Application Tips from Daniel Sichmeller

Hey, this is Daniel Sichmeller. I won a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Grant to the Czech Republic, and I’m here to give you some tips about the Fulbright application process. My experience is of course limited to ETA applications.

Let me first make it clear how invaluable Zoe is in the application process. If you have problems with deadlines (like me) or paperwork (also me), you can’t afford not to be working closely with Zoe. She is a great editor, so I highly advise you to send her as many drafts of your personal statement and statement of grant purpose as possible. At one point, my personal statement existed in three completely separate versions, and she was willing to look at each one to determine which would be most appealing. If you don’t feel guilty about how much you are bothering her, then you are probably not talking to her enough.

Note: Be smart and start send Zoe those drafts super early.

The first major decision in the application process might be choosing which country to apply for. Go ahead and follow your heart or something because you want to make sure you end up in a country you actually like, but there are a few other things to consider. Check out http://us.fulbrightonline.org/statistics for award statistics for the different countries you are considering and compare the awards/applicants ratios. On top of that, consider your competition and how you measure up. For me the choice was between the Czech Republic and Spain. I knew my Spanish could not compete with over 400 applicants’ and even though I spoke no Czech, it is an uncommon enough language that I would not be competing with many fluent speakers. Consider all the information available and apply to the country for which you can write the most appealing application.

Do not forget about your references. I tutored for four different professors in my time at UCSD, so recommendations were easy. You should be building relationships with your professors already, but if you have been slacking, now is the time to start your office hour visits. Though I haven’t actually seen the recommendations my professors wrote for me, I can’t help but think that their recommendations did a better job of selling me than the rest of my application.

If you still feel like your application is weak then do something about it. I was worried about my lack of language skills and had only months to improve them. Instead though, I took a calculated risk and focused on strengthening my teaching experience. In the few months before the deadline, I got a job as a substitute teacher (which is very easy once you have your BA), then volunteered tutoring elementary school kids and teaching ESL to adults. By the time of the deadline, I had only added two months of experience to speak of, but I wrote it in anyway. When I go to the Czech Republic in August I will have a full year of experience teaching a wide variety of students and subjects, and that is what I sold them in my application.

Good luck and have fun.

Daniel

Application Tips from Kalliopi Kefalas

My name is Kalliopi Kefalas, and I am a third year student in the history department studying crime and policing in Late Ottoman Crete with the guidance of Professor Thomas Gallant. I applied for the Fulbright research grant last year at the end of June right before leaving for Crete to gather more preliminary data for my research. The Fulbright had been on my mind for quite some time before then, as a few of my colleagues had received it and it made me begin considering my funding for my long research trip the following year. I had just completed my second research paper of graduate school and had decided that the topic I had written on was something worth pursuing for my dissertation. However, it was clear that digitized Cretan newspapers were not going to be enough. I needed access to materials that were not available online, and that were possibly not even listed in the digital catalogue yet.

As I mentioned, I contacted the graduate Fulbright advisor, Zoe Ziliak Michel, and began applying at the end of June. For me, this was enough time to write a few drafts of my proposal and personal statement, get in touch with my affiliate at the University of Crete, schedule and take my language proficiency exam, and ask for letters of recommendation. Some of my other colleagues applying for the grant started even earlier and attended a few informational sessions, many of which I did not go to. Thus, my two most important pieces of advice would be to start the process of applying early – at the very latest in June – and to attend the information sessions. Because I didn’t go to many of these, I ended up asking Zoe many questions that could have been answered during these meetings. The one I did go to I attended via google hangouts while I was in Athens. That is my third piece of advice – try to budget your time for research and anything related to the Fulbright application evenly. Because I was in Greece conducting research last summer and traveling quite a bit, it was difficult to manage the time I spent on the application. While it’s important to devote time to the application, give yourself some time to step away from it. That way, it will be much easier to edit your proposal and see where the problems lie or what parts of it are unclear. One way to do this, again, is to start early to actually have the luxury of having time to step away, read it with fresh eyes, and also allow Zoe enough time to give you several rounds of feedback.

In addition to editing and seeking feedback from Zoe and others, a successful application depends on standing out. This can be done in a variety of ways, but I found that starting and ending strongly was probably what made my application strong. I started my first paragraph with a statement that gave a sense of my project in its broadest terms and its wider importance. I then spent some time (and space) carefully laying out what has already been researched on the topic and some of the current relevant issues in it. Immediately after this, I asked my research questions and then tried to answer them with what I already knew from secondary scholarly literature or from reading primary sources. The point of the proposal isn’t to have a good hypothesis or a thorough analysis of your data already, although these can definitely help; it is to ask important and well-constructed research questions. Finally, while the grant advisor and other people will give you good advice, ultimately, YOU will know whether something sounds right or not. The night before the due date, I took a look at my proposal, which Zoe had approved, and reorganized it. Even though everybody had said it looked good, I knew it could be even better.

After hearing back from the foundation and, fortunately, being awarded, I set out almost immediately to gather information on obtaining a visa. Criteria vary from country to country, but make sure you learn what they are early. I, for instance, have to get a criminal background check from the FBI, which in itself requires getting fingerprints and other things, to get my visa for Greece. If this is the case for you as well, note that the FBI does not accept livescan fingerprinting, but an actual fingerprint card only, and not many police stations give these out. Also make sure to look online for their hours, since some are not open on all weekdays from 9-5 pm. Because I have not gotten very far in this process, this is the only advice I can provide on this issue. Otherwise, if you do get a Fulbright, read the acceptance letter carefully for paperwork instructions and deadlines and mark these down somewhere where you will look daily. I very nearly missed them due to not doing this. Good luck!

Annie Dimitras on Being an ETA in a Developing Country

Being an ETA in a Developing Country

Everyone that is or has been a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) will tell you that experiences vary completely by placement. Every placement comes with its own requirements, responsibilities, and challenges. I can’t emphasize enough how carefully you should consider the information provided in each country summary on the Fulbright website before deciding where to apply.

I have been an ETA in two schools in Kosovo for seven months now. I didn’t know what to expect from the schools and education system before I arrived. I wondered what resources would be available, what class sizes would be like, what the curriculum would consist of, and what methods teachers would use. I thought I would write this post about my experiences to give any future ETAs an idea of what their school situation might be like if they are applying to a developing country (especially one in eastern Europe).

Resources:

At both of the schools I work in, there is no technology in the classrooms. The classrooms are very bare-bones with chipping paint walls, rusting blackboards, and tables and chairs for the students. Some classrooms I work in don’t even have functioning lights, so when it’s cloudy, it is difficult for the students to read anything on the blackboard because the room is so dark. Even if they do have lights, the power goes out frequently and can’t be relied on.

One of my 8th grade classrooms


                                                            One of my 8th grade classrooms

 

All the doors are broken
                                                All the doors are broken, and some don’t close

 

Though the classrooms don’t allow for technology-centered lessons, both schools have computer labs (which they call “cabinets” for some reason) equipped with class sets of computers, digital projectors, and speakers.  There is only one of these rooms per school, so all the teachers have to share and coordinate with each other. I am only allowed to use the tech room at one school. It has been great to use videos, audio, and powerpoint in my activities. It helps the students to understand English in different ways and it’s important to mix up activities so the students don’t get too bored. However, because everyone at the school has to share one tech room, it is not feasible to conduct frequent class activities requiring technology.

The tecnology cabinet at one school


                                                In the technology cabinet at one school

 

Since resources are limited in my schools, I have tried to work around using technology in the class. I brought a blue tooth speaker with me from the US. It has been invaluable. I use it in conjunction with my iphone to play bits of audio and music in class. I just record what I need to on my phone prior to class, and the speaker is portable and loud enough to make in an effective classroom tool.

In addition to limited access to technology at school, I also do not have access to a printer or photocopier. If I want to use worksheets for a class, I have to go to a print shop to print and make all my copies. This can get very expensive when you are working with hundreds of students every day. I do prepare worksheets sometimes, but I have opted for more speaking and blackboard based activities. It was difficult and frustrating at first to plan lessons that worked around these limitations, but there are plenty of engaging and effective activities that require no resources at all.

Annie Pic Blackboard


                                                            Blackboard at my primary school

 

Functioning of Schools:

Saying that schools in Kosovo are very different from schools in the US is an understatement. It has been fascinating to witness how another country’s system of education functions, but it has also been extremely frustrating at times. First, there is a shortage of schools in my host country. To remedy this, all schools work in two or even three shifts. This means the school day is very condensed and students may only attend for four hours a day. Some students don’t finish school until after dark, while others have to be at school by 7am but might have to travel an hour by bus from their home. These shifts make the classes too short to accomplish much, and it also makes it very difficult to coordinate any extracurricular activities.

Another difference here is that teachers do not have their own rooms. Instead, students remain in one room for the duration of the school day and the teachers travel from class to class. This makes extensive prep or clean up from a lesson difficult. Teachers also are not actually trained as teachers; they just have a BA in their subject. This means they have never studied pedagogy or teaching methods. Teachers are also not paid well, and many of the teachers I work with have one or two additional jobs to help support their families. So, they might be a little less invested in their position at the school than you might expect. This became very apparent to me through the lack of lesson planning and general organization of lessons. It is common practice throughout my host country for teachers to arrive in each class, take a book from a student, and ask the student where they left off last class and if they had assigned any homework. Can you imagine a teacher doing that in the US?

Students are very similar to students in the US. The main difference is what is expected from them. From an early age, some learn to just copy everything from their more motivated friends. Teachers do not object or pay any attention to this practice. Cheating and plagiarism are huge problems at all levels of school in my host country. Even professors at the university have plagiarized their research (this was recently proven). It is difficult to witness these practices and not really have power to do anything about it. I think it affects students’ motivation. Why study, why do homework, why be engaged, when you can pass the class in the end without doing the work? This attitude has proved very challenging for me to alter with my activities and role in the classroom.

There is also a vast lack of a disciplinary system at my schools. If a student is too loud or doesn’t do his homework, a teacher will most likely yell at them. Maybe the student will be sent out of the classroom for the duration of the class. I have also seen many teachers hit many students (this is banned by law but not in practice). The most serious disciplinary measure is calling the student’s parents. Unfortunately, these are the only measures that are practiced at my schools and they are incredibly ineffective. Also, some behaviors are not seen as problems, like fighting, for example.

The "playground" at school


                                                The playground at my primary school

These are just some examples of what I have experienced as an ETA in a developing country. Again, every host country and every placement location within differs from the next. I didn’t know what to expect when trying to mental prepare myself for my Fulbright grant last summer. If you are thinking about being an ETA, applying to be an ETA, or awaiting the start of your grant as an ETA, I would recommend preparing yourself to be flexible and ready for anything. My time as an ETA has definitely helped me to become more adaptable, resourceful, and to always have a backup plan.

Update from Harrison, ETA in the Czech Republic

Just a couple of weeks ago, the US Fulbright students in the Czech Republic crossed over the midway point of our grant term. I had an extended Christmas holiday this year because my school didn’t want to open dormitories for just two days out of an entire week – they just gave us an extra week off. I had the opportunity to attend three Christmas dinners with colleagues from my schools and taste the traditional Czech Christmas meal, which includes dishes like fried carp, schnitzel, wine sausage, potato salad, and lots of homemade cookies. I also spent the time off exploring Prague with some fellow UCSD alumni who were in Europe.

Since my last update, I’ve also spent some time doing various other things around town. For Thanksgiving, because the official Fulbright Thanksgiving for grantees actually took place on Friday, I decided to host a community Thanksgiving at the local youth center, which consisted of a meal of turkey stew (cooking a whole turkey here would have been a little too difficult) and had about 20 attendees present, including my students, several parents, teachers, and the local European expat volunteers community. I also participated in the events of a local language school’s intercultural evening, where I had the support of the US Embassy, American Center, and Fulbright Commission to run a booth and give a public presentation with info about the United States. I’ve also offered to volunteer my time to some of this school’s other cultural events (which I’ve also enjoyed a ton because they do an amazing job at bringing the community together).  Teaching has also been going well. Some of my favorite lessons are those that focus on solving problems and activities I’ve named “There’s an App for That” and “Let’s Save the Zoo from Going Broke.” While I’d love to tell you more about these lessons, there really isn’t much to say beyond the title – I purposely designed them to be relatively open-ended and allow student creativity. The next big thing I’m looking forward to is a volunteer panel during the open lesson that I will be hosting for Czech students who might want to take a gap year and travel to another country through various EU schemes.

In my free time, I’ve been volunteering for the Multicultural Center in Prague helping to proofread and edit materials available for the public and papers to be discussed at an upcoming conference for both academics and immigration policy practitioners. I’m also going to be teaching a course that I’ll be calling “English Conversation for Social Science and Humanities Majors.” It’s an extracurricular course at my region’s university primarily for political science, anthropology, and sociology bachelor’s students. It’s amazing to think that this grant has provided me the opportunity to connect with a local university and be able to work with them through my own initiative, and I’m very excited for our collaboration over the next semester. In fact, there are so many students, it is looking like I will have more than one section. We have 50 students on the interest list. Additionally, I heard that a local organization that provides language classes to adults lost its volunteers and some grant funding. I told them I’d be willing to fill in because being a Fulbright grantee provides me with enough free time that I am able to share my experience and connect with local Czechs through other means than just my time at the school. Reaching out to places like local universities, language schools, and NGOs, while difficult, provides a venue for me to make the most of my time here.

As for my living situation, living alone still proves to be a bit of a challenge when you are not fluent in the language. There are often misunderstandings, but, with a few exceptions, the living arrangement has been acceptable. Most importantly, I’ve had functional Internet for the last month, after getting permission from the school to have the phone company drill into the apartment walls and finally reaching the person I think may have been the phone company’s single English-speaking employee. (I felt like Radim, the phone company customer service agent, and I had a special relationship from all the back and forth involved in the process.) Still, if I knew some things going into my Fulbright about how to handle renting an apartment abroad, I would have done some things differently. (Future Fulbrighters: I encourage you to start looking at the housing arrangements as soon as you have your grant and know your placement)

Introduction to Annie Dimitras, ETA in Kosovo

I began my ETA grant in Kosovo around three months ago. My Fulbright cohort arrived in mid-September. We were picked up from the airport by embassy representatives and attended a two and a half day orientation in the embassy, where we were briefed on security, health, cultural heritage projects, the education system, school conditions, and our placement sites.

The embassy informed me of my placement city a little less than two months before I arrived. I did not know what schools or what age group I would be working with until I attended the orientation at the embassy. Since Kosovo is a small country, there is no Fulbright Commission. The Public Affairs section of the embassy handles all Fulbright grantees. Most of my fellow Kosovo Fulbright grantees and I attended an earlier orientation in Washington, DC, along with other Eastern European and Eurasian grantees headed to countries without a Fulbright Commission. In DC, we met alumni that had just returned from Kosovo, and their information was invaluable.

After a few days in the capital city, I was transported to my placement city by the embassy. We had a whirlwind visit to apartments that I had about five minutes to look at before deciding where I would live for the next year. They also took me to one of my two schools and introduced me to the principal (who spoke no English) and my contact person (the main English teacher I would work with). This all happened a little fast for me, so fast I almost wasn’t sure how to get back to my new apartment.

I have been placed in a small city in the north of the country called Mitrovica. It is infamous in Kosovo for being the city with the most ongoing conflict and for being one of the most depressed cities in the country. Until the ’80s, Mitrovica was booming with culture, and everyone worked at the big mine nearby and had lots of money. Then miners started to get laid off, conflict began to increase, and now the city is split in half (ethnic Albanians in the south and Serbs in the north) and there is no new industry to put all those miners back to work.

I had no training or experience with either local language, Albanian or Serbian, prior to arrival in Kosovo. I live on the Albanian side of town and have started learning Albanian. However, there is no class available to me and few materials for English speakers to learn Albanian, so I only have a very basic grasp of the language. I use my Albanian to buy things and conduct simple interactions, but most of the people I interact with speak enough English to converse.

I work at two schools in the southern half of the city. I began working at an upper primary school with grades 6-9 right after I moved to Mitrovica. It took a month for someone from the embassy to come back up here, introduce me to the principal of my second school, and have the proper documents signed. So for the second month, I have been working half the time at the primary school and half the time at a gymnasium high school with 10-12th graders. It took weeks for me to work out a schedule so I could see as many different students every week as possible and work with nearly all the English teachers at both schools without losing my mind. I now I have a complicated schedule where I work four days with eight different teachers and over 500 students. I still don’t know everyone’s name, but I am doing my best.

There are four other ETAs in Kosovo with me, one student researcher, and one scholar. The student researcher, scholar, and one of the ETAs are based in the capital. One ETA is on his own in a mountain village. His placement is so isolated that he had to purchase a car to reach both of the schools he is assigned to. The two other ETAs are placed in the same city in the south of the country. They share an apartment by choice but work in different schools. All of the ETAs are at primary or high schools, and all but one work at two schools. Working at two schools gives you a greater perspective on the education system, but it means a lot more students and teachers to keep track of. Every teacher may have different expectations, and every class may have different needs and demands.

Overall, my first three months have had a lot of ups and downs. It is been exciting to explore a new country and begin relationships with so many interesting people. It has also been extremely challenging to work a new environment. I have encountered many communication barriers and misunderstandings. It is a process to figure out how to best communicate with my teachers, students, and administrators. It is also a process to establish my role in each class. Despite the challenges, the experience has been great so far—very rewarding and entirely unique. I think the beginning is the hardest part. I am happy to have overcome so many challenges thus far and am looking forward to the rest of my time in Kosovo.

Harrison Gill on Teaching and ETA Life in the Czech Republic

Although I took some time to get up to speed, most of my experiences thus far have been pleasant, and everyone is helping out to make sure I can succeed in my role teaching in the classroom and to ensure that I have a comfortable living environment. Originally upon my arrival, I was living in a wing for students, which was offered to me essentially for free. It was particularly challenging to live there because students move out on the weekends and the building essentially shuts down, something that is not ideal for someone who is often (but not always) spending his weekends in town. I was able to move into special accommodations for teachers, and while I now have to pay rent, it is quite affordable and provides me a larger space, a more comfortable bed, and a private bathroom and kitchen. Unfortunately, the apartment was unfurnished, but teachers and staff were more than willing to help me out in acquiring furniture. The one thing to keep in mind, however, is that living in a rural community can be challenging at times. Sometimes it is hard to get stuff I need for my apartment because it requires a car, and sometimes Internet does not work properly (especially the email ports, which makes submitting this blog post a particular challenge). Overall, however, my accommodations are quite nice and much larger than anything I could probably afford in the States as a recent college graduate.

As for my teaching, it took awhile to figure out. I teach at two schools – one of which is divided into three different campuses, including one that is about ten kilometers away. I switch between schools each week. At one of my schools, I teach lower level students interested in technical subjects, business, and fields requiring apprenticeships. At this school, I sometimes teach whole lessons, which last for 45 minutes, but sometimes just add insights to other lessons. As Rychnov nad Kneznou is close to the second largest car factory in the Czech Republic, many of the students focus on eventually working as auto mechanics or technicians. Often this means it is helpful to tie my lessons in with automotive subjects. For example, this might mean planning a lesson on how one would apply for a job as an auto mechanic in the US. My other school is a college prep gymnazium. Here there are three different types of English classes: compulsory, voluntary, and open. I teach in all three. In all three, I often am responsible for the whole class period. With compulsory and voluntary English, the teacher sits in the back or the side of the room and we decide on a topic together, often with the teacher placing an initial suggestion in a calendar on my office desk. Open English, however, is a class that I teach on my own for a 90-minute period. I get to choose the topic, and it is essentially my own class. It is optional for students to attend Open English, but since it was so popular during the first week, we decided to add a second class every other week when I am at the gymnazium.

As for other things I am doing on the side, one of the teachers set me up with a recent alumnus who is interested in practicing his English. We’ve met so many times already that I think we could probably consider each other friends or at least acquaintances, something that is not particularly easy to do in the Czech Republic. Eventually we will speak with each other using just Czech (until I get stuck). Additionally, some teachers have promised to take me to their homes for different weekend activities like learning to cook Czech cuisine and watching movies. I also hired a private tutor to improve my Czech, something that still remains well within my financial means here. On Halloween, I will be helping out at the local youth center. I’ll also be helping out at the gymnazium’s open house and showing parents how the students learn in their English classes by giving them a mock lesson. In my free time, I have also started a project called What YOUth Eat, when I realized one day while sitting in the dining hall that Americans probably have no idea what Czech students actually eat. In the true spirit of international exchange, I also opened the site to contributions from all around the world. You can check it out at www.whatyoutheat.com. By the time my stint in the Czech Republic is over, I would love to see contributions from all around the world and have something that can exist as a sustainable project to share with as many people online as possible.

Arik Burakovsky is about to Leave for Russia!

Tomorrow I will be leaving for Russia, embarking on an exciting nine-month-long cultural and linguistic immersion. While this summer was a time for me to unwind with my family, take my GRE, and start on graduate school application forms, it also included preparations for my upcoming trip. There were numerous forms to be filled out, items to purchase, and logistics to work out.

The Fulbright program requires that each grantee complete many forms, providing information about their health, emergency contacts, travel itinerary, host country contacts, and bank account. In addition, final college transcripts must be sent to the IIE to confirm one’s graduation. [Note from FPA: IIE is the Institute of International Education, the private company that manages the US Student Fulbright Program for the US Department of State.]  Luckily, I had few problems completing these requests. Nonetheless, I needed to expedite my graduation from UCSD to send my final transcript on time. [FPA explains: If you complete your bachelor’s degree the June before your departure, you have to submit a request to get your degree confirmation earlier than the other graduates.  This can be a bit complicated.]

Furthermore, I got to correspond with my contacts in Omsk to figure out where I will be staying and what I may need to bring. I found out that will be living in a dorm for foreign students, providing me with most of the necessary amenities like bedding and cable Internet. Understanding that Western Siberia sometimes has extreme winter weather, I knew I had to pack multiple pairs of long underwear, hats, gloves, mittens, sweaters, parkas, and boots. I had some of these things already, but many of them I had to hunt for in New Mexico department stores filled mostly with summer clothing. Other logistical issues included purchasing flight tickets that comply with the Fly America Act, choosing a bank and credit card that does not charge foreign transaction fees, buying an international SIM card, and exchanging some rubles before my departure.

I also had to apply for my Russian visa. Anyone who has ever done it knows that it is not an easy process. I waited for about two months for my invitation letter from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Upon receiving it, I filled out an application form, took an HIV test, sent these documents to a visa outsourcing company called Travisa, and crossed my fingers. Everything seemed fine, but there were a few surprises in store for me. The Russian consulate in San Francisco requested initially that the rector of my host institution send an additional letter confirming my stay and later that I send my final university transcript. Ultimately, it took another month for my Russian visa to be ready. After several days of packing my entire luggage – including a camcorder and tripod, a few New Mexican souvenirs, and an Apples to Apples board game box – I am finally all set to go!

Harrison Gill is About to Leave for his Trip!

At this point, I leave for the Czech Republic in less than two weeks. I am very excited, but if you are applying for the Fulbright for next year and think summer is just a time when you can slack off and not have to deal with anything important, you are quite mistaken. There are quite a few forms to be filled out and things to be discussed so that you are fully ready to go on that impending departure date.

For me, the process included learning more about my placement, such as the fact that I am going to be working in two schools; learning about potential housing options (I chose a dormitory partially subsidized by the school); linking my bank accounts to the Fulbright Commission so that I can receive my grant money; and, most complicated of all, applying for a visa.

Sadly, visa processes can cause a bit of a headache, but in the end they are worth it if you follow all the directions carefully. One of the biggest disappointments is that I was unable to go on a family vacation to Bhutan because the consulate was holding my passport. In the end, though, although I would have loved to visit Bhutan, I feel the almost yearlong experience in the Czech Republic is going to have a much larger impact on my life than a one-week trip as a tourist. Looking back, I know I will have made the right choice. Additionally, the paperwork for a visa is complicated, and the procedures can be even more complicated. As the paperwork required a lot of fill-in-the-blank answers in Czech, I had to sit there with a dictionary to complete the form, and even after I was finished, I wasn’t sure that everything was answered correctly. Applying for visas is one of those processes that make you doubt yourself because things never seem to make sense, possibly getting lost in translation. Additionally, I still need to report to a certain police station to validate my visa and receive my residence permit, and that process is actually more of a challenge than it seems. Luckily, the commission has been extremely helpful.

As for other preparations, the Fulbright commission has been quick to answer questions and has already allowed me to reach out to my mentor teachers. While there are still a lot of unanswered questions, which I am sure will be handled at our orientation at the end of this month, I have been able to ask questions about things ranging from the visa to finances to dress code in the classroom.  Eventually, an answer always comes through, often only slightly delayed because of the time difference. I can say that I am very satisfied with the assistance that has been provided by everyone I have been in contact with either in the Czech Republic or at the IIE offices here in the States.

Now, two weeks before departure, everything is basically in place. My flight has already been reimbursed. I’ve been reviewing common Czech words that I am sure to encounter on a website called Memrise. Right now, the most complicated thing about making the big move is that I’m a little stuck on figuring out what to pack as I haven’t spent any time in real winter weather. My mentor teacher, though, has told me that she can take me to a hypermarket (imagine a Walmart-type store) to buy winter clothing. Other than that, I am packing pretty normally as I would for a trip. I’m going to also be bringing my camera and a laptop, plus a few surprises for the community that I don’t want to spoil by discussing on this blog quite yet. I am very excited, yet a little nervous at the same time, about what happens next. I leave in just thirteen more days.

Introduction to Arik Burakovsky

My name is Arik Burakovsy, and I recently completed my undergraduate studies at UCSD, majoring in Political Science/International Relations and minoring in Film Studies. I aim to pursue a career in American diplomacy, national security, and international law. I am spending this summer with my family in New Mexico, relaxing outdoors and preparing to apply to graduate programs. This fall will mark the beginning of my Fulbright grant in Russia as an English Teaching Assistant.

Besides spending the first four years of my life in Israel, I have almost no experience living abroad. I knew that if I wanted to continue learning about foreign affairs, I had to find a way to spend my gap year outside the United States. My family’s roots in the Soviet Union, my fluency of the Russian language, and my interest in Russian traditions and politics made Russia an ideal choice. It has been nearly a year since I began preparing my application materials for the Fulbright program. The Fulbright application process was unbearably lengthy, including an online application, an in-person interview at UCSD, an interview via Skype with the Russian Fulbright office, and numerous months of waiting for a response.  [Note from FPA: While he says it was unbearable, he seems to have borne it well. 🙂 ] Nonetheless, I am now looking forward to my nine-month stay at the Omsk State Pedagogical University in Omsk, Russia.

By teaching conversational English to Russian college students, I hope to foster my interests in oral communication and education. As the world becomes more globalized, learning to speak English is becoming increasingly useful for young professionals engaging with foreign people and ideas. By keeping an open mind, I hope to learn from the university students I mentor about their aspirations, worldviews, and personal experiences in Russian society. I also hope to instill in them an appreciation for public speaking by engaging them in discussions of American civics and government.

In addition, my Fulbright award will include a research project about the impact of youth groups on Russian political development. I plan to produce a short documentary movie about my encounters with youth involved in Russian civil society. I will read about the activities of Russian youth groups, interview young political organizers, and witness community discussions. I plan to eventually screen this film – with subtitles and my own narration – to small audiences in the United States and Russia in order to encourage a cross-cultural exchange.

Introduction to Harrison Gill

My name is Harrison Gill and I will be a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in the city of Rychnov nad Kněžnou, Czech Republic. My relationship with the Czech Republic stems from my junior year, when I studied abroad in Prague. Unfortunately, I struggled to leave my American bubble during much of my time in Prague. When I was able to do so, the experiences were some of the most meaningful to me in my entire life. During my time in the Czech Republic, I became extremely interested in education after taking a class on the Czech education system and decided to volunteer at a Czech high school briefly. This experience led to my involvement with the Preuss School, PAL, and La Clase Magica programs here at UC San Diego, in addition to also taking courses in the TEFL program at UC San Diego Extension.

Wanting to get more exposure to the Czech culture, I decided to apply for the Fulbright ETA program last summer. I hope to use the classroom as a space where I can connect my American culture to the students’ Czech culture through interesting discussion and debate topics highlighting significant similarities and differences. Furthermore, I hope to utilize my expertise to provide a common good for the community. In my free time, I plan to work on various side activities, including a project where I seek to meet with locals in Rychnov nad Kněžnou who play significant roles in public service, stemming from my interests in community service and volunteerism.

It is my goal to also learn as much as I can from my hosts and the entire community of Rychnov nad Kněžnou. The Fulbright program is providing me an opportunity to truly become a cultural ambassador. I will share my culture, and my community will share their culture with me. I look forward to sharing with everyone back home what I learn throughout my experience.