Fulbright Student Program Blog

Tag Archives: Community Engagement

Fulbright for Posterity: The Ripple Effects of Fulbright on Rural America

By Niecea Freeman, Fulbright ETA to Czech Republic 2018-2019

“How about: It’s quality, not quantity?” my dad proposed, wearing a grin. We were brainstorming city slogans for Loyalton, California, my hometown of 800 people nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains—now named “the Loneliest Town in America.”  We all laughed. On the surface, country living seems like paradise, but in reality a myriad of issues affect rural communities across the nation. Employment opportunities are sparse, lower income leads to higher instances of poverty, and—consequently—there is a clear demand and absolute need for higher quality education.

Megan Meschery and her family in Spain, 2008 Fulbright program.

When the town’s sawmill closed in 2001, followed by a mass population exodus, Loyalton’s tax revenues declined rapidly and ancillary school programming disappeared with them. First, we lost music and art specials. Later, our middle school was condemned, and students were moved from portable buildings into the high school, losing their separate facilities entirely. In truth, it has only been through the extraordinary efforts of dedicated teachers and community members that our school district has been kept afloat: teachers like my high school Spanish instructor, Megan Meschery, who are determined to redefine our local community without much funding from state or federal agencies.

In 2008, Megan left for a Fulbright grant in Granada, Spain, where she examined how rural economic development funding provided by the European Union reduced inequalities in public schools regardless of geographic location. She sought to find parallels and lessons applicable to rural education in America and to develop ways to promote cultural awareness and growth in Loyalton. While Megan’s experiences rather highlighted the differences between U.S. and EU development models, Megan also returned from her two-year Fulbright burgeoning with ideas tailored to Loyalton’s situation, and immediately found ways to introduce positive change, starting with school electives.

The Sierra Schools Foundation sponsors hands-on learning opportunities like harvesting chamomile tea flowers in the Loyalton Learning Garden.

My favorite memories from high school are from the culture club she initiated, through which I saw my first Broadway play, Wicked, and visited my first classical art exhibit, featuring masterpieces from Rembrandt and Raphael. These experiences opened my eyes to the world beyond our tiny valley, and change did not stop there.

The following year, Megan founded a non-profit organization called The Sierra Schools Foundation (SSF – sierraschoolsfoundation.org) to combat inequality in the school district by providing grants for resources and programs such as the STEM Learning Garden, Local-Artists-in-the-School, Advancing to College SAT prep, and others. I volunteered with SSF throughout college, running fundraisers, where I witnessed firsthand how, with dedication and perseverance, local organizations genuinely have power to initiate positive change.

Niecea (right) and her mentor, Martina (left) in Lanškroun’s city square, Czech Republic, 2018 Fulbright program.

These formative experiences propelled me to apply for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in the Czech Republic for the 2018-2019 academic year, where I will be living in a rural community not unlike Loyalton, teaching English to secondary students enrolled in veterinary and agricultural programs. As an undergrad, I pursued a B.S. in Integrated Elementary Education with an emphasis in English as a Second Language with the primary goal of becoming an elementary school teacher in a high-needs, rural community in the United States. Now, I  am ready to go forward and learn from the students and families of my host country to explore new perspectives and pedagogies that will reshape the way I view myself and my role as an educator. The quantity of programs in Loyalton’s schools has stagnated, but the quality of our education can continue to blossom

Niecea with the calves at the Lanškroun Veterinary & Agriculture School dairy

Meet a Fulbrighter: How We Celebrated International Education Week

2018 Fulbright Amizade Participants Interview West Virginia Community Leaders

 

Upcycling My Fulbright Experience : Making Host Community Connections

Michael Saidani, 2017-2018 Fulbright Visiting Researcher from France, volunteering and teaching French language to students at a community church in downtown Davis, California

Although most of my time as a Fulbright Visiting Researcher at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) was dedicated to working on my research project focused on the circular economy, I have always believed that the Fulbright Program should be an exciting cultural exchange experience. During my award, I participated in some amazing outdoor activities such as hiking and traveling around the United States, particularly in California. But I’d like to share how I have been involved on my host campus and in my local community to contribute in return – no matter how small – to some of the benefits I’ve received by being a Fulbrighter in the United States.

A few weeks after my arrival at Davis, I proposed offering a French Language class to a downtown community church for adults who wanted not only to speak French, but also to learn more about French culture. As it was a beginner class, I taught my students how to introduce oneself, have a basic conversation, and about French geography. With no prior French language teaching experience, it was a great opportunity, and I received good feedback from my students, who were happy to work with an actual native French speaker.

During Fall Quarter, I volunteered as an Upcycling Intern at the UC Davis Aggie Reuse Store. Because the UC Davis campus is very green and engaged in sustainability activities, I wanted to find a way to be a part of those activities directly. Being an intern allowed me to promote reuse and upcycling on campus by demonstrating how to make new things out of old ones, an activity that aligned nicely with my PhD thesis related to the circular economy.

Michael Saidani, 2017-2018 Visiting Researcher to France, at the UC Davis Aggie Reuse Store

One month before returning to France, during the Fulbright Foreign Student Enrichment Seminar in St. Louis, Missouri, I engaged in a different kind of community service involving half a day of landscaping for the Great Rivers Pathways association, which is working to connect downtown St. Louis to the Gateway Arch and the Mississippi River via a new green path for pedestrians and bikers.

By sharing this small part of my Fulbright story, I would like to encourage other Fulbrighters – current and future – to embrace their entire Fulbright experience by connecting with their local host communities during their awards. By doing so, grantees can advance the Fulbright Program’s mission to meaningfully increase mutual understanding between the people of their own countries and the people of the United States.

Getting in Tune with Teachers: Leveraging Hobbies to Connect

Samuel Fishman, 2017-2018, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Paraguay, performing at his host institution’s annual Teacher’s Day party (Photo: Martin Sanchez)

“You look like you play guitar.” I turned around and did a double take. Standing in front of me was a Paraguayan English teacher and an alumnus of a U.S. exchange program. I was in the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Asuncion, Paraguay, at a formal reception for a visiting delegation of U.S. professors. What had given me away? Not only had I swapped my usual tattered Iron Maiden muscle tee for a shirt and tie, I’d even combed my hair for the evening. Maybe it was the Chuck Taylor’s, peeping out from beneath my wrinkled khakis.

I was one month into my Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) award in San Lorenzo, Paraguay, and I was still trying to find my footing. I was struggling to connect with one of my host institutions. It was no one’s fault, but try as I might, my English study groups and lessons weren’t connecting with a consistent audience.

Back at the Ambassador’s residence I tentatively responded yes, I do strum a few chords. As tends to happen when two musicians get to talking, a jumble of shared favorite bands began tumbling through the air. Our shared musical vocabulary took us across the globe as we bantered about classic bands, songs, and shows. Between The Beatles, Janis Joplin, Soda Stereo, AC/DC, and Mana, we covered thousands of miles in just a few minutes. Before I knew it, I was plugging in my guitar at my first rehearsal for a band composed entirely of Paraguayan English teachers. The Lost Tichers, as we would come to be known, fortunately all taught at the same host institution where I was struggling to integrate myself.