I was nervous about going back to Spain. The country held a dear place in my heart, as studying abroad in Granada, Spain was my first international experience. I questioned whether I made the right decision in applying for a grant in Spain. Would my Fulbright experience tarnish my love for the country? Thankfully, it did not. There will never be anything like Granada 2010, but there will also never be another Madrid 2012-2013.
As an English Teaching Assistant (ETA), I taught a variety of subjects at a secondary bilingual institution, IES Parque de Lisboa, in the Comunidad de Madrid region of Spain. I had the opportunity to conduct two lecture series on slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. As a history major, I loved discussing these topics, but I believe (and hope) that they induced my students to think more critically about the role of racial and ethnic diversity in Spain, especially at a time when the country is being urged to take an active stand against racism and xenophobia.
In addition to my traditional classroom teaching, I co-taught Global Classrooms, which encourages students to explore world issues through a Model United Nations simulation. The four months during which my co-worker and I taught fourteen brilliant students about topics ranging from clean water issues to good debating strategies were some of the most rewarding interactions I had in Spain. Watching our students display their hard work at the Global Classrooms conference was beautifully humbling.
Outside the classroom, I volunteered independently by giving food to the homeless. While it may seem like a miniscule thing to do, the homeless rate in Spain is rising and soup kitchens are not that common there, so I was inspired to do something to help a few people. I knew that a small meal would not help people in the long run, but it did something for them in the interim.
My primary piece of advice for Fulbright applicants is to constantly revise your grant and personal statements. These are the only ways in which the selection committee will ever know you. When writing your personal statement, ask yourself if someone reading it would want to advocate for you. If the selection committee is torn between you and another applicant, would your personal statement motivate anyone to be your advocate? If you are applying to a country in which you studied abroad (which I did), be sure that you are able to convey that you are not seeking an opportunity to embark on part two of your study abroad experience.
Fulbright is a wonderful opportunity to serve both your host and home countries. It is a privilege, but also a duty. The days and the people will not always be pleasant; however, as a representative of the United States, you owe it to your country to turn those moments into both teaching and learning opportunities. Life will possibly deal you an unexpected blow; you owe it to yourself to persevere through those times. It was during those more difficult moments that I gained perspective about my time in Spain and learned more about myself. If possible, I would do it all again.