Congratulations to 2011 Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Turkey, Devin Sommer, winner of the Institute of International Education and The New York Times in Education Generation Study Abroad Video Contest! Check out his wining video below. To learn more about Generation Study Abroad, click here.
When I found out that I was accepted to become a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in Indonesia, I did not know what to expect. I was excited and nervous, as I had never lived or studied abroad. I had some teaching experience in a small ESOL program in Florida, but had no impressive foreign language experience. Many things also went through my mind about traveling as an African-American woman because I had heard of many experiences from other people of color about having to process unique challenges as a result of traveling overseas.
When I arrived in Indonesia, I felt immediately overwhelmed. Firstly, I was welcomed in Bandung (city in central Java) by a two-week intensive cultural competency and language training. In spite of the challenges I faced during those weeks, I was met with the extreme hospitality and kindness that Indonesian people are known for. Bahasa Indonesia, Indonesia’s national language, was very difficult to grasp at first, but I began to realize how easy it was to pick up in practice.
In partnership with Reach the World (RTW), the Fulbright U.S. Student Program is publishing a series of articles written by Fulbright English Teaching Assistants participating in Reach the World’s Traveler correspondents program, which through its interactive website, enriches the curriculum of elementary and secondary classrooms (primarily located in New York City but also nationwide) by connecting them to the experiences of volunteer Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) and other world travelers who are currently studying and living abroad.
It is important to be able to view a situation or problem from more than one perspective. If you can think about how someone else might resolve a problem, then you may have an easier time solving it. This is why traveling and living abroad are such important experiences. Living in Germany has not only opened my eyes up to new perspectives, but it has also helped me form my own. This is especially true for my work as a language assistant in a German school.
When I first arrived at my school in Germany, I had an idea of what my experience would be like based on books I had read and movies I had seen. Some of these ideas reflected stereotypes about Germany. Stereotypes are popular ideas about places or people that are often exaggerated or wrong. Do you know what any of those stereotypes might have been? Think back to the interview I did with my colleagues, Klaudia and Jana. What did they say about Germans? One of these ideas was that all Germans are punctual. This means that they are always on time and they like discipline. I thought that the classroom environment would be very quiet and strict. I was in for a big surprise!
I’m staring at an IQ test with fear that my hard-earned college GPA will be put to shame.
During my winter break from my Fulbright English Teaching Assistant position, I worked for a month with a Korean professor who previously pursued a Fulbright grant in the United States with a venture company that develops child cognitive development programs. I started by taking the same diagnostic test used to assess children.
Thankfully, my test anxiety was resolved by a satisfactory score. The professor then handed me some research articles to familiarize myself with the Feuerstein Instrumental Enrichment Program used by the company. As I sat down with the texts, I blew the dust from my academic machinery and flexed my intellectual muscles.
In a few months, I will lift the scholastic heavyweights again to pursue a master’s degree in public health following my return home to the United States. Perhaps it will take a little while to get back into my routine, but I don’t think my mental force will have atrophied.
As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I knew there would be stigma surrounding this group in Tajikistan. While on my 10-month grant, I wanted nothing more than to be a personal advocate for tolerance; however, while studying and teaching in Kyrgyzstan, I developed an appreciation for keeping this personal information private. At various times, I have been told that this sort of discretion is not being true to who I am – but I disagree. Immersing yourself in another culture necessitates a sincere respect for local norms and opinions; being a successful cultural ambassador means finding the common ground that will allow you to be a productive, valued, member of your host community. Being a Fulbright grantee means you represent more than your own opinion; it means you are larger than your own passions.
When discussing sensitive issues abroad, my focus was always on the singular issue of tolerance. I sought to have difficult conversations with my students – ones that challenged not only their views, but also my own. When the racially charged unrest in Ferguson, Missouri hit its peak in November, 2014, the Russian news media (which is by far better funded and more chic than local Tajik outlets) devoted significant resources to covering the tension. Every night, nightly news would show dramatic footage of rioting and more than a few of my students genuinely believed that America, as a country, was on the verge of collapse. As dramatized as the Russian version of events were, this depiction offered a valuable opportunity for a frank and honest discussion about social issues in America and, indeed, around the world.