Monday, May 1, 2017

Month 1: A Whirlwind of Ups & Downs

Well friends, it has been over a month since I took the long journey from Peoria, Illinois to Buenos Aires, Argentina. The past month and a half has consisted of many ups and downs. I have had a chance to visit some of the beautiful sites Argentina has to offer, from the wineries in Mendoza to the rivers of El Tigre. The classes I am assisting in have gone well thus far, and I feel as though I can bring my own knowledge to the content as well as gain new understanding from the coursework. On the other hand, I have faced extreme difficulties that, despite my previous experience living abroad (not to mention contracting the chickenpox my last two weeks in Spain), I was dearly unprepared to face.

The Ups

Mendoza, Buenos Aires, and El Tigre

Thus far I have had the opportunity to visit three cities - Mendoza, Buenos Aires, and El Tigre. Mendoza is the capital of the Mendoza province, which is only about 3 hours from my city. It is a beautiful city located near the Andes Mountains. I spent a weekend there with two other Fulbright ETAs. We had an amazing, relaxing weekend composed of a bike winery tour, a visit to natural hot springs, and a stroll through the city's large park. If you ever have the chance to visit Mendoza, I highly recommend doing a bike winery tour. For under $10 we each rented a bike for the day and toured wineries that are very generous in their wine portions and reasonably priced. We visited two wineries and an olive oil shop before ending our day at the bike rental shop's tapas bar. It was a nice weekend getaway after our first week in our host cities and dealing with the chaos of trying to get into the flow of our new lives.

I returned to Buenos Aires during the week of Easter to meet up with some Fulbright ETAs once again. We had a chance to visit many of the city's most popular sites that we were unable to visit during orientation week. Some of the highlights of our stay was going to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Museo de Eva Peron, Punta de Mujer, and the San Telmo Street Market. There was much more we could have explored, however, Buenos Aires is a massive city with many great neighborhoods. Four days was nowhere near enough to explore it all! There was a street performance, open market, or event going on at every corner, making Buenos Aires an endless sea of opportunities.

While staying in Buenos Aires, we decided to take a day trip to El Tigre, a smaller city about an hour away by train. The city is located on a river delta, so we of course had to take a boat tour. After that we went to a local amusement park and experienced the thrill of riding rides that probably weren't at the safety standards we are used too...it was a fun-filled day that also included a stroll through El Tigre's Chinatown and a nearly endless street market on the port.

The Downs

The Apartment Dilemna

I regret all the times I complained when living with a host family on my past study abroad experiences! Little things that annoyed me like my host mom in Spain not having my clothes washed for a weekend trip to Paris seem trivial to me now. Why? Because finding a place to live abroad is one of the inconvenient obstacles I have ever faced. Typically when you study abroad with a university program you get placed in native family's home, which can really help the process of accommodating to the the country and culture. However, as a Fulbright ETA, I had to find my own housing. This wouldn't be too bad if it wasn't for the fact that the housing also needed to be furnished (unless I wanted to buy furniture and then leave it here at the end of my grant). The city I'm living in, San Luis, isn't as accustomed to having international travels living abroad temporarily such as cities like Buenos Aires or Mendoza. Therefore, using resources like Airbnb or HomeAway to find a furnished apartment to rent temporarily didn't work for me. After moving four times in the past 6 weeks, I finally moved into an apartment that is spacious, safe, and completely equipped to fit all my needs this past weekend. Thankfully, my two mentors in San Luis have helped me through this strenuous process and provided me with endless assistance in moving and contacting apartment owners. I have officially unpacked ALL of my suitcases and can now begin the process of making this apartment my home away from home.

Tragedy Back Home

When going abroad it is inevitable that unexpected things will happen back home. However, nothing could prepare me for the two phone calls I received during Easter weekend in Buenos Aires. The first call was from my husband telling me that his grandpa was not expected to live much longer and the second was from my mom saying that my grandma had unexpectedly fallen severely ill. I thought that the best option for me would be to return home so that I could be with both my families during the difficult time. Thankfully, both the Fulbright Commission and Ministry of Education in Argentina gave me permission to fly back to the USA soon after contacting them. It was a very hard time for me knowing what I would face when I arrived back home and that I would have to eventually leave my family again and return to Argentina. I am grateful I was able to say my goodbyes to my grandpa and grandma and get the closure I would not have had if I had been thousands of miles away. When going abroad, people always tell you to expect the unexpected, however, there are some things that no one can ever prepare for.

Moving Ahead

Now that I am back in Argentina, I am trying to stay positive that this experience can only get better from here. I have two pending projects/classes with my institute to work on and I am trying to find more ways to get involved in the community. I have made contact with the San Luis Rotary Club and plan to go their meeting this week. Additionally, I have more trips to look forward to including a 5 day conference for Fulbright ETAs in Rio de Janerio and my family coming to visit me in Buenos Aires in July. My journey here has barely begun and I know it will all be well worth it in the end.

Saludos desde San Luis,

Katy

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Bienvenidos a Argentina!

Well, I made it to Argentina in one piece! These first two weeks have flown by and I am slowly getting accustomed to my new life in San Luis. I started my first week in Buenos Aires for orientations at the Fulbright Commission and Ministry of Education, giving me a chance to meet all my fellow Fulbrighters who will be living in various parts of the country. It was a great time getting to know them and learn about what we can expect life to be like in Argentina along with what we will be doing in our ETA positions. Since most of our time was spent in orientations, I did not have a chance to see much of the city besides the area our hotel was located and the city tour we had as a group. Hopefully, I will be able to visit Buenos Aires in the next few weeks to see all the amazing sites and maybe take the boat ferry to Uruguay for the day!

I started work at the Instituto de Formación Docente Continua (IFDC) in San Luis last week. It is an institute where students study to become teachers, so basically a teacher college. I am working in the Department of Foreign Languages with the professors who teach the students training to be English teachers. For the first month, I will be assisting in a Culture, Language, and Literature class as well as taking a Portuguese class. I am very excited to be working in a Culture class since this is my favorite subject by far. I sat in on the first class last week to get an idea about what the class will be discussing and this week I will get to teach a section of the lesson. I also started the Language class which encompasses all parts of English language - speaking, listening, writing, reading. The students were very interested in getting to know me and were very excited to share information about Argentina and San Luis. One thing I am extremely excited for in this class is that they will be doing an English play! I love theater so I'm looking forward to putting my past acting experience to use with my students. I have not started the Literature class since the professor is on leave, but I am sure I will love it as well! I decided to take the Portuguese class because it I have been wanting to learn Portuguese for the past 4 years. As of now I am just taking a comprehension course, but hopefully I will be able to take a Portuguese conversation course in the future while I am here.


Instituto de Formación Docente Continua


First Impressions

My first few weeks in Argentina has opened my eyes to some key differences between life in the USA and Argentina. Some of these cultural difference I was expecting whereas others I was somewhat surprised to find.

Siesta: Yes, siesta does exist here. I have experienced this phenomena before in my other travels, so I was expecting to encounter it here. Siesta happens everyday between 1pm-5pm depending on what city/region you live in. It is a time in the afternoon where people take a long lunch, relax at home with their families, and even nap. Most stores, banks, and businesses close during this time, making the city seem almost vacant in the streets at times. It is a cultural practice very different to that of the USA where most typically work from 7:30am-5pm with only an hour break in the middle. The institute that I work is still open during this time, but if I need to go to the store or do anything that day, I have to plan to do it before or after this time. It is a small inconvenience if you only have free time during the afternoon to run errands, however, it is a welcome change to the fast paced life I am used to in the US.

Food: Argentineans are very passionate about their food! You don't see people eating on the go because they prefer to converse and enjoy their food at their pleasure. They also have a very different meal schedule than the U.S., eating lunch as late as 3 p.m. and dinner usually after 9 p.m. I am doing my best to adjust my eating schedule to coincide with this, but I must admit that sometimes waiting past noon to eat lunch is a struggle for me! Asados and mate are a key part of Argentine life. Asados are amazing feasts of Argentine barbecue with beef, sausage, bread, chimichurri, vegetables, and more. I have not yet been to one, however, I hope to be invited to one in the near future. Herbal mate, which is a tea-like drink, is something Argentineans drink everyday, all day. It is drank out of a device called a mate with a straw by adding the herbal mate and hot water then sugar if you like it sweet. It is common to see people passing the mate around in groups at work, parks, home, or pretty much anywhere people are gathered.


Mate

Workplace: Working at an institute of higher education in Argentina is quite different for me than it was back home. In the U.S., the university classes were always planned out in advance and where only rearranged in special circumstances. Here, however, class schedules were changing constantly the first week of the semester. It was a little chaotic for me, a person who likes to have a laid out plan, but it is all about adapting to the situation. I finally have somewhat of a set schedule for this first semester, so that helps me feel somewhat organized. In addition, using textbooks isn't really standard here. Many professors are creating their own material or use pdfs of different textbooks/literature in their classes. Whereas in the U.S. you may pay hundreds of dollars on textbooks you rarely use, here students just print out the pdfs/material at home or for a few dollars at the institute. I love this concept of using multiple resources in the classroom, combining specific pieces of different textbooks/literature along with unique activities created by the professors themselves.

Technology: Another difference at my institute here versus the university/college back home is technology. From my previous travels I knew not to expect computer labs or classrooms with brand new Apple/Microsoft computers, however, I was not prepared for how minimally technology is used here compared to the U.S. First off, there are only a few desktop computers in the shared professors' offices and they are at least from the early 2000s. Most professors have small laptops, but it is very different than walking into a college department in the U.S. Printers, copiers, fax machines, etc. are not found in the departments; there is a cafe in the building where one must go to make copies. I feel that technology in our schools, colleges, and universities is something we take for granted in the U.S. Here, students and professors make do with what they have and don't rely on technology constantly for support. I think this aspect will be a great learning experience for me because I am so used to having technology be accessible whenever/whenever I need it.


Final Thoughts 

All though these first few weeks have been tough without my family, I feel that little by little I am starting to get accustomed to my new way of life here. My coworkers and the students at the IFDC have been very welcoming and I am finding ways to get more involved with the institute. For example, I am joining the institute's Book Club that meets once a month and I hope to start an English Music Club for students and professors in the near future. As to my living situation, I think I finally found a permanent residence in the city! I think having a place to call home in San Luis will help with my homesickness and make every day life much more comfortable!


Plaza Pringles, Downtown San Luis




Monday, March 13, 2017

I'm Going on an Adventure!

Now that you know what the Fulbright Program is, I can tell you about my Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) grant and what I know so far about my upcoming stay in Argentina.

 To start off, I will give you a little background information about myself. I recently completed a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and I'm in the final stage of completing my M.S.Ed. in Educational and Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus on Language, Culture and Education. Over the past few years, I have had the opportunity to work as a Graduate Assistant at Western Illinois University and a Campus Assistant at Spoon River College Office of Community Outreach.

Both work places have provided me with valuable experience in higher education, however, I have not yet had the opportunity to work in an university-level ESL classroom. I have tutored ESL students from WIU during my time as a grad student, which has intensified my desire to work in an adult ESL program one day.  During my master's degree program I decided that I needed to gain experience in an university-level ESL classroom in order to prepare for my future as an ESL instructor.

The Fulbright Program was one I had looked into when I was an undergrad who was always looking for a way to continue travelling/studying abroad. However, I did not consider applying to it until my study abroad adviser (who is also a Fulbright adviser) reached out to me and said she thought it would be a good program for my educational and career goals. I studied abroad multiple times as an undegraduate, so naturally I was inclined to take a closer look and see what kind of experience this  program might be able to offer.

After months of preparing my application material (essays, references, short-response questions) and having coworkers, professors, and staff review it, I submitted my Fulbright application online. I chose Argentina specifically for two reasons. 1.) ETAs in Argentina are assigned to work at Teacher Colleges with undergraduate students and 2.) I was supposed to study abroad in Argentina a few years back with a WIU group, however, the trip was cancelled due to low enrollment and I have been wanting to go there ever since. I submitted my application in October 2015 and found out I had been chosen as a Fulbright recipient in March 2016. It was a long waiting process but definitely worth following through.

 In November 2016 I finally found out where I would be living in Argentina. I have been placed in the city of San Luis, which is in the central part of the country. I will be working at the Instituto de Formación Docente Continua (IFDC) which is a school for undergrad students studying to be English Teachers. I do not know what teacher or class I will be assisting in, so I am excited/anxious to find that out when I arrive! I also do not have a for sure place to live yet...but hey, half the fun is knowing things will work out one way or another!

 As I type this, I am currently waiting for my flight to take off to Buenos Aires. I have four days of orientation and training before I head to San Luis. This will give me a chance to explore the wonders Buenos Aires has to offer, meet the other Fulbrighters, and meet up with my Chilean sister who I have not seen in three years!

 I will miss my loved ones back in the US, especially my husband and son, but I am staying positive because I know that this will be an experience of a lifetime.  

 As Bilbo Baggins so fittingly put it, "I'm going on an adventure!"

Besos y abrazos,

Katy

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

What is the Fulbright Program?

I want to focus this first post on telling you a brief history of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, what type of grants Fulbright has to offer, and how you might go about applying for one if you are interested.



History

About 70 years ago, a Senator by the name of J. William Fulbright proposed a bill to "use surplus war property to fund the promotion of international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture, and science." (https://us.fulbrightonline.org/). The bill was signed by President Truman the following year and voila! The Fulbright Program was created by Congress. In a nutshell, it is an international educational exchange program between the U.S. and countries all over the world. The core of the Fulbright Program mission is building and maintaining international partnerships. For more on the history of the Fulbright Program, click here.


Opportunities

The Fulbright has various types of exchange opportunities available to U.S. students (recent grads and grad students) and faculty. The program offers research, study, and teaching grants in 140+ countries around the world. There are also special programs offered in certain countries: the Hillary Rodham Clinton Public Policy Fellowships and the National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship. In addition, a Critical Language Enhancement Award is available to grantees to have intensive language study prior to their grant term (only available for select languages and host countries). Click here for more on the types of grants available.


Applying

If you think the Fulbright Program might be right for you, start doing your research now! The application process is strenuous and time consuming. For example, I applied for a Fulbright ETA to Argentina in October 2015, interviewed with an on-campus committee in November 2015, found out I was a semi-finalist in January 2016, and received the email that I was a recipient at the end of March 2016. It took me about two months to fine tune my application, during which time I met with my Fulbright Adviser frequently and had professors look over my essay responses to provide feedback. Therefore, it would be helpful to have an idea of the country and type of grant you would like to apply for before starting the process.

Thankfully, if you are currently enrolled at a university, you can find help from your campuses' Fulbright Adviser who you could probably locate at your study abroad office or by searching here. If you have recently graduated, do not fear! You, too, can apply, however, you will want to contact your alma mater to see if you may apply through them. If alumni support is not available from your graduating institute, you can apply as an "at-large" candidate, which means you will not have access to on-campus resources to help you with the application process. The application for the 2017-2018 grant term is closed, but you can start exploring the country/grant options on the website now to get an idea of what will be available for the 2018-2019 grant term. The applicant page shows you the steps for applying to the Fulbright Program.


Applying is not as daunting as it seems, however, you do need to put in the time and effort if you want to finish with a strong application. I found an abundance of guidance from past and current professors as well as my coworkers while I was applying. Hence, use the people and resources around you for support! Don't be afraid to reach out for help and constructive feedback from others.

If you are interested in applying and would like to talk to me more about the process, feel free to send me an email or comment on this post.

Information in this post was found at https://us.fulbrightonline.org/