About a year after I had completed my Fulbright English Language Teaching Assistantship (ETA) in Romania, I received an email from a student in one of the literary analysis courses I had taught at Alexandru Ioan Cuza University, Iasi:
“…In the past few days I’ve been rereading Fitzgerald’s ‘Babylon’ revisited and ‘Cathedral’ by Raymond Carver and I actually got myself a copy of S. Anderson’s ‘Winesburg, Ohio’ because I had a very nice time reading the first short story of the collection. I am writing you this email because I really wanted to thank you for the wonderful opportunity you gave us to study these beautiful short stories and for the great way of discussing them in class. Your teaching method, academic and professional yet very warm and good-hearted, had a very high impact on me and made me actually look for more stories from those authors and even others. Thanks to you, I’m a little more into American literature than I was before, and I’m really grateful for that…”
Measuring the impact you have had on the local community you lived in while completing a Fulbright grant is not very easy, but this message reminded me that impact begins on an individual level. Everyone I had encountered and worked with while I was in Romania resulted in a very unique cultural and educational exchange that challenged my own mindset. It was nice to know, from the email above, that I challenged the mindsets of those I had met as well.
In fact, I still receive emails from some of my former Romanian University students, which allows me to continue to encourage them to pursue new educational and growth opportunities. While I taught American Studies practical courses, and English literary analysis courses, I also tried to focused on building practical skills related to academic research and English usage, so that my students would have some tools they could build upon in their future academic and professional endeavors.
One of my favorite experiences was creating a student club (for English Language Enthusiasts!) to give the students I worked with an outlet for exploring their interests in the English language outside of the classroom. We had some engaging creative writing workshops and fun chatting about American culture in a local coffee shop. One of my goals was to introduce service-learning opportunities to show the students an example of how they can utilize their English language skills to engage within their own local community and influence the lives of others. This resulted in a teaching project where some university student volunteers and myself visited local middle-school English classrooms (many of the students we worked with were from a local orphanage), to have some fun and engage the children in English. We played games and created murals of our future career dreams. The children had fun, but some of the most significant feedback came from the university student volunteers, who were considering becoming teachers and felt that hands-on experience better shaped their own career goals.
The Fulbright Program is so wonderful because every grantee’s experience is unique, and the impact one will have on the communities he or she works in will reflect his or her unique skills and goals. I encourage applicants to keep this in mind when preparing their grant application; it is important to reflect upon your own unique goals and ideas, and the impact you and your Fulbright grant could have on a micro level. Do not hesitate to reach out to former grantees (especially Fulbright Alumni Ambassadors!) in your potential host country, or network around your institutional and professional social circles, to find those who have connections within your grant country of choice. This can help you to identify needs within that country and better plan what projects you would like to try to pursue during your grant period.
Best of luck with your Fulbright grant application! I look forward to hearing about YOUR stories of the individual, community, and societal impact you’ve achieved during your Fulbright experiences.