Living in the USA for an academic year was one of those things that I put on my bucket list a few years ago. When I found out about the Fulbright FLTA program that allowed young teachers to teach in the US, I applied to be a French teacher assistant the next day. Here I am, a year after my program has stated, remembering the two working semesters as a French TA on the campus of Austin College in Sherman, Texas.
Austin College is a relatively small campus with around 1400 students but offers a large choice of majors and minors. When I first found out that I was going to live in a very small town, Sherman, I was worried about being bored and feeling lonely. Fortunately, I met great people, FLTA’s from all over the world, and the other foreign language assistants on campus with whom I shared my experience and who I can definitely call my friends.
Living on a small campus
The good thing about living and studying in a small liberal arts college is that everyone knows everyone. When I first arrived at Austin College, I was directly taken care of and never felt lonely. If I needed any kind of help or just wanted to talk to someone, the professors and the college staff were always there. When you live on a small campus, you can really get to know your colleagues and your students and create a special bond with them. As you see them every day, you always get a chance to chat but don’t only do small talks, get to know people, because the time flies when you are living abroad.
Social life on campus is lively. Every week, student clubs organize activities and meetings, where you can debate different topics, play board games, play music, make some art, etc. As for sports, the campus has a gym and there are sports classes organized every week (Yoga, Zumba, Barre…). I also used to run around campus and felt really safe on my daily jog. The only negative thing is that the campus only has one cafeteria, a pub, and a café, so at some point, you want to go someplace else. If you don’t own a car and you still want to get to the center of the town, a long walk without sidewalks is your best shot. This is the main issue anywhere else than big cities in the US, going outside the campus is a challenge. The good thing is, you can always ask a colleague or a student if they want to drive somewhere to get a coffee and spend a nice time together. My friends and I used to go (or drive) to a local café in Sherman, CJ’s, where we spent some afternoons working or just chatting.
The Jordan House
Austin College is one of those colleges where you have to learn one foreign language for at least a few semesters. I think it is a wonderful way to introduce the students to other cultures, countries, another way of living and also to better their general knowledge. Austin College even has the Jordan Family Language House, which is a residence hall designed to encourage the students to study modern languages. Every year, teacher assistants who are native speakers in each language (French, German, Spanish, and Japanese) spend two semesters living there with the students and teaching conversation and cultural classes. In the last two semesters, I was one of those assistants and taught French. Encouraging the students to speak the language that they are learning in their everyday life is the best way to help them progress!
Besides living on campus, teaching my students, and taking classes, I also had great opportunities to discover Texas. I visited Dallas a few times and even got the chance to go to the State Fair of Texas, the largest fair in the US. “Everything is bigger in Texas”, they say, and it is true! If you want to experience Texas clichés, go to the fair that usually takes place in September/October when the weather is still really hot, or, even better, go to a rodeo! There you will definitely see real cowboys and people dressed like them, wearing cowboy boots and hats. By the way, you can definitely see people wearing those in their everyday life as well. In Dallas, I even tried Texas barbecue and locally brewed beer (which was surprisingly very good). I also went on a road trip to Austin and San Antonio, where I learned a lot about Texas history and visited several famous places. Now I can say that I lived the real Texas experience and I am proud of having spent my Fulbright year there.
To conclude, it has been an incredible year, between teaching French, learning about American culture, traveling, meeting other FLTA’s from all over the world, and discovering American students’ way of life, the two semesters passed by so quickly. Fulbright gave me such a wonderful opportunity to live this experience and create lifelong memories. I encourage everyone who considers an experience abroad to just go for it and enjoy every day that passes.
Alena Kryvutsa is a Belgian 2019-2020 Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant at Austin College. Alena is from Belgium and lives near Brussels. She recently obtained a master’s degree in translation studies. As she discovered during her Erasmus exchange in Wales that she was interested in teaching, she is currently getting a degree in didactics and would like to become an English teacher. Alena has Russian roots, so she is a native speaker in French and Russian. She is looking forward to teaching the French language to American students and sharing her Belgian culture with them. Alena is friendly, curious, patient and passionate about foreign languages. She loves teaching, discovering different cultures, traveling, reading and painting.Articles are written by Fulbright grantees and do not reflect the opinions of the Fulbright Commission, the grantees’ host institutions, or the U.S. Department of State