A candid moment from the Thanksgiving dinner at the home of Lecturer Thuy-Anh T. Nguyen (second from left) with fellow Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistants
Editor’s note: Did you celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States or abroad this year as a Fulbrighter? We’d love to hear your story! Send us a note or share it on social media with #Fulbright.
A Bangladeshi, an Italian, a Thai, an Indian, an elderly Filipino couple, and three Vietnamese people sat down for dinner at a Vietnamese-American house. This may sound like the start of a clichéd joke, but this was exactly what my first-ever Thanksgiving feast looked like.
This year, thanks to the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program (FLTA), I had the opportunity to be in the United States for this one-of-a-kind celebration. I had heard and learned about Thanksgiving through the Internet over the years, and I grew up looking at sumptuous Thanksgiving meal illustrations in Archie comics; where the biggest, juiciest turkey and other mouthwatering foods were served.
Gwyneth Talley, 2015-2016, Morocco (third from left), at the opening of a festival in Zagora, Morocco with Amal Ahmri and her tbourida troupe.
My Fulbright journey began with one distinct moment: My first Arabic class in 2009 where Tunisian Fulbrighter Beligh Ben Taleb, a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA), taught me my Alif–Baa–Taas (or my Arabic ABCs) at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. It was Beligh’s first trip to the United States, first Ramadan in a non-Muslim country, and first American teaching experience. He would set a high bar for all the other Fulbright FLTAs to follow at the University.
I remember the class vividly, full of heritage speakers, curious students who wanted to work in government, and a few looking for a challenging language. Beligh took teaching Arabic in stride and encouraged us to participate in cultural activities by cooking traditional Arab meals, helping us translate songs, and dressing us up in Tunisian clothes. Aside from learning how to introduce ourselves, the most memorable phrase I remember Beligh teaching me was: “I ride horses.”
In the summer of 2010, I took my first trip to Morocco to study Arabic and French. I stayed with a horse training family, which would lead me to my graduate research in anthropology. While learning Modern Standard Arabic, my host family immersed me in Moroccan dialect and culture–specifically their horse culture. I also met the incoming Fulbright FLTA assigned to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Othmane Zakaria. He was born and raised in the city of Meknes where I was staying for the summer. We shared tidbits about our cultures, and I warned him to buy his winter coat in the States because Nebraska winters were not like winters in Morocco.
Christiane Hilaire, 1958-1959, Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant from France (photo courtesy of Bloomfield Hills High School and Penny Shaw)
During my sophomore year at Bloomfield Hills High School in Michigan in 1959, I was blessed by having Christiane Hilaire, a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant, as my French teacher. While I was already fascinated by the peoples and cultures of the world, as I had had two pen pals, in Germany and Japan, since age ten. It was Christiane, though, who inspired me and helped me center my education and career toward an international focus.
For an adolescent of fifteen, Christiane, at age twenty-three, became an easy role model. I was captivated by her unique looks and her mannerisms that appeared different and intriguing to me. I loved the way her English had that certain charm of non-native speakers who often translate directly from their native language.
She shared with her students not only the grammar and vocabulary of our textbooks, but personal stories of the village where she grew up. She taught us French songs, showed French movies, and explained history and customs that were meaningful to her. In short, she had a talent for teaching.
In the spring of that year, I read an article in Holiday Magazine about the city of Grenoble, France, including its university. I immediately wrote for information about programs. In the package that arrived, I was notified that I had already been accepted! What a thrill for a sixteen-year-old. It was an intensive French language program for international students. I asked my father if he would pay for me to go to Grenoble for my freshman year of college and he agreed!
Yashpreet Bakshi, 2009-2010, Fulbright FLTA from India (second from left), teaching other Fulbright FLTAs an Indian dance
My first journey outside of India was to Syracuse, New York in 2009 to attend a summer orientation for my Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistantship (FLTA). My Fulbright experience went smoothly in part because of the guidance I received during the orientation at Syracuse University, and in part because of the mid-year conference in Washington, DC. Being a Fulbright FLTA and cultural ambassador, I interacted not only with people I met and worked with in the United States, but with my fellow Fulbright FLTAs from more than 50 countries. At times during my grant, I felt like a newborn baby being guided at every step by the United States India Educational Foundation, the Institute of International Education, and the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. The environment in the United States was filled with different accents, people, manners – but the welcoming diversity around me made me feel at home.
In preparation for their upcoming year as Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistants (FLTAs) at colleges and universities across the United States, the 2013 cohort of Fulbright FLTAs recently attended an orientation at Columbia University where they received training in not only teaching methodologies, but also best practices on how to navigate U.S. university and academic culture, as well as their role as cultural ambassadors.
Throughout August, seven Fulbright FLTA orientations are being held at the following institutions: the University of Notre Dame, the University of Pennsylvania, Howard University, Michigan State University, Syracuse University, Stanford University, and Arizona State University.
To gain some insight into what the Fulbright FLTA experience is like, watch the video below featuring interviews with former Fulbright FLTAs.
We would like to wish the more than 400 2013 Fulbright FLTAs all the best as they embark on their Fulbright experiences! Good luck!
FLTA Alumni Interviews from FLTA Staff on Vimeo.
Juliano Saccomani, 2012-2013, Fulbright FLTA from Brazil (center), participating in the Latin American Festival in Athens, Georgia
Receiving a Fulbright grant is a very large honor that comes with responsibilities, one of which is promoting mutual understanding. I received a Foreign Language Teaching Assistantship (FLTA) grant, which means I was a Portuguese language teaching assistant at the University of Georgia from July 2012 to May 2013.
Brazilians are all over the world (you might have seen one already!) and we love to share our culture with others. Can you imagine how exciting it was to be able to do that as part of your job? From discussing small things such as eating pizza with silverware, to talking about Carnaval, or even the dark days of Brazil’s dictatorship, my Fulbright FLTA grant required a great deal of research for me to effectively share what being a Brazilian is all about. Believe it or not, I actually learned more about my country and myself by doing so!