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Nurturing Intercultural Competence Through the FLTA Experience

May 12, 2020

By John Paul Obillos Dela Rosa, Tagalog Foreign Language Teaching Assistant, Northern Illinois University (Written January 2020).

At Cloud Gate (The Bean), Millennium Park, Chicago, IL

Months have passed since I began my Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) journey in the United States. I still remember how my mom and I shed tears of joy when we learned that I was accepted into the Program. Before I arrived, I promised myself that I would travel and explore as much as I could, meet lots of new people, and be an enthusiastic cultural ambassador for my country. While I expected that some things would change, I did not realize that my FLTA experience would drastically impact my life, especially the way I look at the world. One important thing that I’ve learned is the value of cross-cultural communication and how intercultural competence has been nurtured by my FLTA experience.

 

LIVING WITH MY CO-FLTAs FROM SOUTHEAST ASIA

As an FLTA at Northern Illinois University (NIU), I live in a student dormitory on campus with four other FLTAs from Southeast Asia: Bunga (Indonesia), Su Su (Myanmar), Ildi (Indonesia) and Songwut (Thailand). While we all come from the ASEAN region, we are very different from one another. From how to correctly pronounce the names of our countries, individual food preferences, families and personal life–each of us has our own beliefs and aspirations that are mostly dictated by our cultures. The experience of living with other FLTAs has given me a deeper understanding of cross-cultural communication that reading in a book alone could not provide. The five of us get along really well. Funny as it may seem, we share one common interest: we always enjoy taking photos when there is snow! This has been an exciting activity for us FLTAs at NIU, seeing snow and experiencing winter for the first time!

My FLTA colleagues from Southeast Asia— Su Su (Burmese), Thor (Thai), Bunga and Ildi (Indonesian)

My Indonesian FLTA friend and I , Ildi, are enjoying the pristine white view of DeKalb, IL on New Year’s Eve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMMERSING MYSELF INTO A NEW CLASSROOM ENVIRONMENT AND WORKPLACE

At NIU, the classroom culture and workplace environment are different in comparison to the Philippines. The concept of personal space in American culture is also essential to understand. I consider myself a big “hugger” just like many other Filipinos, but with my current students, I had to learn how to respect their personal space.

Our Beginning Tagalog students serenading the audience with a nostalgic Tagalog song during the Southeast Asia Cultural Night at Northern Illinois University (NIU) back in October.

Exploring the Southeast Asia Collection of Founder’s Memorial Library at NIU with my supervisor, Prof. Rhodalyne Gallo-Crail, and our Tagalog students.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Workplace culture is different in the United States, too. Having an open mind matters, and criticisms are not always negative; they are meant to help improve ourselves. I learned that I do not have to go around in circles and worry too much if I’m unable to say “yes” to an offer or a favor asked. I have always been very circular in terms of how I communicate with people, but here in the United States, I learned how to be more direct in the workplace. Punctuality is of prime importance in American culture., as well. Respecting time is respecting other people’s time.

Working with my supervisor at NIU is a great learning experience. I consider her the coolest and smartest mentor I’ve ever had. She is no less than Prof. Rhodalyne Gallo-Crail, my Ate Rhoda.

A photo opportunity with the kind-hearted employees of Northern Illinois University. I am fortunate to have been hosted by a caring and nurturing academic community!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CONNECTING TO THE REST OF THE COMMUNITY

Another exciting aspect of being an FLTA is connecting with my host community—lending a helping hand, spreading positivity, and sharing my language and culture. I was able to meet Americans from all walks of life, with different professions, old and young. They all have their own opinions about things. Some are the same as mine, some are not, but what I learned deeply is the value of listening to other people and respecting them, no matter what their opinions are. That is one important aspect of becoming an interculturally competent individual. We need to meet halfway, with open minds and hearts.

Striking a Yuletide pose with my second family in DeKalb, Illinois—the Kishwaukee Filipino-American Community.

It was a fulfilling experience to be part of “Feed My Starving Children,” a non-profit organization that provides free and healthy meals to the many starving children around the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am also sharing this one, big community of mine with my colleagues from the FLTA Program. The thought that one has friends from all over the world who share the same passions and interests is always exciting! I have met and made friends with other FLTAs from Egypt, Spain, Argentina, France, Taiwan, Japan, Pakistan, and other parts of the world. We still exchange teaching strategies and share our great adventures across the United States. Two of the most memorable encounters I have had in the United States were our Summer Orientation at The University of Arizona, and of course, the FLTA Midyear Conference in Washington, D.C.

A rare opportunity to be photographed with Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), Marie Royce, and other FLTAs who are constantly involving themselves in different community outreach activities.

The happiness felt to represent one’s country as an FLTA is incomparable. I share the same feeling with other Filipino FLTAs who were with me during the 2019 FLTA Midyear Conference in Washington, D.C.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We only have few days left before we say goodbye to our host institutions. I hope my co-FLTAs have also found ways on how to nurture their intercultural competence. May we all replace judgment with curiosity and let cultural understanding reign on this beautiful FLTA journey!

FLTA Foreign Fulbright Fulbright-National Geographic U.S. Fulbright

Looking Forward

April 30, 2020

“Working as a team to try to find a solution to this problem” – 2015 Fulbright U.S.-France Fulbright-Tocqueville Distinguished Chair and U.S. Scholar alumnus Dr. Benjamin J. tenOever continues to collaborate internationally with Marco Vignuzzi’s laboratory at the Institut Pasteur to test FDA-approved drugs in order to treat COVID-19 symptoms.

For more than 70 years, the Fulbright model of living and learning together with people of different cultures has helped forge lasting connections worldwide and has brought people and nations together to work toward common goals. This mission is more vital today than ever, and we thank the Fulbright community—participants, alumni, advisers, university and host partners, and staff at Fulbright commissions, embassies, implementing partners, and more—for coming together to take on today’s unprecedented challenges.

Malaysia ETA alumna Rachel Jacoby stays connected with her cohort, which supports their local communities across the United States through Feeding the Frontline, an organization that raises money and delivers meals to medical staff and workers fighting COVID-19.

Looking for innovative ways to create medical supplies, Fulbright Visiting Scholar Dr. Aulia Nasution, with students and colleagues of Sepuluh Nopember Institute of Technology (ITS) Department of Engineering Physics, made a prototype of a low-cost ventilator using an open-sourced Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) design.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We express our gratitude to Fulbright participants and alumni engaged in the fight against the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). Fulbrighters are healthcare workers, scientists, inventors, policy makers, journalists, academics, entrepreneurs, teachers, and professionals of all backgrounds. Fulbrighters are leaders, innovators, experts, and trailblazers. Fulbrighters are creative, compassionate, resilient, and generous. Fulbrighters are simply extraordinary, and we are so proud of the many ways they are taking action.

As Pakistan combats the COVID-19 pandemic, alumni Dr. Muhammad Moiz and Rana Muhammad Umer helped establish the country’s first drive-through testing facility in Karachi.

As we look forward to the future, we will begin posting stories from our Fulbright alumni, written prior to COVID-19. We hope they will continue to inspire and educate as we navigate the future together.

FLTA Foreign Fulbright

Reflections From a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant: Mid-Year Conference

February 14, 2020

By Léandre Larouche, French Foreign Language Teaching Assistant, Canada 
I did not expect the end of the Fulbright FLTA mid-year conference to feel so weird. The conference, organized by Fulbright, gathered all 400+ Foreign Language Teaching Assistants dispatched across the United States in the Marriott Marquis in Washington, DC. The goal of the mid-year conference was to get all FLTAs together to reflect upon their experience, learn together, and share what they have learned. While the conference’s primary goal may have been intellectual, it was also emotional and personal on many levels. Our learning experience goes beyond our roles as FLTAs; it also teaches about ourselves, about other people, and about all the different countries, languages, and cultures represented in the Program. I am experiencing this personal aspect first-hand as I find myself seized by a sense of emptiness at the dusk of the conference. Still in Washington, DC for one more night, I’ve said goodbye to most of my fellow Fulbrighters and wish this conference lasted just a little longer — or at least that I could spend more time getting to know its participants.

The French from the Old World

I’ve been fortunate enough to be a Fulbright Program participant twice — as well as an exchange student. These experiences allowed me to attend several events where I’ve met people from across the world and got to know them for very short periods of time. Yet this time — and perhaps more than any other time before — I feel sad, almost heartbroken, that this conference came to an end. The past week spent in Washington, DC, was possibly the most enriching and fun time in my life. The people I’ve met there where some of the funniest, smartest, and most accomplished people I’ve met. Perhaps most importantly, too, I got to know more of my fellow French FLTAs — who are all from France, as I’m the only French-Canadian in the Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program. They managed to make me love their country more and spurred my desire to further discover it. They also strengthened my love for the language we share and increased my awareness of its diversity.

French, indeed, is a colourful language, a language full of metaphors, images, and wonderful, sometimes ridiculous expressions. The best part of it is that it changes from one corner of the world, even one part of a country, to the other. I taught my expressions to the French FLTAs; they taught me theirs — and we’ve laughed to tears in the process. The relationship between Québec and France can be a tricky one; I haven’t always felt like people from France treat people from Québec and their language as equals. But these French people, as good representatives of their country as they are, made me forget these sometimes bitter feelings. Few are the times in my life where I’ve had as much fun and learned so much about a nation. If I were to take just one thing away from this conference, it would be that individuals have the power to influence countries’ relations. Who knows where we all will be ten, twenty, and thirty years down the road? Who knows what kind of impact we will be able to make?

The Fulbright Program’s goal is to help the U.S. State Department achieve diplomatic objectives by facilitating exchange programs between the United States and the rest of the world. Not only is it succeeding at this objective, but it is also succeeding at doing so for other countries. When I go back home to Canada, I’ll remember not only the interactions with Americans, but also those with the French people and the 40 other nations represented at the conference. My mind was opened wider more times than I can count. For example, I met the first Fulbrighter from the United Arab Emirates, who opened my mind to a country I knew next to nothing about. The fact that a Fulbright Commission was launched in that country a few years back has already had a tremendous impact — on my life, just as on that of many other people. The results may be invisible for now, but their effects will be made visible sooner or later.

Of Emptiness and Confusion

The time spent with the French people and other Fulbrighters from across the world, as we exchanged ideas in conference rooms, ate in restaurants, drank in bars and hotel rooms, I regard as rare and precious. I think I’m going to miss it seriously. I’m lucky to be living an extraordinary life as a Fulbright FLTA in Williamsport, PA — a life I would never take for granted. Nonetheless, it’s hard to think of going back to the routine next semester after living such an intense weekend. I’m going to be travelling around the United States throughout the Christmas break, and I’m going to see some of the people I’ve met here as I do so. Still, the feeling of being surrounded with more than 400 other people like you who love languages, love people, love the world, and wish for a better, more tolerant future is priceless and, frankly, difficult to get over. As I write these lines, I feel as though there is a hole in my heart. I feel as though I’ve lost something I’ll never get back, no matter how bright the future might be.

I know, however, that Fulbright is forever and that the friendships it creates are made to last. In many cases, we said goodbye but not farewell—and I know full well that this is only the beginning of a life filled with such experiences. While in Washington, DC, before the conference began, I hung out with a friend I’d met during the 2017 Youth Institute for Canada in the World, another Fulbright event. It felt like nothing had changed. And some of the people I’ve met this weekend, I was already acquainted with from our summer orientation in Fayetteville, AK. Nothing had changed with them, either. We picked up our conversations as if we’d never been apart. When people are bound together by an organization like Fulbright — meaning they share a similar vision of the world and certain fundamental values — they can feel as though they’ve known each other forever, and the connections they share are as strong as they can be. As a result, it feels bittersweet when the time comes to say goodbye — sometimes even lonely. But such a sense of emptiness is simply the price to pay for these extraordinary experiences. Nothing meaningful comes without a sense of loss when it ends; people keep moving forward and use what they have learned as they do so. They try as they might not to compare the present to the past and compartmentalize these events. Such is the beauty of programs like those of Fulbright: they teach how to handle the extraordinary, all these exceptional encounters with people all special in their own ways — and to move on with our lives once it’s over.

Even though I’m well aware that the sadness won’t last — I know that in a day or two, it will turn into something more pleasant — I still embrace this uncomfortable feeling. Because I know it is the right thing to feel after a life-changing experience. There is nothing abnormal with feeling this way; this is how things should be. And I can only hope that all the other FLTAs feel more or less the way I do, that they too had an extraordinary few days in the United States capital city. And I can only hope, too, that more people feel this at one point in their lives, that they experience extraordinary events and programs, like those of Fulbright. International education and professional opportunities are blessings one should strive to get at least once in their lifetime. There’ll be moments of emptiness and confusion, but this is how we know that we’re doing something right.

FLTA Foreign Fulbright Reach the World

U.S. Classrooms Celebrate International Education Week with Fulbrighters

November 18, 2019

In celebration of International Education Week 2019, 10 Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistants will visit elementary, middle, and high schools in Kentucky, Nebraska, North Carolina, and Michigan. The visits will take place from November 18 to 21, and are sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), in partnership with Reach the World.

The Fulbrighters will share their home countries’ culture with students and describe their Fulbright experiences. The visits, with a diverse group of participants and classrooms, allow American students to build first-hand global knowledge, and help increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and other countries. The visits build on ECA and Reach the World’s virtual exchanges partnership, in which U.S. exchange students studying overseas through Fulbright and other ECA exchange programs “meet” students in American classrooms.

Follow our visits to U.S. classrooms this week by using and following #Fulbright on social media.

Meet the Fulbright participants:

 

El Housseine Abouazza
Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant from Morocco
Fayetteville State University

“My name’s Houcien Abouazza. I’m from Morocco, which means I’m African, and I’m 33 years old (my body insists that I look much younger, though!). I’ve been working as a high school English teacher for the past eight years. I enjoy my job immensely because I get the chance to work with thirsty young minds. I have a master’s in Translation Studies from Cadi Ayyad University in Morocco, and work as a translator between English and Arabic. I came to the United States in August 2019 on the Fulbright Foreign Student FLTA Program, and teach at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina. My focus is building a bridge between Americans and Moroccans through teaching Arabic and showcasing Moroccan culture with all its varied facets. Not only that, but the Americans I have met have been nothing but helpful in introducing me into their own culture, which has made me more conscious of my own. Programs like Fulbright help prevent the rise of global illiteracy.”

 

Raju Ahmmed
Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant from Bangladesh
University of Michigan

“Hello, I am Raju. I am a lecturer in English at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Maritime University in Bangladesh, where I teach communicative English courses to undergraduate students. My research interest is in developing second language skills, English for Specific Purpose (ESP) and Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TESOL). I graduated from the University of Dhaka in Bangladesh. Presently I work as a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant at the University of Michigan, where I teach Bengali in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures. I also assist in a seventh grade English class once a week at Scarlett Middle School. In my free time, I love cooking, meeting new people, and sharing my culture.”

 

Sarwa Azeez
Fulbright Foreign Student Program – MA Creative Writing, from Iraq
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

“Hi, I am Sarwa Azeez. I have completed a master’s in English Literature at Leicester University in the UK. My hometown is called Soran, which is a stunning mountainous town located in Iraqi Kurdistan. I have contributed to humanitarian work with refugee girls and children in my region. My main interests are reading and writing, especially writing poetry. I have published a poetry pamphlet called Remote. As a Fulbrighter, I am studying for my second master’s degree in Creative Writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.”

 

Huda Hosson
Fulbright Foreign Student Program – MS in Electrical Engineering, from Libya
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

“My name is Huda, and my mission in life is to bring positive change to the world and to help humanity evolve and grow. I chose science and engineering to be my keys to doing so. I am currently researching different implementations of solar power systems to help lead the world to sustainability. I have experience as a primary school teacher and as a lab supervisor in college. I’ve been involved with different civil society organizations to help promote peace, empower women, and encourage scientific work. I enjoyed spending the last year studying in Italy and I feel very fortunate to be studying here in the United States now. Oh, I am very passionate about yoga, too!”

 

Alexandre Lopes Silva
Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant from Brazil
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

“Hi, I’m Alexandre. I worked as an English as a Foreign Language teacher in Brazil, and am currently a Portuguese teacher and the mediator of the Portuguese Club at UNL. I am also taking graduate-level courses on methodology and applied linguistics. I am very interested in second language acquisition, and gender and sexuality studies. My hobbies include ballet, studying foreign languages, and cinema.”

 

Meltem Ozgul
Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant from Turkey
Michigan State University

“Hi, I am Meltem. I am an English teacher at a secondary school in İstanbul. I studied English Language Teaching at Yeditepe University in İstanbul, and have worked with different levels of language learners while teaching English for four years. Last year, I got my certificate in Teaching Turkish as a Foreign Language. Currently, I am a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant at Michigan State University. Here, I teach Turkish to college students and attend cultural events to promote Turkish culture in America.”

 

Gulchekhra Rakhimova
Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant from Uzbekistan
Michigan State University

“Hello! I am Gulchekhra Rakhimova from Uzbekistan. I am a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant in Uzbek language at Michigan State University. I have earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English Linguistics and Philology at Uzbekistan State World Language University. I received my Professional Development in Teaching English as a Second Language Certificate from Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland. As a cultural ambassador, I’ve joined the Community Volunteering International Program (CVIP), and have been doing cultural presentations and events to present my culture and my country.”

 

Olajide Salawu
Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant from Nigeria
Fayetteville State University

“Enle o, I am Olajide Salawu. I work as a research assistant at Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria, from where I also earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Literary Studies. As a cultural ambassador, I am currently a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant at Fayetteville State University, where I have held different workshops on Yoruba language and culture. Next spring, I will teach first-year students in an “Introduction to Yoruba Language” course. In my spare time, I like to watch movies and write poetry. My work can be found in Transition, Rattle, Salt Hill Journal, New Orleans Review, African Poetry Book Fund and elsewhere.”

 

Mariia Velichko
Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant from Russia
Michigan State University

“Hello, I am Maria! I graduated from Magnitogorsk State University, where I majored in Linguistics, Translation and Interpretation, and worked as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Translation and Interpretation. My main professional interests are methods of teaching English and Russian, all kinds of translation and interpretation, and cross-cultural communication. I currently assist students in the “Russian 420” course at Michigan State University, host a Russian Club, and organize and take part in cultural outreach events to promote Russian culture in America. I am interested in fashion history, art, photography, and am always looking for things that can inspire me.”

 

Chiu-Li Wu
Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant – Taiwan people
University of Kentucky

“Hello, I’m Chiu-Li Wu, but most of my friends just call me Sherry! I love sharing Chinese culture, and my main professional interests are psychology, school counseling, special education, and teaching English and Chinese as a foreign language. I also like traveling and working as a volunteer in the community. I’m currently a teaching assistant of “Chinese 101” at the University of Kentucky and organize some cultural events. I enjoy helping my students experience the art of Chinese characters, Chinese woodblock painting, calligraphy, brush painting, paper cutting, pop songs, and Chinese cuisine.”