I’m Claire Reising, a former English Teaching Assistant at l’Université de Mons. My main assignment was teaching an American civilization course for Master’s students in translation and interpretation, and I was thrilled to work with students who have a passion for learning about languages and cultures. Initially, the breadth of my assignment overwhelmed me. I had to create my own syllabus, and I could choose almost any subject related to American history, politics, culture, and contemporary society. It was a challenge to prioritize my goals and choose which subjects to teach! As I created the syllabus, however, my stress turned into enthusiasm for the opportunity the Fulbright Program and UMons had given me. I enjoyed having the freedom to design activities for the students and use a variety of teaching methods.
On a personal level, I found it enriching to discuss American civilization in a Belgian classroom. I incorporated current events into my lessons, such as political and cultural issues that were debated in the presidential primary elections. In my classes, I enjoyed hearing students’ perspectives on these topics. For example, one student compared aspects of the U.S. and Belgian health care systems for her final project, and she discussed how each system reflects ideals of its respective country. In cases such as these, the class became more of an exchange of American and Belgian ideas than a platform for me to teach students about the U.S.
Future ETAs should know that most Belgian university students are accustomed to different teaching styles than what we experience in the U.S. In content-heavy courses like my American civilization class, Belgian students would likely take notes in lectures, rather than participating in discussions. If ETAs conduct an American-style seminar course, students might feel uncomfortable talking in class. At the beginning of the year, I tried a few different methods to encourage them to participate, such as asking them to bring discussion questions to class, in order to help them reflect on the material in advance.
By the second semester, though, the students had become more at ease participating in class. I appreciated their open-mindedness and the hard work they devoted to assignments that were somewhat unfamiliar to them. For example, the students held a mock debate about the legality of abortion. I divided each class into pro-life and pro-choice groups, and to prepare, they researched opinions on abortion in the U.S. Since abortion isn’t as controversial in Belgium as it is in the U.S., it was interesting to watch half the students argue from the pro-life stance and try to understand the conservative viewpoint that some Americans hold. Students also showed they were comfortable with speaking English spontaneously and responding to arguments.
I enjoyed giving my classes a taste of an American classroom as I learned about their university life. At UMons, most translation and interpretation students study abroad, so my students contributed not only Belgian viewpoints but also an international perspective from their studies, work, and travels. This teaching environment proved to be very rewarding and reinforced my goal to work in an academic and multicultural setting. I am grateful for this positive experience with my students and colleagues and hope to return to Mons soon!
English Teaching Assistant in Mons