My first journey outside of India was to Syracuse, New York in 2009 to attend a summer orientation for my Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistantship (FLTA). My Fulbright experience went smoothly in part because of the guidance I received during the orientation at Syracuse University, and in part because of the mid-year conference in Washington, DC. Being a Fulbright FLTA and cultural ambassador, I interacted not only with people I met and worked with in the United States, but with my fellow Fulbright FLTAs from more than 50 countries. At times during my grant, I felt like a newborn baby being guided at every step by the United States India Educational Foundation, the Institute of International Education, and the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. The environment in the United States was filled with different accents, people, manners – but the welcoming diversity around me made me feel at home.
After the orientation, my program began at the University of Pennsylvania, where I taught the Hindi language and audited doctoral level courses for my Ph.D. at Kurukshetra University back home. During the teaching-learning process, I started to notice new things such as how students and teachers bonded like friends. I learned new teaching methods and discovered the freedom of self-designing curricula. My students also helped me to understand how learning can be fun. With this in mind, my supervisor and I formed a Mazaa Club (Fun Club), where we taught Hindi while playing Indian games, celebrated Indian holidays/festivals, watched Bollywood movies, and enjoyed Indian food.
Besides teaching, my life as a student proved to be highly rewarding. In the classroom, I learned how regalia—songs, dialogues, stories, documentaries, newspaper articles, etc.—can sometimes prove to be more effective than a textbook in teaching Hindi. I audited Modern American Literature and Linguistics courses, which gave me new knowledge for my dissertation research on American Drama and provided me with an opportunity to interact with Americans, and also to see Broadway performances. The quality of this practical knowledge exceeded my expectations.
My Fulbright FLTA year also changed my perceptions about Americans, who I had previously assumed were self-centered, mechanical, and very practical. After my time in the U.S., these stereotypes changed. I now see Americans broadly as a people who are adept at managing their personal and professional lives in a balanced way, and who enjoy helping others. Additionally, my friendship with a Pakistani FLTA changed my perception about the Indian-Pakistani conflict.
After completing my Fulbright FLTA grant, I finished my Ph.D. at Kurukshetra University on American Drama and have since been teaching English Language, Linguistics, and Literature. I use conventional, theoretical methods as well as practical approaches and teach an English Speaking and Linguistics class based on the U.S. educational system’s use of self-designed curriculum. Before my grant, I only had friends from North India. Now, I have friends from every nook and corner of the world. Thanks to the Fulbright FLTA Program, my world is a little smaller and my intellectual and emotional horizons have broadened.