Caroline Murphy is a recent UMF graduate who is working with Fulbright as an English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in Bulgaria. Caroline too the time to answer some of our questions about her experience thus far.
What made you choose Bulgaria?
I chose Bulgaria because I was very interested in living in eastern Europe and experiencing a culture different from my own, because the Bulgarian Fulbright Program is a very active and growing organization, and because I really fell in love with the country whilst in the application process – I could really see myself living and teaching there.
What are you hoping to gain from this experience?
From this experience I am hoping to gain a broader perspective on world affairs, to challenge myself to explore new teaching methods and a different way of life, and to develop my skills as an ESL (English as a second language) educator as that is one career I am considering after Fulbright.
How has teaching in another country changed your viewpoint/philosophy of teaching in general?
Being an ETA in Bulgaria has reinforced why I want to be a teacher and strengthened many aspects of my teaching philosophy – being as creative as possible in all aspects of classroom life, never giving up on students, always reflecting on my own teaching and trying to be better.
What challenges have you faced teaching in another country and how have you faced them?
Teaching in another country has been challenging for sure. The language barrier is significant – my students have varying levels of English proficiency and my Bulgarian is certainly a work in progress, so communication can be difficult. Discipline expectations are very different in Bulgaria than in the United States and this has really challenged my classroom management skills. I’ve faced these challenges by always trying to have a positive attitude and by thinking for creatively when problem solving. It’s helpful to always keep in mind what a fantastic opportunity Fulbright is and seeing every challenge as a chance to learn something new and become a stronger teacher.
What can you tell us about Fulbright? What made you decide to pursue a Fulbright teaching opportunity? How does a student apply?
The Fulbright Program is sponsored by the US Department of State and funds exchange opportunities in the form of English Teaching Assistantships and various research grants. I chose to apply for a Fulbright grant because I had a strong desire to teach English overseas and Fulbright provides a unique opportunity to completely immerse oneself in a different culture while teaching. To apply for a Fulbright grant, a student should first contact the Fulbright Campus Advisor at their school (at UMF ours is Dr. Anne Marie Wolf). They will then complete an application, have an on-campus interview, and submit their transcript. The Application deadline each year is in October, and final decisions are made the following spring.
How does teaching with Fulbright differ from your student teaching experience?
Fulbright is completely different from student teaching. The application process is very rigorous and receiving a Fulbright grant requires previous experience working with English Language Learners and/or prior experience living in a different culture. I have a mentor teacher, but her role is more about helping me adjust to Bulgaria and the school climate and less about assisting me with instruction. Bear in mind that this is different depending on the ETA – while I have a teaching degree and experience to back it up, many of my Fulbright colleagues come from different fields and are first time teachers, meaning they will receive more teaching assistance. But in general Fulbright is more responsibility than student teaching and is really much harder!
What kind of training does Fulbright provide for teachers?
Each country provides different training for English Teaching Assistants, but all provide some sort of orientation before beginning your teaching placements. I had a ten day orientation in Bulgaria’s capital city and we received some background training on ESL teaching strategies and classroom management.
Thank you Caroline for taking the time to tell us about your experience! For more information about Fulbright teaching opportunities visit their website or contact the UMF Fulbright Campus Advisor at firstname.lastname@example.org.