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.
Listen to 2017-2018 Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Israel Charles Coleman’s inspiring story and learn how his award is helping him to break down cultural barriers both abroad and at home. Charles is the first Fulbright recipient from his hometown of Fairfield, Alabama, and a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Steven A. Vickers, Jr., 2015-2016, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Latvia, giving a lecture on American culture at Daugavpils University, Latvia.
One of my favorite animated films tells the tale of a mouse with a dream to become a chef. Everyone thinks him crazy, but he strives towards his goal and proves to himself and those around him that anyone can, indeed, cook. My journey to becoming a 2015-2016 Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) to Latvia played out much the same. I am not what many would consider the “typical” Fulbright recipient. Many, including some professors, thought me crazy to even apply for the prestigious award. Well, I sure did prove them wrong.
You see, I did not graduate high school and immediately enter a university as is expected of my generation. My family could not afford the living expenses my scholarships failed to cover, and I could not shake my intense desire to serve my country. So, my path took me to Parris Island, South Carolina and the United States Marine Corps; that path came to an abrupt conclusion when I found myself medically unfit to continue serving. At that point, I did as my father before me and entered the police force. I enjoyed being a police officer, but I always regretted not getting a degree. The demanding schedule of a police officer made attending school incredibly difficult. I decided to end my police career, worked a few random jobs, and enrolled in Faulkner State Community College at the age of twenty-seven. When I completed enough credits, I transferred to Auburn University.
Jordyn Hawkins-Rippie, 2017-2018, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Malaysia
I’m Jordyn Hawkins-Rippie, a recent graduate of Hampton University in Hampton, VA. For as long as I can remember, I have grappled daily with living in a world that appeared, at times, to be mostly devoid of diversity. The individuals that surrounded me, from classmates to neighbors alike, shared many of the same socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic statuses that often relegated them to their respective circles, without making real, concerted efforts to understand multifaceted individuals who thought, acted, and looked different from themselves. Growing up, I was determined to passionately commit myself to celebrating and appreciating the diversity of humanity to acquire cultural capital and expand my cultural intelligence.
As many of my peers applied and successfully gained admission into top-tier colleges and Ivy League universities, I decided to attend a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in hopes of piecing together my identity as an African-American and experiencing the cultural diversity for which I longed. My parents played an integral role in my applying to HBCUs and instilled in me the value and love for the discipline of learning and education as a whole. Through a generous Presidential Scholarship awarded through Hampton University, I began my journey there in August of 2013.
Darriel McBride, 2017-2018, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to South Africa
My name is Darriel McBride, and I am the fifth of six children. I am the youngest girl and the first in my family to attend college. I was raised by a single mother and welfare recipient battling chronic anemia and kidney disease. My father is a heroin addict who has been absent for the majority of my life. I grew up in the South Bronx, one of the most underfunded and under-resourced districts in the United States. Growing up, I was exposed to an environment plagued by crime, violence, and drugs, all of which had the ability to hinder my chances of success.
College had never crossed my mind as I progressed throughout my early years of high school. I knew I could never afford the tuition, which meant that my chances of earning a degree were slim. Yet, I came across an opportunity during my senior year of high school that would change my life forever: I was awarded a scholarship through the Gates Millennium Scholars Program, funded by Bill and Melinda Gates. This scholarship would cover any unmet need for my undergraduate, master’s degree, and doctoral studies. If it were not for the Gates Millennium Scholarship, I would never have been exposed to the kind of opportunities that I was able to take advantage of while in college. In August of 2013, I was accepted into Marist College as a recipient of the Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program, a partnership between the State of New York and its independent colleges which provides economically and educationally disadvantaged residents the possibility of a college education.
Katie Salgado, 2016-2017, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Portugal, sitting on a tiled stoop in Seia
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 was a misty Thursday morning in Seia. I exited the passenger side door of a silver compact car and looked up at the yellow Instituto Politécnico da Guarda (IPG) School of Tourism building. I was with my coworker, Rita, who had asked me to do a presententation to her management students on American culture. This was my first experience teaching English as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to a group of students in Portugal, and I was eager to discover what the students knew about American culture and traditions. Rita and I entered the building and prepared the classroom for the day.
By 9:15 a.m., the freshman students shuffled sleepily into the classroom and took their seats. They exchanged confused glances with one another, unsure of whether to speak to me in English or in Portuguese. I stood there in my black blazer and greeted them with “Good morning, everyone.” Rita sat in the back of the classroom and remained there to observe my presentation. Once the last straggler sat down at his desk, Rita smiled and flashed me a thumbs up. It was time to begin.
I introduced myself to the twenty students in the room and began my PowerPoint presentation on where I was from, my academic background and hobbies.
I then clicked to the next slide: an outline of the United States of America with the red, white and blue flag waving in the background.