With this past week being the Chicago Public School’s spring break, I’ve had the chance to spend a week back at Coe College. As I touched on in my previous post regarding my Fulbright Scholarship, I received the good news as I was preparing to leave to campus. What a relief! What timing! What excellent news heading into a well-deserved break! In addition to spending a week catching up with friends, future family, faculty, and staff, I also spent my afternoons reflecting on my most recent adventure.
Everybody I spent time with this past week congratulated me on my accomplishment, adding how proud they were and how fortunate I was to receive this prestigious award. They also all asked me a version of the same question: “What are you most excited about?” This is where I focused my meditation and reflection. What an excellent question. There is so much to be excited about. There are so many thoughts and emotions that can be triggered as a result of this simple, yet powerful, question.
First and foremost, receiving a Fulbright Scholarship is an extreme honor. I am so grateful to all those who were responsible for my educational upbringing: family, friends, former teachers, current professors and advisors, the list goes on and on. I also cannot go any further without expressing my utmost gratitude and thanks for the people of Malaysia. Thank you to the selection committee for believing in me and my abilities as a teacher, learner, and leader. Without them, I would not be a Fulbright Scholar.
On a personal level, I am filled with pride knowing that my name will forever be linked with one of the most prestigious and selective undergraduate scholarships the United States has to offer. According to the Fulbright website, a total of 4,957 of the nation’s most elite students applied for English Teaching Assistant grants for the 2014-2015 year. Of those nearly 5,000 applicants, only 976 were selected. Crunching the numbers, that equates to a 19.6% acceptance rate. One out of every five applicants. (For those who are elementary educators, like myself, we approach the problem differently. We can determine a “ballpark estimate” by rounding 4,957 to 5,000 and 976 to 1,000. By rounding, we can make the previously intimidating division problem more accessible and solvable: 1,000 out of 5,000 can be converted to 2,000 out of 10,000, or 2 out of 10, or 20%. It is all about perspective. More on this later.)
As a current student and soon-to-be alumni of Coe College, I view my Fulbright Scholarship as an opportunity to represent my institution on the global stage. Historically, Coe has a high success rate when it comes to producing Fulbright Scholars. This success can be linked to the college’s unwavering dedication to providing a high-class liberal arts education in a student-centered environment. Coe is also very fortunate to have former “Fulbrighters” within the faculty and staff. I was approached early in my college career to consider the Fulbright program and was guided throughout the entire application process. At Coe, we take teaching and learning very seriously. However, we also see the value in providing our students with opportunities to continue their academic careers after 4 years. I am a beneficiary of both.
Moving beyond the extreme honor, receiving a Fulbright Scholarship provides me with an opportunity to change my perspective. Over the course of the past 15 weeks at Andrew Jackson Language Academy, I have broadened my perspective when it comes to urban education. As a Fulbrighter, I will have the opportunity to view culture and society with a global perspective. More specifically as an English Teaching Assistant (ETA), I will be provided with the chance to view education through the lens of Malaysian culture.
As I was researching various locations to apply for my ETA grant, I was drawn to Malaysia for many reasons. As I stated in my personal statement essay, “I am eager to learn about the country’s educational system. While I love the United States and value our educational system, I want to experience teaching and learning in East Asia, a highly successful region. Recent articles emphasize that Malaysia’s educational system has made unprecedented progress over the past fifteen years. A renewed focus on early childhood education, increased literacy screening, and increased integration of technology both intrigues and excites me. I want to experience this progress…these aforementioned skills and strategies emphasized across Malaysia will be directly applicable in my future classrooms.” In other words, Malaysia has not only emerged as a leader in education with Southeast Asia, the nation has also become a global powerhouse.
Beyond the prestige of the Malaysian education system, I was also motivated to pursue an ETA grant in Malaysia because I believed I was a perfect fit for their desired candidate profile. Again, from my personal statement essay, “I am a mature, independent, and flexible individual who looks forward to the possibility of teaching in rural villages. I am eager to take risks that benefit me as a learner. I am also highly adaptive to new environments and experiences. Additionally, I am an articulate, native-English speaker with a background in elementary education and an absolute adoration for working with children. My greatest joy is watching my students’ master new skills: (Student A), a kindergartener, was always eager to show me the new word he had learned to spell. (Student B), a first grader, always wanted a high-five after correctly using a comma. (Student C), a fourth grader, always enthusiastic to show me the new draft of his short story we had been developing together. (Student D), a painfully shy third-grader developed a previously non-existent sense of confidence with his reading. Teaching allows me to help guide students towards moments like these. For me, there is no greater experience!”
As an educator, there is no greater professional development opportunity to develop the skills, strategies, and thought processes that will contribute to my future students’ successes. One of the buzz phrases thrown around the filed of education today is “global learner.” Policy makers are pleading that states and districts develop students that are successful in today’s global society and economy. Teachers across the United States are striving to provide their students with opportunities to foster and cultivate empathy and compassion for other cultures. A Fulbright Scholarship provides me with on-the-job training in this field. This is especially true when it comes to the development of appropriate strategies for emergent bilinguals, or English language learners.
American schools today are more diverse than ever before. Students from across the globe are arriving in our classrooms with hopes and dreams just like their peers. As educators, it is our job to prepare all students, regardless of cultural background and to the best of our ability, to be successful lifelong learners. While this sentiment is being felt in classrooms around the nation, my ETA grant will allow me to view the situation from a different perspective.
As an American in Malaysia, I will be in the minority, the language learner. Even though all of my instruction will be in English, my ability to convey information will be dependent on my abilities to connect with my students. My day-to-day conversations and interactions with colleagues, community members, and students will not be in English. In other words, I will be more the student than the teacher in these scenarios. What an opportunity to develop authentic empathy for the millions of students who experience similar scenarios in our nation’s schools.
Finally, as a young travel enthusiast, I am eager to see a new part of the world. Malaysia is such a beautiful country, there is no denying that. Lonely Planet recently named the country one of the Top Travel Destinations in 2014. Malaysian culture is so rich and diverse: dense jungles, exotic beaches, bustling cities, and peaceful tea plantations to name a few. I cannot wait to spend 10 months exploring this stunning country. In addition to exploring Malaysia, I will also be able to explore other countries within Southeast Asia. The country shares a peninsular border with Thailand as well boarders with Indonesia and Singapore. While my main focus will be within Malaysia, I look forward to spending time expanding my global perspective in other countries as well.
But lets me return to the question at hand: what am I most excited about? As a Fulbright Scholar and ETA, I know I will give everything I have to the country of Malaysia, my colleagues, my community, and my students. I will dig deep into myself to extract all the resources I can provide. However, I know that Malaysia will give me countless opportunities, new knowledge, and experiences I will benefit from for the rest of my life. If I had to synthesize all of my excitement down into one sentence it would be this: I am most excited about the chance to learn. My Fulbright Scholarship provides me with the opportunity to learn about the Malaysian educational system, their people, their food, their religions, the languages, and their region. I will be sure to take frivolous notes.
I cannot wait to start.