By Deborah Vieyra
The Fulbright English Teaching Assistant program provides the opportunity for college graduates and early career professionals to assist teachers abroad for a period of 1 year. We’ve learned from the accounts of Fulbright alumni that the ETA award can be a life-changing experience that allows you to immerse yourself in a foreign culture, get to know other forms of pedagogy, and assist educators from all areas of the globe.
Like all Fulbright grants, the ETA program is highly competitive, but don’t let this discourage you from applying! If you feel like it is a good match for you, we’d like to nudge your application in the direction of success. We’ve interviewed many Fulbright ETAs over the years and collected their advice on how to formulate a winning application.
#1 Get some teaching experience.
You may have already spent a few years in the classroom, but if you haven’t, it would be advisable to get some form of teaching experience as soon as possible. This can be acquired in various ways. You can tutor children, assist university students in your discipline, teach English to foreigners or volunteer at an after-school educational program. Further, getting some teaching experience will also help you decide whether this is indeed something you’d like to do abroad! On top of this, you can use this experience to strengthen your Fulbright pitch. In her application for a Fulbright ETA in Malaysia, Michelle LeMeur, said she believes her application stood out because she “presented specific ideas for lessons and programming, while acknowledging that I would have to adapt those ideas to my school’s specific needs, the availability of resources, and various cultural norms.”
#2 Become familiar with your desired country.
The more specific you can be about your intentions to work in a particular country, the better for your application. This means doing your research. The selection committee will want to know what draws you to the location of your choice. Beyond familiarizing yourself with the history and culture of the region, it’s imperative that you find out the language requirements for working there. Cathryn Peirce, an ETA who was stationed in Cote d’Ivoire says, “the US embassy in Côte d’Ivoire has a mandatory interview to ensure that its finalists speak French proficiently.” Regardless of whether or not there is a language requirement, it is important that, at the very least, you show an intention to learn as much of the local language as possible.
#3 Tell them what drew you to a specific location.
As a student, Peter Oster was an intern at the National Security Archive in Washington, DC. He assisted this office with preparation for a conference in Kazakhstan. While putting together the materials for the conference, he developed an intense interest in that country. When it came time to apply for the ETA program, his passion served as the driving force behind his application. As part of your application process, identify a place that you are drawn to, and ensure that you articulate this in your personal statement.
#4 Explain how you will serve the aims of the program.
“The ETA experience involves simultaneously teaching English and offering first-hand experience of American culture to people who, for the most part, have only encountered images of the U.S. from online sources and movies,” stated Erin Brousseau, who worked as an ETA in Russia. This is the great summary of the dual aims of the Fulbright ETA program The selection committee will want to see how you will navigate cultural difference. As Erin explains, tell them how you’ll handle personal questions about your life back home. They will need to know that you will navigate this complex task with a high degree of empathy, as well as allow the space for understanding that which you don’t yet know.
#5 Don’t give up.
This is a final (and very important) piece of advice from Erin. Her first application was rejected. Rather than let this defeat her, she used it as a lesson. It made her realize how much she wanted to take part in the ETA program. With that in mind, she applied again, and leaned on friends and mentors for advice on how to better articulate her story and reasons for applying. Her second application was a success!
For more information on how to apply for the ETA program, bookmark the Fulbright English Teach Assistantship to your ProFellow account and see our Tips for Polishing Your Fulbright ETA Application. Be sure to check in with ProFellow for more Fulbright application tips as you put together your application.
Deborah Vieyra is a Fulbright alumna from South Africa who completed her MA in Applied Theatre Arts at the University of Southern California. She now works as a writer, proofreader and performer in Vancouver, Canada.
© Victoria Johnson 2018, all rights reserved.