When I Wanted Time to Freeze: My Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Experience

October 22, 2015
Nihan Yilmaz

Nihan Yilmaz, 2014-2015, Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant from Turkey, painting the walls at Blackshear Elementary School, Austin, TX as part of a volunteering project

 Have you ever been involved in something in which time goes by so fast that you find yourself saying, “Has it already been four months? Feels like I just started!” I have. I do not think words are enough to express how lucky I feel to participate in the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistantship (FLTA) Program, where time literally flies, leaving good memories and experiences behind.

Let me start with my language teaching experiences, which actually began before I started my Fulbright FLTA Program at the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin). Even before my departure from Turkey, I prepared many things to share with my future students. One of them was organizing a demonstration of a Turkish bridal party or “henna night.” I brought everything that I needed to make it as authentic as possible, and last year on November 7, I held the best Turkish bridal party ever! Many guests from other UT departments came and took photos and told me that they thought everything was superb! I taught my students some Turkish wedding dance moves and played traditional songs as if it were an actual henna night. It was a memorable event, not just for my students and guests, but for me as well. Now I am thinking of doing a similar activity with one of my Turkish classes. I plan on giving some presentations about Turkey and Turkish culture, and taking every opportunity to teach them about my culture. Moreover, I will be teaching additional classes next semester. I was asked to teach informal classes on Turkish culture at UT Austin with open enrollment. This means that I will be teaching Turkish culture not just to UT students, but to whoever wants to enroll, so my audience will be getting bigger and bigger! And I am consequently getting more excited to share my culture with a wider range of people from my host community.

Despite my very busy schedule, I’ve never forgotten one of the most important aims of the Fulbright Program: to make a contribution to my host and home communities, in other words, volunteering. During my grant, I volunteered for a project that aims to beautify schools for economically disadvantaged students. By painting the walls, I contributed to the community while making some friends! I truly love volunteering. Doing something for the community without expecting anything in return is the best feeling ever. If I were a psychologist, my recommendation for my patients would be to volunteer! It makes you feel that good.

Last but not least, I want to talk about the ways in which I will be sharing my Fulbright FLTA experiences in my home country when my program is over. Because I already work as a lecturer of English at Hacettepe University, one of the most prestigious universities in Turkey, I will have a chance to spread the word about how wonderful the Fulbright Program is. I know that upon witnessing the positive changes in me and my teaching skills, my students will want to apply to Fulbright or other exchange programs with the hopes of having similar experiences and outcomes for themselves.

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