Teaching English in Santander, Spain: The Fulbright ETA Experience

Jan 16, 2019
Victoria, first on the left, and her students, excited and ready to present at the Global Classrooms Conference in Santander, Spain

The Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) places recent college graduates and young professionals from the United States in classrooms around the world to facilitate English teaching. The one-year fellowship, which has opportunities in over 70 countries, is designed to foster intercultural understanding and communication through an immersive cultural experience. In addition to their teaching roles, ETAs serve as ambassadors for the U.S., sharing their culture and forming relationships with residents of their host country.

We talked to Victoria Shover, who was a Fulbright ETA in Santander, Spain in 2013-2014, to learn more about the program and get some application tips.

1. What inspired you to apply for the Fulbright ETA in Spain?

I was raised in Kentucky with traditional Midwestern values: work hard, keep your word and lend a hand. My parents and grandparents taught us to welcome others into our home, no matter their race, religion or socio-economic status. In college, I designed a program to help international students adjust to American culture in rural Kentucky. I wanted people to feel welcomed and appreciated when they were far from home. I worked closely with international students, immigrants and refugees in Kentucky, which led to an interest in ESL curriculums and sparked a passion for bicultural education.

The mission of the Fulbright Program is to foster bilateral relationships and international partnerships between the U.S. government and citizens of other countries. The idea of representing my country as a cultural ambassador fascinated me, so I went to Spain to visit my sister who was a Fulbright ETA at the time. Amazed, I watched my sister interact with her students, laugh with her international friends and speak another language. She encouraged me to apply, and I’ll never be able to thank her enough for her encouragement.

I applied to the fellowship because I wanted to represent my country and help develop mutual cultural understanding between Spain and the United States. I hoped to teach children to think critically and develop a sense of empathy. I also wanted my students to learn English so they could have the confidence to speak and make connections with other English speakers, at home or abroad.

Bulls parading through the streets with farmers dressed in traditional clothing from Northern Spain

2. What is a typical week like for a Fulbright ETA in Spain?

My job was to study and learn everything I could about the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and prepare the students to participate in a Global Classrooms Conference where they would act as representatives from a designated country. As representatives, they needed to discuss and debate a particular MDG from the perspective of that country. I helped my co-teacher create MDG lesson plans for Spanish students ages 12-18, develop their research skills, correct persuasive essays and teach public speaking skills.

Apart from teaching, I also participated in the TEDx Fulbright conference in Dublin, Ireland as a volunteer to present on recipes from the kitchens of Cantabria, Spain. I attended the Fulbright Seminar in Berlin that brought together all of the Fulbright Fellows in Europe. At this conference, I met Karen Martin, a Fulbright Fellow for Distinguished Teaching. I was able to collaborate with her on research-based teaching in Helsinki, Finland. I also presented at the Fulbright Mid-Year conference in Valencia on the motivation and effectiveness of millennial volunteers abroad.

Fulbright gave me the rare opportunity and funding to visit and learn from surrounding countries and cultures. I traveled to Budapest to visit a Fulbright Fellow who was studying percussion, to London to help chaperone a field trip for my students, to Sintra, Portugal to visit a UNESCO World Heritage site and to Switzerland for a concert of one of my favorite artists.

I was fortunate to meet The US Ambassador to Spain at the American Embassy in Spain, but it was the personal relationships that I remember most. I spent a lot of time researching and developing lesson plans in a café, where I later met and became good friends with the owner, Ana. I developed a close friendship with my host mom, and learned about the Spain she grew up in, her current living situations, and priorities she had for the future.

Celebrating the culmination of the TedX Fulbright Conference in Dublin, Ireland.

3. What tips would you give others applying for Fulbright?

To complete the application, I sought out help from my college’s writing center, professors, and friends who were English majors. Each time I revised my essays and applications with someone, it helped me to consider and defend what I wrote. The different perspectives helped me fine-tune my application and polish both my Personal Statement and Statement of Grant Purpose.  

A couple of years after my Fulbright, I met with a friend who worked at the commission and was involved in the selection process. She told me they want self-sufficient, proactive, professional, intelligent and open-minded candidates.

I reread my application to answer this question, and I am glad to see my intentions and passion for bilingual education have not wavered since I wrote those essays more than six years ago. In my Personal Statement, I emphasized my desire to use my Fulbright Fellowship as a stepping-stone to improve mutual understanding and respect between Spanish and English speakers.

Victoria with James Costos, second from left, the US Ambassador to Spain at the time, and Mr. Alberto López San Miguel, far right, the Chairman of the Spanish Fulbright Commission

Victoria Shover holds an M.A. in International Education and is currently an elementary school teacher in an international school in Madrid, Spain. When she is not crafting lesson plans or studying child psychology, she is embracing the Spanish culture through stand-up comedy, literature and tapas with friends.

Interested in applying? Bookmark the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) to your ProFellow account.

© Victoria Johnson 2019, all rights reserved.