Leveraging Fulbrighters’ Insights for American Classrooms: The Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Program and Reach the World

By Christopher Ahearn, Director of Partnerships, Reach the World

Katherine Long, 2016-2017, Tajikistan (right), playing a game with two young Tajik girls.

For nearly ten years, Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) have had the opportunity to volunteer with Reach the World (RTW) to share their experiences abroad with pre-kindergarten through 12th grade classrooms back home in the United States.

RTW utilizes the power of virtual exchange to enable Fulbright ETAs, who apply to volunteer with RTW, to bring their host country into an engaged classroom of American students. Fulbright ETAs share many aspects of life in another country with their student audiences in the United States, from grilled meats in Argentina to the unique plant life in the Maltese archipelago. These talented, passionate recent college graduates and early career professionals also capture rare, extraordinary experiences, like visiting the remote Caño Cristales river in Colombia. As young learners from throughout the United States interact with Fulbright ETAs, they are building vital global competencies that will serve them for years to come while challenging their perspectives about the world and their role as citizens. These global competencies include such things as increased geographic literacy and a greater desire to travel, changes in empathetic thinking when encountering difference, and pursuing higher education opportunities.

Chisama-Ku Penn, 2016-2017, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Argentina (center), posing with friends at Pehuen-Có Beach.

Since 2009, nearly 200 Fulbright ETAs, (16% of all RTW volunteer travelers) have completed online journeys with RTW classrooms all over the United States. These grantees truly lived the Fulbright Program’s mission of increasing mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. To date, they have shared more than 3,000 stories from their time abroad for more than 3,400 students. One RTW teacher in Kentucky said, “Students couldn’t believe that there were programs in place that would allow them to travel the world during college and afterwards. Taking a job overseas has never entered some of their minds.” In embarking on a Reach the World journey with a Fulbright ETA, American students can explore a new part of the world in partnership with an inspiring role model to show that they too can study and travel abroad, just like their volunteer traveler.

Kara Witherill, 2015-2016, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Germany (center), in Hassfurt with friends at a nearby lake.

Through virtual exchange, Fulbright ETAs volunteering with Reach the World create the next generation of curious, confident global citizens. Luke, a Fulbright ETA in Argentina, wrote, “Personally, RTW has helped me to reflect on my experience in a way I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise…This process of writing and reflecting has actually been a sort of aid in the process of adjusting to life abroad, and has simultaneously allowed me to feel like I’m contributing to something beyond myself as it becomes a way of teaching students in the United States.”

Reach the World is able to harness original, first-hand stories of exceptional, passionate Fulbrighters in real time and transform them into a dynamic, immersive teaching resource for American educators. Global competence will be essential for the American workforce to face the challenges of the 21st century, and it is partnerships like the one between Reach the World and the Fulbright Program that will ensure America’s youth of today become that global workforce of tomorrow.

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