My Fulbright Year at Ursinus College, Pennsylvania

Written by  Tuesday, 09 October 2018 11:53

 

     It was a great privilege and honor to be selected as a Fulbright Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) in 2014. As I looked back on my Fulbright experience at Ursinus College four years later, I could see more clearly the many blessings that I received throughout my ten-month stay in Collegeville, Pennsylvania. It is impossible to detail every aspect of the grant experience in one single reflection, but three aspects figured prominently during the grant year: cultural exchange, academic study, and community outreach and travels.

 

     One of the richest experiences as an FLTA is the exchange of cultures with my students and other FLTAs through sharing and learning. In terms of sharing, I had numerous occasions in my weekly conversation class to share Chinese cultures with my students – Chinese tongue twisters, shadow puppetry, cuisines, films and TV shows, poems, just to name a few. One memorable experience was my leading several American students to perform in the school’s annual celebration. We sang and danced to a popular Taiwanese song by Wu Bai, “You Are My Flower,” winning us a big round of applause from the audience. Another notable experience took place during the Chinese New Year where I introduced our traditions and taught American students how to fold the sky lanterns and write their wishes in Mandarin.

 

     Cultural sharing is a two-way street where I have also learned valuable lessons from my students and fellow classmates. One of the most impactful lessons is that I have dispelled the stereotypes and misconceptions associated with American cultures. In the past, I considered America to be the only dreamland in the world where everything is possible. That notion was changed as I had regular conversations with locals.  Through them, I have learned more about their society, thus being able to look at things in a broader perspective. In regard to the cultural exchange with the other FLTAs, the initial gathering in August and the mid-year conference in December broadened my horizon to a greater extent, enabling me to learn from their distinctive cultures and teaching styles. The constant sharing and learning helped me become a more well-rounded and open-minded educator. Those wonderful exchanges indeed contributed to Senator Fulbright’s vision: “a world with a little more knowledge and a little less conflict.”

 

     For me personally, I felt very blessed to have the opportunity to study at Ursinus College given my family’s difficult financial situation. I had profound gratitude for the opportunity to take two courses each semester, and I studied with enthusiasm! Throughout my Fulbright year, I took sociology, French, and German. Sociology delved deep into American cultures (especially the issue between the black and white communities) and offered me many opportunities to engage in classroom discussions. I eventually felt more at ease to express my opinions in class. However, as a language teacher, I reaped most bountiful rewards from the two language courses I took. I was especially influenced by my French professor, Mrs. Trout, who has an extensive repertoire of teaching techniques. Even though a lot of them are rather traditional, Mrs. Trout knows how to use them effectively. With her careful guidance, I was amazed to see myself finish reading three unabridged French novels in one semester and write a 1,000-word final essay in French. Her exemplary teaching, dynamic style, charisma, and active learning approach are what inspired me to keep learning French and to become a better educator.

 

     In addition to cultural exchange and academic study, non-academic experience such as joining the local church choir, participating in school club performances, and travelling also helped broaden my horizon. Singing in the choir helped me find a wonderful community and deepen my Catholic faith. It was a memorable experience to have weekly choir practice in the conductor’s house. The weekly connection with the choir members helped us become good friends. Upon my departure, the choir even held a farewell gathering for me, which filled me with joyful tears. As for the school club performances, I had several group performing experiences with American students, be it modern dance, Indian dance, or African dance. The process of collaboration made me bolder in my body expression and in my communication with my teams.

 

     The most poignant experience, though, was travelling on numerous occasions during my grant year. Those travels, with or without companions, opened my eyes and allowed me to see not only majestic landscape and geographical features, but also people of different colors and walks of life. I was held spellbound as I strolled in Canyonlands National Park in Utah.  In New York City, I was surprised by the gap between the rich and the poor. In Washington D.C., I was fascinated by its museums and historical monuments. I also travelled for my professional development. Given my interest in educational drama, I went to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland to attend the drama workshop, learning how to teach Shakespeare to students. This experience later led me to be the instructor of the Shakespeare Camp in Taipei in 2017. I could not help but feel mesmerized by how travels can bring about unforeseen changes in a person.

 

     Thanks to the Fulbright experience, I had many wonderful opportunities to exchange cultures with my students and other FLTAs, to attend courses at Ursinus College, and to have phenomenal travelling experiences. During my ten-month grant, I have shared my culture and my language using various activities and methods. Through the courses I took, I observed different teaching approaches and experienced how personal charisma can elevate teaching.  Finally, extensive travels allowed me to develop invaluable insights. All in all, my Fulbright year has equipped me with a brand-new energy to teach English, inviting me to go forth and be an inspiration myself.

 

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