By Jeffrey Thiele, Fulbright U.S. Student Open Study/Research Grantee to El Salvador
As I reflect on my time as a 2018 Fulbright grantee to El Salvador, it might be easy to say that I accomplished my mission. I wanted to use my master’s degree in philosophy and health to solve a real-world problem: increasing healthcare access for Salvadorans displaced by violence by working with Cristosal, a local NGO. My grant year did give me plenty of opportunities to put theory into practice, but what I didn’t see coming, however, was the role that music would play in that journey.
When I arrived in San Salvador, I knew very little about the local political, economic, and social situation. I quickly realized that there are no quick fixes to the problems that El Salvador faces, and that I wouldn’t be able to make the sweeping changes I had anticipated going into my Fulbright. While I plugged away with the newfound perspective that I would be doing more learning than doing, another project began to occupy my nights.
This is where Saxo Sue, my loyal, traveling saxophone, appears. Having recently fallen back in love with music during my master’s program, Saxo Sue had made the voyage with me to San Salvador, though I had little hope of finding much music there. The first month of my time with Saxo Sue in–country was spent going over old classical repertoire in the light of the evening sun. While I was making occasional improvisations and recording them, I wasn’t really moving forward musically.
Two months in, one of my friends invited me to a gig where her friend’s boyfriend, a local trumpeter, would be playing with his group called The Zamora Brothers. I was so excited to learn that jazz was happening in the capital, and that there was such a vibrant music scene in a land where many people are still fighting for fundamental human rights. The concert got me thinking about the resilience of the arts and its unique ability to exemplify and push forward necessary human and social rights.
In the following weeks, Pipe (pronounced “pee-peh”), the trumpet player for the Zamora Brothers, invited me to a jam session at his house with another local band, Camelo. I connected with Camelo’s leader Jorge Gómez, who said Saxo Sue and I brought the final “oomph” and tonal character that the band was seeking. I was in.
Apart from joining Camelo as their seventh member, I became involved in about eight other music projects in and around San Salvador, including establishing my own jazz project, called Buxo Don Luis. Both Camelo and Buxo Don Luis have been getting national, and even international, recognition, and will be touring outside of El Salvador in the coming year.
My involvement and (unexpected) fame in the Salvadoran music scene has given me a wider-reaching platform from which I can share my thoughts and work on human rights and social justice. More broadly, music has been a means to not only express myself, but to advance a broader rights movement inside and outside the country. I participated in a “Reach the World” virtual exchange with a New Jersey elementary school classroom, where I balanced our conversations about heavy Salvadoran social issues with some improvisations with Saxo Sue. With music as the bridge, we accomplished a key Fulbright goal of building mutual understanding between cultures.
I came to El Salvador for research, and have come away pursuing my dream of becoming a bona fide musician. Music has helped me integrate into the community in San Salvador, empowered me to meet new people, and become an authentic participant in this beautiful culture. As I grow personally and professionally, I can share the joy of music and express the urgency of the situation in El Salvador.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”