de Cali and had my own classroom where I assistant taught English conversation classes to college students ranging from 15 to 50 years old. Just as I was learning the importance of moving away from memorized salsa steps, I challenged my students to step away from the prescriptive English sentences and dialogues they had memorized. I encouraged them to take risks and to get outside of their comfort level in English and focus on expressing ideas, rather than fearing mistakes.
Todd McKay, 2011-2012, Fulbright ETA to Bangladesh, reviews participants’ work at an English speaking and pronunciation workshop in Motijheel, Dhaka, Bangladesh
“Half the battle is applying,” a former linguistics professor of mine once told me. This is the kernel of wisdom—the all-too-true aphorism—that carried me through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program application process. Since that first sit-down with Fulbright’s online application, I have learned a lot and have had ample time to reflect on the application process and on my time in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
I was in the second semester of my MA program in applied linguistics at the University of Utah when thoughts of a Fulbright future first popped into my head. One of the courses in my program was a curriculum design and development course, which included both curricula for foreign language teaching and a professional development component.
“We get so caught up in our academic lives,” my professor said, “that we often forget to work on our professional lives.” She challenged each of us to come up with a practical goal that could be completed by semester’s end.
I decided I wanted to apply for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) grant, but I didn’t think I was qualified. Truth be told, I was downright afraid of applying for a Fulbright grant. I was an okay, but by no means brilliant student. I grew up in a small town 40 miles north of Salt Lake City, Utah, my undergraduate GPA didn’t begin with a 4, and I was not a polyglot studying linguistics under Noam Chomsky.
Austin Volz, 2009-2010, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Germany, prepares Thanksgiving dinner at his school in Dresden, Germany
Four years ago, I was given the opportunity of a lifetime. I received a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) to the town of Laufen, Germany—a tiny “city” on the border of Austria. During my 10 months as an ETA, I learned a new language, a new culture, and a lot about myself. But perhaps one of the most rewarding aspects of the experience was the opportunity I had to meet other amazing ETAs. Among them, I can name Oxford, Harvard, Yale, and Georgetown graduates. Some are in the United States doing important things for the government, some are pursuing graduate education, while others are working abroad—in Sri Lanka, China, Germany—you name it.
As we approach the four year mark of when we began our Fulbright journey together, I thought it’d be great to catch up with a few of my fellow Fulbrighters to see where they are today, and how their Fulbright has affected their personal and professional trajectories.
I first arrived in Sierra Leone in 2008 and spent nine months on a remote river island called Tiwai to study the endangered and enigmatic pygmy hippopotamus for my dissertation research. As I continued my research and learned more about the Mende people’s lives, I realized how important it is to incorporate the needs of people living near protected areas into conservation. I returned to the United States determined to find a way to continue to learn more about the pygmy hippo while also helping those who I lived and worked beside.
My Fulbright experience first began when a colleague of mine, who had received a Fulbright grant to study in Uganda, contacted me, and told me about the possibility of conducting research through the program. I immediately began my application. Unbelievably, in August 2010, I was on a flight to Sierra Leone as a Fulbright Study/Research grant recipient, this time armed with resources and knowledge to make the most of my ten-month stay.