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U.S. Fulbright

Fulbright Italian Style: Classroom, Community, and Culture, By Jessica Orton, 2010-2011, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Italy

June 28, 2011

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.