Tanya Wacholz was a 2012 Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Germany
Some experiences change the trajectory of your life forever. For Tanya Wacholz, that experience was a trip to China to visit the sister school of her Minnesota high school. “At the time, I didn’t know anyone who traveled abroad or lived in other countries,” she recalls, “and there I was in Tianjin and Beijing, meeting people whose cultures were so different and exciting.” Later, in college at the University of Minnesota, Tanya became interested in German and spent a semester in Freiburg, Germany, studying post-war history and German colonialism. After graduation, she moved back to Germany, this time to Berlin, in order to improve her German language skills. Considering a career in education and looking to gain experience, she applied for and received a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to help 12th- and 13th-grade students in Birkenwerder, Germany, prepare for the Abitur, their all-important cumulative exams.
During her time as a Fulbright ETA, Tanya volunteered for Reach the World, a nonprofit organization offering virtual exchanges. She shared her experiences abroad with Keith Pitchford’s middle school students in Hope Mills, North Carolina. “I wanted to help my present and future students on both sides of the Atlantic,” she remembers, “and I wanted my experiences abroad to have a trans-national impact.” Keith’s students were studying World War II. Tanya channeled her love of history and documented her experiences at key historical sites around Berlin. She shared engaging stories with Keith’s students vis the Reach the World platform, breathing fresh life into the topic. “The experience taught me a lot about how to get students interested in other cultures and open their minds to new places and experiences.”
Following her Fulbright ETA, Tanya returned to Minnesota and taught through Teach For America in the Minneapolis area. Says Tanya, “I came home with the same mission that I had when I started my Fulbright experience–to become a teacher. I felt prepared to take on a new challenge. I felt ready to run my own classroom, and I knew what I wanted my classroom to feel like. I knew TFA was going to be a challenge, but I was prepared.” Through TFA, Tanya earned her Master’s degree and championed equity for all students in her classrooms.
To that end, and due to a partnership between Reach the World and Teach for America, she became a Reach the World teacher herself, welcoming the next wave of Fulbright scholars into her classroom through their own virtual exchanges. “My students are so engaged when their traveler is on the screen right in front of them, sharing their experiences in a new place,” she says. Tanya’s 8th-grade English Language Learner students at Hiawatha College Prep often have international backgrounds themselves, so they’re especially interested in what languages their Reach the World traveler speaks. They are also very interested in globalization and issues surrounding refugees in other parts of the world, and together with co-teacher Ryane Hardy, Tanya enriches classroom curriculum with the travelers’ global perspectives.
“They ask so many questions,” Tanya says. “The Fulbright travelers we connect with through Reach the World are people my students really want to know and learn from. My students walk away from their virtual exchanges feeling like they’ve shared their international backgrounds and gotten so much in return. It plants a seed that motivated and curious students can go on to college and be in control of their own global experiences.”
Michelle Martin-Sullivan’s love of languages began—as many lifelong passions do—with a great teacher. In Nadia Yousfi-Roy’s high school Spanish class in Dallas, Texas, Michelle quickly grew passionate about (and fluent in) Spanish. She recalls, “I saw the life that Ms. Yousfi-Roy was able to live because she spoke so many languages and had lived in such interesting places, and I want that for myself.” Michelle spent a summer increasing her fluency in Costa Rica. After returning home to Texas, she embraced the opportunities presented within her community to learn from native speakers. “Growing up in Texas can be a Spanish-language immersion experience if you look for it,” Michelle says. When Spanish became second nature, she accepted a new challenge from
Ms. Yousfi-Rou to honor the other half of her Spanish/Moroccan heritage by taking up Arabic. “I expected to pick up Arabic just as quickly,” Michelle said, “but I quickly learned otherwise.”
As an undergraduate at West Point and The University of Michigan, Michelle dedicated herself to the study of Arabic. Upon graduation, she moved to a small town outside of Amman, Jordan, where she taught kindergarten for a year and continued to practice her language skills. She loved the complexity and challenge of Arabic. By the time she moved back to the U.S. in 2015, she had finally achieved an intermediate-to-high level of proficiency.
Seeking to use her teaching experience, Michelle joined Teach For America in Appalachian Kentucky and spent the next two years as the Spanish teacher at what became Floyd Central High School in Floyd County, Kentucky. She loved the people and the area so much that she has made it home. “For most of my life, I’ve wanted to be somewhere else,” Michelle says, “but my wanderlust never kicked in here. Our small community is tightly knit with a great family feel.”
Finding that her students wanted to learn more about the world, Michelle began welcoming Fulbright travelers from all over the world into her classroom through a partnership with Reach the World, a non-profit organization that facilitates virtual exchanges with K-12 classrooms across the U.S. Says Michelle, “Teenagers tend to naturally push back on where they grew up, and they want to learn about where they’re not from. It’s such a great privilege to be able to introduce them to new cultures at this point. It’s a real eye-opener to interact with and get along with someone abroad who is so different than them.” During regular video-calls with Reach the World/Fulbright travelers, students apply the technical skills they’re already familiar with to new challenges, such as conversing in Spanish via Skype and reading reports about new cultures by their Reach the World travelers, translated into Spanish.
In addition to expanding their global mindset, Michelle’s students love to share their pride in where they’re from, jumping on the chance to bust stereotypes. “The experience of having to consider a different way of life raises the question, ‘How do I explain my culture to someone else?’ Michelle says. “Fulbright travelers show a genuine interest in where the students are coming from, and it makes for some very meaningful exchanges and relationships.”
Having worked with several Fulbright/Reach the World travelers in Spanish-speaking countries around the world, Michelle takes pride in the impact global education has had on her students. “I had 15- and 16-year-old students who already know that, when they graduate from college, they want to be Fulbright scholars. Many of my students have found mentors in the Fulbright travelers they’ve met through Reach the World, and they stay in touch long after the classroom exchange is over. They’ve learned that it’s financially possible to study abroad through organizations like The Fulbright Program. A former student is about to spend a semester in Italy and a summer in Peru, and on top of her Spanish major, she just picked up Hebrew and Arabic. Some of my students grew up without internet in their homes, and now, the world is literally their oyster.”
In celebration of International Education Week 2018, six Fulbright Foreign Students, Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistants, and Fulbright Visiting Scholars will visit elementary, middle, and high schools in Kentucky, Nebraska, and New York. The visits will take place from November 13 to November 16, 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 the culture of their home countries with the students and describe their Fulbright experiences. The visits will allow American students to increase their global understanding by meeting a foreign Fulbrighter. With a diverse group of participants and classrooms, these visits will help increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and people of other countries. The visits will build on another partnership between ECA and Reach the World, in which these same classrooms are holding virtual exchanges with U.S. exchange students who are studying overseas through Fulbright and other ECA exchange programs.
Follow along with the U.S. classrooms this week and meet a Fulbrighter, by tracking and using #Fulbright on social media.
Meet the Fulbright participants:
Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant from India
New York University
Hi, I’m Pritesh. I’m an assistant professor and research scholar at West Bengal State University in India. I’m a Foreign Language Teaching Assistant with Fulbright, but my area of interest is comic book studies. I love comic books because I love stories and I’m interested in the rich heritage of English literature. Right now, I teach Hindi to elementary level language learners as part of my Fulbright award, and I’ll begin teaching intermediate levels next semester.
Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant from China
University of Nebraska – Lincoln
Hi, I’m Lei! I’m from China and I’m a lecturer. I received my B.A. and M.A. degrees in English Language and Literature from Liaoning University, China. I’ve been teaching at Liaoning University of Traditional Chinese Medicine for 8 years after getting my Master’s degree. Currently, I’m a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, teaching Chinese 101 and 201, and sharing Chinese culture with my students.
Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant from Jordan
University of Kentucky
Hello, I’m Abeer Khlaifat from Jordan, and I grew up in the capital city, Amman. Arabic is my passion, and I decided that I would study it at the age of 12. I have both a B.A. and M.A. in Arabic and I’ve worked as a teacher for Americans and other international students who are studying abroad in Jordan. This was part of my motivation to come to the U.S., where I’m currently a Foreign Language Teaching Assistant at the University of Kentucky.
Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant from Russia
University of Nebraska – Lincoln
Hello, I’m Anna! I have a lot of experience teaching English to adults and I also received my CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification from St. Giles College, Brighton, UK. I have a degree in Romance and Germanic philology from Ivanovo State University. I have a number of other certificates and qualifications, but my main professional interests are methods of teaching English and Russian as a foreign language, the lexical approach, and using authentic speaking as a speaking model. I’m currently teaching Russian 101 to college students at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and organize cultural events to promote Russian culture in America. I also have a fluffy cat, who is extremely cuddly.
Fulbright Visiting Scholar from Italy
Ramapo College of New Jersey
Hello! I’m Dr. Francesca Scafuto and I’m a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at Ramapo College of New Jersey. I’m from Italy, and I’m an experienced Adolescent and Young Adult Psychotherapist. I’m interested in how people think as a community about the environment, and I’m studying social science and environmental health during my Fulbright. I’m also an artist and I like to paint in my free time.
Fulbright Foreign Student from Germany
University of Louisville
I’m from Germany and I’m currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Sports Administration at the University of Louisville. I grew up a competitive athlete and decided to pursue sports management at an early age. I participated in an exchange year in high school and lived with a host family while attending Apollo High School in Owensboro, KY. I studied for my undergraduate degree in the Netherlands and received a B.A. in International Studies and Management from Arnhem Business School. I also studied abroad in Hong Kong to receive a minor in Marketing.