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FLTA

Creating Diverse & Dynamic Networks: Building a Bridge at MSU

June 30, 2020

By Jou-Chun Lai, Chinese FLTA at Michigan State University (MSU)

“我覺得我好像跟沒有出國一樣。”

I feel that I didn’t even go abroad.

A Chinese girl I met on campus uttered this phrase after I’d been at Michigan State University (MSU) as a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) for a month. It’s not hard to imagine why this student made this statement: my host institute, MSU, has a large number of students from China.

The Chinese community at MSU is very close. You can join or get information from Chinese student organizations, easily find Chinese roommates, and even work in research laboratories where everyone else is Chinese. Because of this far-reaching comfort zone, even if someone in the Chinese student community wanted to practice English, it’s hard to find a way to do so.

However, I noticed that MSU also has between 130-150 students learning Chinese as a foreign language. These students might be American, Chinese-American, or from other countries. Surprisingly, only a few of them have friends who are Chinese students.

Then, an idea came to my mind: Why not build a bridge between these two groups?

This is how everything started.

First, I worked with a student club with only one member, “ForeignersLearnChinese.” We redefined the club’s goal and started to recruit a new executive board mid-semester. During recruitment, the idea of a “Chinese Language Mingle” event came together, and we began planning. The main idea of the event came from the concept of having a language exchange partner, so we invited native Chinese students to be our table leader volunteers. Each table had a conversation topic based on different Chinese speaking levels (Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced). Participants practiced their Chinese through conversations about their family, hobbies, and other common themes. We also had some interesting conversations about the difference in dating culture between China and the United States. However, the most popular table was “Chinese Internet Slang and Abbreviations.” This is something you never learn in the classroom, but can be very practical in your daily life. If you learn some slang to use with native speakers, you’ll seem very knowledgeable and even cool.

At the end of the event was our first language partner meeting. Using a pre-survey from students learning Chinese and native Chinese speakers, we matched language pairs based on mutual majors or hobbies. After the first meeting at our event, they could hang out by themselves, choosing to practice more Chinese or English.

It was amazing to see them find their partners, start to talk in Chinese, and maybe begin new friendships. I started to imagine that as my students began to communicate with each other more, they would come to not only know more authentic Chinese, but also understand the diversity of the Chinese language. I also imagined that the native Chinese students would gain deeper insights into American culture and student life.

As a FLTA, I know that I’m just a passerby, and leaving soon. These students might forget everything I practiced with them in the textbook, but I believe having a local friend who is a native speaker is the best way to keep your motivation up and practice a foreign language. Language is not just a subject, but a medium to connect with others. Having a chance to build a bridge for my students is the most meaningful thing I’ve done during this journey.

In the beginning, I always felt disheartened reading about other Fulbrighters who always seemed brilliant and successful. It seemed like I was the only one who was lost and couldn’t find meaning and value. If you also feel the same way sometimes, just remind yourself that it’s normal. Be patient with yourself, take a breath, observe your surroundings, and open your mind and imagination to new solutions. Everything happens for a reason and I hope hearing my story will help you find your own way.

FLTA

Nurturing Intercultural Competence Through the FLTA Experience

May 12, 2020

By John Paul Obillos Dela Rosa, Tagalog Foreign Language Teaching Assistant, Northern Illinois University (Written January 2020).

At Cloud Gate (The Bean), Millennium Park, Chicago, IL

Months have passed since I began my Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) journey in the United States. I still remember how my mom and I shed tears of joy when we learned that I was accepted into the Program. Before I arrived, I promised myself that I would travel and explore as much as I could, meet lots of new people, and be an enthusiastic cultural ambassador for my country. While I expected that some things would change, I did not realize that my FLTA experience would drastically impact my life, especially the way I look at the world. One important thing that I’ve learned is the value of cross-cultural communication and how intercultural competence has been nurtured by my FLTA experience.

 

LIVING WITH MY CO-FLTAs FROM SOUTHEAST ASIA

As an FLTA at Northern Illinois University (NIU), I live in a student dormitory on campus with four other FLTAs from Southeast Asia: Bunga (Indonesia), Su Su (Myanmar), Ildi (Indonesia) and Songwut (Thailand). While we all come from the ASEAN region, we are very different from one another. From how to correctly pronounce the names of our countries, individual food preferences, families and personal life–each of us has our own beliefs and aspirations that are mostly dictated by our cultures. The experience of living with other FLTAs has given me a deeper understanding of cross-cultural communication that reading in a book alone could not provide. The five of us get along really well. Funny as it may seem, we share one common interest: we always enjoy taking photos when there is snow! This has been an exciting activity for us FLTAs at NIU, seeing snow and experiencing winter for the first time!

My FLTA colleagues from Southeast Asia— Su Su (Burmese), Thor (Thai), Bunga and Ildi (Indonesian)

My Indonesian FLTA friend and I , Ildi, are enjoying the pristine white view of DeKalb, IL on New Year’s Eve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMMERSING MYSELF INTO A NEW CLASSROOM ENVIRONMENT AND WORKPLACE

At NIU, the classroom culture and workplace environment are different in comparison to the Philippines. The concept of personal space in American culture is also essential to understand. I consider myself a big “hugger” just like many other Filipinos, but with my current students, I had to learn how to respect their personal space.

Our Beginning Tagalog students serenading the audience with a nostalgic Tagalog song during the Southeast Asia Cultural Night at Northern Illinois University (NIU) back in October.

Exploring the Southeast Asia Collection of Founder’s Memorial Library at NIU with my supervisor, Prof. Rhodalyne Gallo-Crail, and our Tagalog students.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Workplace culture is different in the United States, too. Having an open mind matters, and criticisms are not always negative; they are meant to help improve ourselves. I learned that I do not have to go around in circles and worry too much if I’m unable to say “yes” to an offer or a favor asked. I have always been very circular in terms of how I communicate with people, but here in the United States, I learned how to be more direct in the workplace. Punctuality is of prime importance in American culture., as well. Respecting time is respecting other people’s time.

Working with my supervisor at NIU is a great learning experience. I consider her the coolest and smartest mentor I’ve ever had. She is no less than Prof. Rhodalyne Gallo-Crail, my Ate Rhoda.

A photo opportunity with the kind-hearted employees of Northern Illinois University. I am fortunate to have been hosted by a caring and nurturing academic community!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CONNECTING TO THE REST OF THE COMMUNITY

Another exciting aspect of being an FLTA is connecting with my host community—lending a helping hand, spreading positivity, and sharing my language and culture. I was able to meet Americans from all walks of life, with different professions, old and young. They all have their own opinions about things. Some are the same as mine, some are not, but what I learned deeply is the value of listening to other people and respecting them, no matter what their opinions are. That is one important aspect of becoming an interculturally competent individual. We need to meet halfway, with open minds and hearts.

Striking a Yuletide pose with my second family in DeKalb, Illinois—the Kishwaukee Filipino-American Community.

It was a fulfilling experience to be part of “Feed My Starving Children,” a non-profit organization that provides free and healthy meals to the many starving children around the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am also sharing this one, big community of mine with my colleagues from the FLTA Program. The thought that one has friends from all over the world who share the same passions and interests is always exciting! I have met and made friends with other FLTAs from Egypt, Spain, Argentina, France, Taiwan, Japan, Pakistan, and other parts of the world. We still exchange teaching strategies and share our great adventures across the United States. Two of the most memorable encounters I have had in the United States were our Summer Orientation at The University of Arizona, and of course, the FLTA Midyear Conference in Washington, D.C.

A rare opportunity to be photographed with Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), Marie Royce, and other FLTAs who are constantly involving themselves in different community outreach activities.

The happiness felt to represent one’s country as an FLTA is incomparable. I share the same feeling with other Filipino FLTAs who were with me during the 2019 FLTA Midyear Conference in Washington, D.C.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We only have few days left before we say goodbye to our host institutions. I hope my co-FLTAs have also found ways on how to nurture their intercultural competence. May we all replace judgment with curiosity and let cultural understanding reign on this beautiful FLTA journey!

FLTA Foreign Fulbright

Reflections From a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant: Mid-Year Conference

February 14, 2020

By Léandre Larouche, French Foreign Language Teaching Assistant, Canada 
I did not expect the end of the Fulbright FLTA mid-year conference to feel so weird. The conference, organized by Fulbright, gathered all 400+ Foreign Language Teaching Assistants dispatched across the United States in the Marriott Marquis in Washington, DC. The goal of the mid-year conference was to get all FLTAs together to reflect upon their experience, learn together, and share what they have learned. While the conference’s primary goal may have been intellectual, it was also emotional and personal on many levels. Our learning experience goes beyond our roles as FLTAs; it also teaches about ourselves, about other people, and about all the different countries, languages, and cultures represented in the Program. I am experiencing this personal aspect first-hand as I find myself seized by a sense of emptiness at the dusk of the conference. Still in Washington, DC for one more night, I’ve said goodbye to most of my fellow Fulbrighters and wish this conference lasted just a little longer — or at least that I could spend more time getting to know its participants.

The French from the Old World

I’ve been fortunate enough to be a Fulbright Program participant twice — as well as an exchange student. These experiences allowed me to attend several events where I’ve met people from across the world and got to know them for very short periods of time. Yet this time — and perhaps more than any other time before — I feel sad, almost heartbroken, that this conference came to an end. The past week spent in Washington, DC, was possibly the most enriching and fun time in my life. The people I’ve met there where some of the funniest, smartest, and most accomplished people I’ve met. Perhaps most importantly, too, I got to know more of my fellow French FLTAs — who are all from France, as I’m the only French-Canadian in the Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program. They managed to make me love their country more and spurred my desire to further discover it. They also strengthened my love for the language we share and increased my awareness of its diversity.

French, indeed, is a colourful language, a language full of metaphors, images, and wonderful, sometimes ridiculous expressions. The best part of it is that it changes from one corner of the world, even one part of a country, to the other. I taught my expressions to the French FLTAs; they taught me theirs — and we’ve laughed to tears in the process. The relationship between Québec and France can be a tricky one; I haven’t always felt like people from France treat people from Québec and their language as equals. But these French people, as good representatives of their country as they are, made me forget these sometimes bitter feelings. Few are the times in my life where I’ve had as much fun and learned so much about a nation. If I were to take just one thing away from this conference, it would be that individuals have the power to influence countries’ relations. Who knows where we all will be ten, twenty, and thirty years down the road? Who knows what kind of impact we will be able to make?

The Fulbright Program’s goal is to help the U.S. State Department achieve diplomatic objectives by facilitating exchange programs between the United States and the rest of the world. Not only is it succeeding at this objective, but it is also succeeding at doing so for other countries. When I go back home to Canada, I’ll remember not only the interactions with Americans, but also those with the French people and the 40 other nations represented at the conference. My mind was opened wider more times than I can count. For example, I met the first Fulbrighter from the United Arab Emirates, who opened my mind to a country I knew next to nothing about. The fact that a Fulbright Commission was launched in that country a few years back has already had a tremendous impact — on my life, just as on that of many other people. The results may be invisible for now, but their effects will be made visible sooner or later.

Of Emptiness and Confusion

The time spent with the French people and other Fulbrighters from across the world, as we exchanged ideas in conference rooms, ate in restaurants, drank in bars and hotel rooms, I regard as rare and precious. I think I’m going to miss it seriously. I’m lucky to be living an extraordinary life as a Fulbright FLTA in Williamsport, PA — a life I would never take for granted. Nonetheless, it’s hard to think of going back to the routine next semester after living such an intense weekend. I’m going to be travelling around the United States throughout the Christmas break, and I’m going to see some of the people I’ve met here as I do so. Still, the feeling of being surrounded with more than 400 other people like you who love languages, love people, love the world, and wish for a better, more tolerant future is priceless and, frankly, difficult to get over. As I write these lines, I feel as though there is a hole in my heart. I feel as though I’ve lost something I’ll never get back, no matter how bright the future might be.

I know, however, that Fulbright is forever and that the friendships it creates are made to last. In many cases, we said goodbye but not farewell—and I know full well that this is only the beginning of a life filled with such experiences. While in Washington, DC, before the conference began, I hung out with a friend I’d met during the 2017 Youth Institute for Canada in the World, another Fulbright event. It felt like nothing had changed. And some of the people I’ve met this weekend, I was already acquainted with from our summer orientation in Fayetteville, AK. Nothing had changed with them, either. We picked up our conversations as if we’d never been apart. When people are bound together by an organization like Fulbright — meaning they share a similar vision of the world and certain fundamental values — they can feel as though they’ve known each other forever, and the connections they share are as strong as they can be. As a result, it feels bittersweet when the time comes to say goodbye — sometimes even lonely. But such a sense of emptiness is simply the price to pay for these extraordinary experiences. Nothing meaningful comes without a sense of loss when it ends; people keep moving forward and use what they have learned as they do so. They try as they might not to compare the present to the past and compartmentalize these events. Such is the beauty of programs like those of Fulbright: they teach how to handle the extraordinary, all these exceptional encounters with people all special in their own ways — and to move on with our lives once it’s over.

Even though I’m well aware that the sadness won’t last — I know that in a day or two, it will turn into something more pleasant — I still embrace this uncomfortable feeling. Because I know it is the right thing to feel after a life-changing experience. There is nothing abnormal with feeling this way; this is how things should be. And I can only hope that all the other FLTAs feel more or less the way I do, that they too had an extraordinary few days in the United States capital city. And I can only hope, too, that more people feel this at one point in their lives, that they experience extraordinary events and programs, like those of Fulbright. International education and professional opportunities are blessings one should strive to get at least once in their lifetime. There’ll be moments of emptiness and confusion, but this is how we know that we’re doing something right.

FLTA

Curious About What it’s Like to Be a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant? Check Out This Video of an Orientation at Michigan State University.

October 27, 2014

The Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) Program provides young teachers of English as a Foreign Language the opportunity to refine their teaching skills and broaden their knowledge of American cultures and customs while strengthening the instruction of foreign languages at colleges and universities in the United States. Learn more about the FLTA program on the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs website.