Earlier this month, the Fulbright Commission welcomed representatives from the seven Belgian universities and university colleges that will be hosting a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to its first ever ETA Host Institution Workshop.
Representatives from the international offices or language and literature departments of the University of Antwerp, Ghent University, Hasselt University, Howest University College, Thomas More University, UC Louvain, and University Saint-Louis joined in for the event. Also in attendance were four current Fulbright ETAs to Belgium, who discussed with representatives how their institutions can most effectively support ETAs in the future as well as how future teaching assistants can best serve their host institutions, act as cultural ambassadors, and adapt to living abroad.
The Fulbright ETA Program in Belgium places recent college graduates and young professionals as English teaching assistants in secondary schools, universities, and university colleges to foster cultural exchange, equip grantees with a unique level of teaching and international experience, and to inspire students. Next year will see the arrival of the largest cohort in the program’s history; the nine Fulbright ETAs to Belgium will represent a 450% growth from the 2014-2015 academic year as well as a tripling of the number of participating host institutions. This growth trajectory, with the generous support of the Fulbright Commission’s university and university college partners, has occurred simultaneously with the program achieving its status as one of the most competitive Fulbright awards in Belgium.
As the Fulbright ETA Program in Belgium expands, the Fulbright Commission is working to maintain the quality of the grantee experience and to provide additional support to grantees and host institutions. This week’s ETA Host Institution Workshop was intended to connect host institutions with current ETAs, to answer any questions they may have about the program, and to allow them to learn from one another. Through a series of presentations, panels, and round-table discussions, the meeting provided a forum to discuss how host institutions and the Fulbright Commission can work together to make the 2019-2020 Fulbright ETA Program in Belgium a success.
A networking lunch kicked off the afternoon, after which Executive Director Erica Lutes addressed the history of the Fulbright ETA Program in Belgium and thanked the host institution representatives for their support of the program. Director of Programs Elisabeth Bloxam and Program Officer Marie-Aimée Ntawukulityayo then shared an overview of the Fulbright ETA Program, including an overview of the orientation and cultural events that ETAs will participate in during the upcoming year. The rest of the day was divided into a panel discussion with ETAs and a round-table discussion with the host institution representatives to discuss logistics and cultural differences in pedagogy. Attendees discussed how to best help ETAs approach the logistics of their stay, from arranging safe and affordable housing to navigating public transportation in their new host cities. Fulbright Commission staff and representatives from experienced host institutions shared how host institutions in the past have supported their teaching assistants and optimized the ETA experience by promoting extra-curricular activities, like volunteering at a local hospital or a community garden.
When asked to reflect upon particularly memorable moments of their grant, several ETAs mentioned overcoming the difficulties of explaining sensitive cultural and historical topics in American history to their Belgian students. Allie DeJongh, a Fulbright ETA based in Brussels, shared a lesson plan that she led on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in which students were asked to fill in the missing words from an excerpt of the “I Have a Dream” speech; for her, the moment was powerful “because [not only did] the speech make a big impact on them [but they were also] learning English”.
Leandra Griffith, a Fulbright ETA based at the University of Antwerp, shared a more lighthearted reflection, remembering how some of her literature students had misinterpreted a reference the Underground Railroad as a reference to a literal, underground railway. “I had to remember to explain aspects of American history that students in Belgium wouldn’t know,” she explained. However difficult or sensitive the topic, Leandra believed that it was her role to present information in an informative, objective manner. “I don’t think that the point of teaching is to uphold your viewpoint, but to present these issues in an objective way which gives students the material to make up their own minds,” she said. All agreed that teaching these topics helped them better understand their American identity, and gave their students insight into how cross-cultural communication can help solve today’s most pressing challenges.
The Fulbright Commission is looking forward to welcoming next year’s Fulbright grantees, and would like to thank the ETAs and host institution representatives who participated in the meeting.
Interested in applying to be a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Belgium? Check your eligibility here: https://us.fulbrightonline.org/countries/selectedprogram/125.