Larena Nellies-Ortiz, 2013-2014, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Germany (right, in blue jacket), with a group of her sixth grade students on an excursion in Spandau, Berlin
On my last day as a Fulbright English Language Teaching Assistant (ETA) at the Paul Moor Elementary School in Berlin, Germany, the fifth and sixth grade classes shyly presented me with a colorful booklet. It was filled with students’ most memorable moments in my English class. Some wrote about the time they tried salty seaweed and chili sprinkled mango, and were charged with the task of guessing what they were called. Others remembered researching and leading a sightseeing tour through their neighborhood. During these activities, I noticed students who had shown little participation during regular class time were now fully engaged, attentive and willing to try their English in a new setting. As an ETA, I had the freedom to create engaging material that would resonate with students. Of course, I got my fair share of blank stares, as any teacher would have, but those moments were heavily outweighed by the countless times students stepped out of their comfort zone and into the possibility of genuine learning and exchange.
After school hours, I continued to teach, but in a different setting and language. I joined a group of dedicated volunteers to teach German to refugees through Multitude e.V., an organization that provides German language classes to refugees across Berlin. Drop-in evening lessons took place at the public housing where refugees lived, and on any given day, topics ranged from basic literacy skills, to practical tips on everyday life in Germany. My students and I found common ground in our shared experiences of navigating a society and culture different from our own. Participating in the Fulbright ETA Program gave me an opportunity to help create a foundation for cultural exchange and mutual understanding by integrating into the community and contributing my skills in a meaningful way. The stories and connections I shared with students were vital to revealing how our differences in origin, language and culture were a tool, rather than a barrier, to achieving our language learning goals.
Brandon Tensley (far right), 2012-2013, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Germany, with one of his fifth grade classes at Realschule Stadtmitte in Mülheim an der Ruhr
Most of the time, I’d hear them before I’d see them.
“Are you the teacher from America?”
I’d spin around, and there’d be a knot of students, their shyness trumped by their curiosity, hungry to confirm the rumor floating around about an Ausländer—foreigner—on campus.
“That’s me,” I’d say, laughing. “And who are you?”
But they’d rarely be interested in talking. A moment later, I’d have about a dozen tiny fists, clutching bits of paper, waving in my face.
“Your autograph!” they’d demand. I’d comply, and they’d make off with their new bounty.
When I first boarded a plane to Germany, where I spent 10 months as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant at Realschule Stadtmitte in Mülheim an der Ruhr, I wanted to learn more about this country that stands among Europe’s largest receivers of migrants, who spill across its borders from almost every corner of the globe. But what I really wanted to learn, I now realize, was a bit more selfish. I wanted to learn what it is about Germany that attracts a migrant like me, a black man from the American South.
Deeneaus Polk, 2011-2012, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Germany, giving a presentation at Phi Theta Kappa’s 2015 Nerd Nation event in April
Recently, I had a chance to attend Phi Theta Kappa’s annual International Convention in San Antonio, Texas. Phi Theta Kappa is the honor society of the two-year college, and has prided itself in having a strong international membership and presence around the globe. The convention for me was a coming home party. I had served as an international officer, presiding over an International Convention in Philadelphia, and former international officers often return to conventions to take in the sights and relive past glories.
This convention was going to be a different experience, however, because I also returned as a Fulbright Alumni Ambassador. One of the things that motivate me to go to work every day is the idea that I can expose folks to the opportunities and experiences that I have been extraordinarily lucky to be a part of. My return to the convention had a second motive, to connect the Gilman Scholarship and Fulbright with the unique experience that is Phi Theta Kappa. The convention typically brings about 5,000 Phi Theta Kappans together from chapters across the United States and international chapters in places such as the British Virgin Islands, and the United Arab Emirates, amongst others. Experiencing this gathering of varied cultures really a sight to behold, especially when one considers that many Phi Theta Kappans are non-traditional students who often do not get the opportunity to meet many individuals from other places. Combine these new involvements with an ethos of academic curiosity and a deep sense of servitude, and those three days are truly magical.
I am convinced we live in an ever shrinking world. Following my bachelor’s degree in Aerospace, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering at the University of Central Florida (UCF), my research professor, Dr. Seetha Raghavan, gave me an incredible opportunity to participate in my first international experience. Just a few weeks later I landed in Köln, Germany, for a 10-week exchange with the German Aerospace Center (DLR). As my first experience immersed in a new culture, my entire view of the world was changed. Our collaboration developed to produce cutting edge research for jet engine blade protective coatings, using X-Rays to look inside the materials while replicating the extreme environments inside the fiery engine.
After earning my master’s degree in Engineering in Aerospace (MSAE), Aerospace, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering in 2014, I found myself facing a similar opportunity. Just eight weeks after my graduation and wedding, my wife and I arrived in Frankfurt for our yearlong adventure. The challenge was clear: the Fulbright Program was designed to encourage global innovation and mutual understanding. Learning these skills has proved immensely valuable for my research, but also for my personal life.
Alex Pring first tries his new bionic arm. Photo Credit: KT Crabb Photography
What I learned in the process is that global innovation and collaboration should continue outside normal business hours. Just days before arriving in Germany, my summer project of building a 3D printed bionic arm was completed and donated to a six-year-old boy. Before knowing the magnitude of the dream we set out on, our story went global and was featured in news media in every corner of the globe (and, more recently Robert Downey Jr. met that same six-year-old boy, Alex Pring, generating a viral video). Then, the requests began to pour in from families in the United States, Brazil, England, India, Australia….and more. As a team, we uploaded our design on the Internet so that people around the world could build their own bionic arm for less than $350 USD. Together, we have shared a very powerful dream: of engineering hope. The spirit of shared, open source technology is beginning to empower children all over the world.
Michael Snow, 2014-2015, Germany, center, discussing the holiday of Chanukah and its significance with friends in Berlin (Photo courtesy of Amira Mintz-Morgenthau)
The smells and sights of this holiday party – onions and potatoes frying in oil, neatly arranged candles waiting to be lit, some Hebrew tunes playing from a MacBook – were unfamiliar to most of the people present.
That said, four months into my year of living in Berlin, Germany, as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, celebrating Chanukah with new German friends was the most natural way I would choose to celebrate the holiday.
“Hash browns?” one friend asks, pointing the seasoned potatoes bubbling in oil on the stovetop of my friends’ apartment. “Latkes,” I clarify, the oil symbolizing one of the miracles of Chanukah. New recipe, ancient tradition.
“What’s this all about, anyway?” another friend asks, as we take seats on the floor to enjoy a delicious holiday food mash-up: Sufganiot (Chanukah jelly donuts) served alongside homemade Glühwein, a hot spiced red wine thoroughly enjoyed by Germans as the temperatures drop.
Meghan Forbes, 2014-2015, Germany, taking a lunch break by the waters of the Tiergarten
This September, I will be trading Ann Arbor, Michigan’s autumnal canopy of maples for the bicycles, parks, and museums of Berlin, Germany. On a Fulbright grant, I will be in Berlin to further my Ph.D. dissertation research, which contends the role of the Czech avant-garde is a significant yet overlooked link in the vast network of exchange that existed across various European centers of art making in the interwar period.
My research centers around the Bauhaus, a modernist school of art and architecture based originally in Weimar and then in Dessau in the period between the two World Wars. Although its unique pedagogy, functionalist aesthetic, and transnational influence have been documented, there is an absence in scholarly literature regarding the dynamic relationship between the school’s major figures in Germany and their peers in then Czechoslovakia. I aim to fill this gap by mapping the influence of the Bauhaus eastward and reciprocally, the influence of the Bauhaus’ eastern neighbor on the school’s aesthetic ethos.The implications of this revised telling are especially pertinent as the humanities move towards a more interdisciplinary approach, by encouraging a shift in historical narratives that sees multiple centers where once only one was perceived.
A large portion of my research will be in cooperation with the Berlinische Galerie and the Bauhaus and Werkbund archives. From these sources, I will be looking for correspondence and other documents that show a particular Czech influence on the German Bauhaus – for example, in theory and practice corresponding to typographic design.