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.
Fulbrighter Jarod Yong (right), Malaysia, with Millennial Trains Project Founder and Fulbright U.S. Student Program alumnus Patrick Dowd (left).
If I were to summarize my MTP journey into one word, it would be “affirmation.”
Prior to my Fulbright, I was a teacher at a secondary school deep within the jungles of Borneo. My students were children from one of the most marginalized people groups in my country. During those six years, I designed and initiated multiple education programs which aimed to holistically develop my students in ways that their homes or the school could never do.
Being a guest to the U.S., I am naturally curious about education programs that exist for children from marginalized communities in this country. Therefore, my project during the MTP journey involved visiting and learning from organizations working to bridge education disparities for at-risk communities in the U.S.
Jarod Yong, 2015-2017, Malaysia (third from left), taking a break with a few of his 2016 Millennial Train Project colleagues
Greetings from Kansas City! We are currently halfway through our Millennial Train Project (MTP) journey and it has really been a blast so far. Together with the MTP staff and mentors, we have travelled to Pittsburgh and Chicago. We have just left Kansas City for Albuquerque and will subsequently head to Los Angeles. Amongst the 25 participants on the train are three Fulbrighters from Peru, Germany, and Malaysia.
After getting to know everyone during the journey, I was blown away by their experiences, achievements, and projects. It is a great feeling to know that I have been sharing the same air with some of the most brilliant and innovative people in this country. Additionally, a deep kinship developed between us in the tight quarters of the train. We had so many laughs and tears together.
Akirah Crawford, 2014-2015, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Malaysia (third from right), preps her students for the annual Debate Competition. They are the opposition, running up against the government!
My experience thus far as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) at SMK Tan Sri Abdul Aziz secondary school in Malaysia has truly opened my eyes to the importance of cultural exchange for building and maintaining lasting relationships with other countries. I am also realizing the importance of English not merely as a language but also an avenue to opportunity. At times it is clear that my students lack motivation when speaking English, not only because they are uncomfortable speaking it but also because they are unsure of its relevance to their lives. This is where I come in! As an ETA, I like to think of myself as the “Motivator” or “Confidence Queen.” Motivating my students to utilize their newly acquired skills as a means of social empowerment made me realize that my students are powerful in ways in which they do not always recognize themselves.
One of my most rewarding moments thus far was my school’s participation in the English-speaking Debate Competition. We were the opposition going up against the government on the issue that international schools hamper nation building. My students panicked upon realizing their position was the opposition. I remember one student saying, “Teacher, who is going to believe us? We are going up against the government you know.” I chuckled at this remark while immediately dispelling his conceived notions of doubt. “We are going to win,” I said and he believed me. It was in that moment that a seed was planted. On the ride to the competition I had students silently repeat to themselves affirmations including: “I am the best,” “We will win” and “I am the best English speaking student in all of Perak.” I saw their nervous energy transform into a burning desire to win. After much doubt from others and only one day to prepare, my students surprised themselves and their competition! They blew the competitors out of water! Everyone was amazed by how eloquently they presented their arguments in English.
Julie Baer, 2011-2012, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Malaysia (third from left) with students engaged in one of their final Imagination Nation projects involving building moon landers which protect eggs dropped from the third floor of a building
Every Wednesday afternoon at SK Seri Bunian, a small elementary school in Pontian, Malaysia, my English Language club Imagination Nation, gathered together to delve into the world of our imaginations. My students walked into the classroom and picked up their passports which “permit the citizens of the Imagination Nation to pass without delay or hindrance, to any place as far and wide as their imagination will take them.” We transformed into robots and then became the engineers who created them. We flew around the world, saw how pollution and plastics harm our Earth, and then made recycling boxes to keep our school clean; we Skyped with a NASA Astronaut Educator Diane Sartore and made moon-landing devices. But when the clock struck 1:30 p.m., we were back in Seri Bunian.
To me, being a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) was much more than practicing sentence structure with my students. My English Language club and other school activities sought to challenge my students to think creatively. I wanted my students to harness their imagination, work determinedly to achieve their dreams, and turn the figments of their imagination into reality.