Two Stonehill students were recently awarded prestigious Fulbright English Teaching Assistantships, which offer new college graduates the opportunity to teach English in over 140 countries.
Award winner Elise Cavanaugh ’18 (right) will be heading to Taiwan to teach English to students there while Alina Shklyarenko ’17 who will be teaching students in Germany.
In preparing strong, successful applications, both Fulbright recipients were mentored through the competitive process by the Associate Provost for Academic Achievement Craig Kelley and the Director of the Stonehill Service Corps Kris Silva who partner to identify and advise students on nationally prestigious scholarships, fellowships and awards and then mentor them through the process.
Below we share Elise Cavanaugh’s statement, which traces how her experiences in Ecuador and Spain paved the way for the challenge of mastering Mandarin and immersing herself in Taiwanese culture.
BEYOND HER COMFORT ZONE
At the age of thirteen, a ten-day trip to the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador summarily catalyzed a deep passion for venturing beyond my comfort zone and learning firsthand about foreign cultures and people.
While there, I visited the homes of several indigenous people, and I was struck by the extent to which “voluntourism” affects the recipients of purported charity. The people living in stilted huts on the banks of the Napo River were without many first-world luxuries, but providing those so-called luxuries is often more harmful than helpful.
For instance, the mud and straw roofs of a hut may not appear to be elaborate, but the tin roofs provided by well-meaning outsiders are less stable and loud when it rains. Without consulting the people being “helped,” a tourist’s attempt at charity can be damaging.
After spending time with native peoples in Ecuador, I realized at a young age that there is no objectively right way to live, and I gained a greater understanding of what it means to help people. Two-way communication is essential for providing useful support, and both the volunteers and those receiving help need to understand what is needed and how that goal can best be achieved.
IMMERSED IN SPANISH CULTURE
I was inspired by this enlightening time spent in the Amazon to continue to venture beyond the boundaries of home. Most recently, I studied abroad in Sevilla, Spain during my junior year of college. I opted to live with a host family, so that I could more fully immerse myself in the Spanish culture in my relatively short time there. Beyond attending classes and spending time with my host sisters, I sought out opportunities that would provide a unique and authentic view of the country that was my temporary home. In the park near my apartment, I would remind myself to take out my headphones and strike up conversations with receptive strangers.
As a frisbee player back home, I joined an ultimate disc team based in Sevilla. Practices were initially intimidating, given that very few of my teammates spoke even minimal English, but although I was surrounded by foreignness, being on the field with my new teammates was comfortingly familiar. This experience showed me how the restrictions of nation and language can be overcome by other factors of human connection, which makes me confident that I can find common ground with the people I meet regardless of our national origin.
While living in Spain, I took advantage of my proximity to other nations by visiting six additional countries. Even if only for a weekend visit, I was sure to learn three phrases in the language of the region: hello, please, and thank you. Learning these most basic but meaningful words eased the daunting task of communicating in a foreign language; people appreciated that I put effort into making a connection with them, even if I struggled to speak their language.
Though I am not yet familiar with Mandarin, I am eager to learn while teaching others English. Whether I am providing homework help to middle-school students, teaching SAT prep to high schoolers, or tutoring undergraduate students in writing, witnessing the pride a student feels once he or she overcomes a challenge is what motivates me to teach.
I’ve learned to engage with students as individuals to form an understanding about how to help each student succeed: there is no one-size-fits-all approach to education. I have found it particularly rewarding to work with English Language Learners; developing their ability to communicate in English is what allows them to function in American society.
I would be thrilled to continue working with students learning English by extending my teaching experience to Taiwan and contributing to its efforts to build a multilingual, multicultural society. After I earn a degree in English and Secondary Education, I plan to teach high school English in Massachusetts, so I will surely teach ESL students in inclusion classes.
Through this experience in Taiwan I will gain an invaluable perspective of language, culture and pedagogy that will inform my endeavors as an educator.
To read Shklyarenko’s statement, visit here.