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U.S. Fulbright

Navigating Conversations: One Fulbrighter’s Take on What it Means to Be a Cultural Ambassador

July 31, 2013

Shadea Mitchell, 2010-2011, Jordan (left), with English teacher Mrs. Ghada at the Al-Ittihad School for Girls in Amman

My time as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in Jordan was spent primarily in the middle school classrooms of the Al-Ittihad School for Girls, encouraging students to utilize their English conversation skills while also serving as a resource to other English language instructors.

Midway through my Fulbright year, I convinced my supervisor, the school’s seventh grade English instructor, to allow me to lead weekly conversation sessions. Since many students were already well-spoken and comfortable making small talk in English, I wanted to contribute to the English classes in a meaningful way and thought this would be especially beneficial to the older girls. I wanted to encourage them to discuss more interesting topics than those covered in their textbooks but I didn’t intend to discuss anything controversial. Nevertheless, there were a few times when their curiosity led to some intense but rewarding discussions.

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U.S. Fulbright

Mapping Collected Memory in Amman

January 11, 2013

Regina Mamou, 2009-2010, Jordan, photographing on location in Shmeisani’s Prince Hashem Bird Garden, assisted by Bradley Heinz and Andrew Boylan (image by Regina Mamou).


My Fulbright journey in the visual arts began more than one year before I left for Amman, the capital city of Jordan. I first identified Jordan as the country to which I wanted to apply in June 2008 for the 2009-2010 Fulbright competition. Since graduating from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) with a Master of Fine Arts in Photography in 2007, I maintained connections with the Fulbright Program Adviser (FPA) at SAIC and with professors in photography, my field of study. Even though I applied At-Large, these individuals met with me on a regular basis to review my Statement of Grant Purpose and Personal Statement, and helped flesh out my research interests. I also formed an off-campus Fulbright group with three other SAIC students, which was a fruitful product of the application process. As a group, we met a few times each month to review our writing samples and offer one another support before the application deadline.

My interest in Jordan stems from my Middle Eastern heritage as my father was born and raised in Iraq. He was the first person in his family to immigrate to the United States. My extended family moved to Amman, Jordan, before they, too, eventually immigrated to the United States in the 1990s. Memory is an inherent quality of photography and I was interested in connecting with Jordan, a place that held familial significance. I began to conduct research on memory studies and navigation in Amman and was drawn to a weekly Internet-based column entitled, “Urban Crossroads,” by Mohammad al Asad, the founding director of the Center for the Study of the Built Environment (CSBE) in Amman. Reading these online articles allowed me to make abstract associations to the city, such as the fact that Amman only recently implemented house and street number addresses, and that residents have traditionally used a memory-based navigation system. This discovery led me to construct a Fulbright project about exploring navigational methods as a metaphor for interpreting a contemporary city, in addition to considering issues of architecture, urban planning, and population growth.

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U.S. Fulbright

Answering Everyday Questions: A Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Experience in Jordan, By Emily Hagemeister, 2009-2010, Jordan

March 24, 2011

Since I completed my Fulbright Program, I have often been asked a variety of questions about my time living as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in Amman, Jordan.  I find that people are curious about everyday life in other societies and, given recent events, particularly in the Middle East.  From September 2009 until June 2010, I experienced Jordanian culture and had multiple opportunities to share my story.  Everyone asks, “What was that like?” or “How was that?” with wide eyes.

Here are a few of my answers and tips for applicants…

Being a Fulbright U.S. Student Program grantee helped me to become a more adaptable person both personally and professionally.  At one point, I thought that my Fulbright story was unusual because I originally applied for a Fulbright ETA grant in Egypt and ended up in Jordan.  The Egyptian Fulbright ETA Program was a better fit for my experience and skills but was canceled very late in the selection process.  A few of the Egypt ETAs, including myself, therefore, were diverted to Jordan.  Despite the long wait and transition, being placed in Jordan was great because it allowed me to reconnect with friends and professional contacts that I had made during my participation in the 2008 Critical Language Scholarship Summer Language Institute in Amman.

Talking to other Fulbrighters, I’ve come to realize that there is no typical path toward becoming a grantee.  Some applicants end up applying multiple times before being selected, some receive grants after being named alternates, and still others, like me, end up going to locations not mentioned in their applications.  Flexibility, persistence, and a sense of adventure are important when applying.

The Fulbright ETA Program offers an exciting opportunity to become a part of a community in a new country and share experiences.  At the Abdul Hamid Sharaf K-12 School, where I was placed, I worked side-by-side with a mix of Jordanian and expatriate teachers and assistant-taught students from a variety of countries.  I loved being able to share stories about my life in the United States and learning about the lives of my friends and students.  We talked about food, clothing, religion, politics, celebrities, cultural quirks, and so many other things.  I can honestly say that our similarities and differences helped to foster rich and lasting relationships.  Sharing your story and listening to others’ are big parts of being a successful Fulbright participant.

My time working on what I like to call my ‘unofficial program’ was equally as important as the time spent on my ‘official program.’  My ‘official program’ included teaching at my assigned school and studying conversational Arabic.  This is what the Statement of Grant Purpose in a Fulbright application covers.  Conversely, my ‘unofficial,’ but equally important, program included volunteering to teach English to Iraqi refugees, building meaningful friendships with people from other cultures, and using my skills in other ways to help my local host community.  You may not know what effect your ‘unofficial program’ will ultimately have, but this investment can make a tremendous difference in the lives of others long after you’ve left your host country.  A Fulbright U.S. Student Program experience can and, in my opinion, should be enriched by making giving back to your host community a priority.

From these answers, I offer the following pieces of advice to prospective applicants:

  • Flexibility, persistence, and a sense of adventure are all important applicant qualities.
  • Preparing to share your story should begin as early as the application process (remember, your story makes you unique as an applicant).
  • Spend time thinking about your ‘unofficial program’ and how you can give back to your host country.
  • Take time to enjoy the process…good luck!

Emily Hagemeister (center), 2009-2010, Jordan, posing with her first graders at the Abdul Hamid Sharaf School in Amman, Jordan.

Questions for Emily about her Fulbright experiences?  Feel free to email her at