Virtual Fulbright Program Offers Unique Learning Experience

The Fulbright program is a widely recognized and prestigious international exchange program that offers accomplished students and scholars from around the world the opportunity to study, teach, conduct research and exchange ideas. Scholars travel to the United States to immerse themselves in culture, local geography and academics in order to advance their education. The English Language Institute (ELI) at University College (UC) has been the recipient of the Fulbright English for Graduate Studies grant for five years. The grant provides English writing and language skills to students planning to continue their studies in the U.S.

ELI Instructor Constance Walters has a discussion with Fulbright students

ELI Instructor Constance Walters has a virtual discussion with Fulbright students.

This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program was offered virtually, which meant that students and instructors had to adjust to a new way of learning and teaching. “Although it was certainly a very different experience than in-person classes, I was able to develop relationships with some of my students, particularly through virtual office hours,” says instructor Constance Walters. “I really appreciated and enjoyed that face-to-face time with them and the comments they wrote at the end of the course made it clear that they really appreciated that time, too.”

The high standards set by the instructors at the English Language Institute motivated Nanan Nuraini to learn and participate in each session and assignment. Nuraini lives in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia, with her two children. Her husband worked in Africa but returned to Indonesia to take care of their children while Nuraini waits for her visa to be processed for her anticipated arrival in the United States. Nuraini has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Padjadjaran University in Indonesia and a master’s degree in psychology of education from the University of Bristol, U.K. When she arrives in the U.S., she will begin working on a Ph.D. in neuroscience at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Nuraini was grateful to be accepted into the Fulbright program because she knew that developing her English language skills would strengthen her contributions in the field of neuroscience and psychology.  While she said that initially, the virtual learning classroom was challenging, it became easier as the students and teachers got to know each other. “The instructors are supportive, helpful and warm which made me feel accepted and not hesitate to ask questions,” she says.

As part of her Ph.D. program, Nuraini plans on publishing numerous research articles that focus on creating better treatments for individuals with autism spectrum disorders. “I also want to contribute to society in Indonesia, particularly mothers who struggle with motherhood and postpartum depression.”

Ekaterina Tretiakova is from Kostroma, a historic city in western Russia. From a young age, Tretiakova was hungry for knowledge about the world around her—the culture, language, arts and literature. She spent her adolescent years taking English, German and Spanish classes, attending art school and visiting summer and winter camps devoted to foreign exchange programs. “My early passion for learning foreign cultures inspired me to enter the department of foreign languages and become a teacher of English and German,” says Tretiakova.

While teaching in both the private and public sector, Tretiakova continued her studies and received a second degree in marketing. She worked for three years as a manager for a production company before returning to the field of education. “I’ve been working for an international IT company teaching English to IT specialists,” she says. “As the company rapidly expanded, our specialists were required to travel overseas. It was heartrending to watch their struggle to learn to speak different languages and understand the culture of the countries they visited.”

Tretiakova will be attending Syracuse’s School of Education to begin a master’s program in instructional design and assessment. She said the virtual ELI program was comparable to in-class instruction. The program was beneficial and gave her the resources she needs for future research. “Learning how to structure a paper, write an abstract and an introduction was really useful,” she says. She also learned about possible funding sources for research projects. Because Tretiakova will continue her studies at Syracuse University, she found the introduction to campus—the library, business incubator and other facilities—will help her feel at home.

“The immersive program is designed to give graduate school students an academic English course as well as an introduction to a broad array of University resources to help them get the most out of their academic experience,” says David Lind, director of ELI. Eight schools/colleges and departments across campus participated in teaching the students about culture, history, diversity and inclusion, and the many resources available at the library.

University College staff held a panel discussion for the students that focused on the history of African American civil rights both past and present. Tyler Bell, a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Education, Marsha Senior, director of the HEOP Program and assistant director of student administrative services at UC, and Nichole Henry, UC’s director of admissions, led the discussion. “We utilized visual thinking strategies to analyze a collage of images that have impacted underrepresented and marginalized communities in 2020,” says Bell. “The students thought that this was a very powerful lecture and genuinely learned a lot regarding the historical and contemporary implications of events affecting African Americans as seen through their verbal engagement and continuous comments throughout the presentation.”

composite of students from Indonesia holding up signs that spell out THANK YOU SYRACUSE ELI

Indonesian students created a poster to say “thank you” to the English Language Institute.

Indonesian student Tryanti Abdulrahman thought the panel presentation fit well with her class discussions about slavery in the U.S. “I learned a lot on this topic through the lens of injustice,” says Abdulrahman. “The most provoking part of this topic was when our instructor Connie Walters asked us to connect the story to the history in my country.” As a result, Abdulrahman said she has become more culturally responsive and understands how sensitive the race issue is.

Abdulrahman grew up in Gorontalo, a province on the island of Sulawesi. She now lives in Bekasi, a city in West Java, Indonesia. She earned a master’s degree in multicultural education in foreign language teaching from Ohio State University and plans to complete a Ph.D. in reading and literacy for early and middle childhood education at Ohio State University. “My continued studies would provide me with the knowledge and expertise in reading and literacy as well as knowledge about the world, social relations, identities and power,” says Abdulrahman.

In addition to learning about the history and culture of the United States, the scholars found many other beneficial aspects of the Fulbright English for Graduate Studies program. Tretiakova, who has never studied abroad, found the teaching approach much different than what she experienced in Russia. “It was a very valuable experience,” she says. “The teachers provided a logical and clear framework on what needed to be done and provided different methods for research and the logic of each.”

“I appreciate that our instructors gave us meaningful materials and provided clear instruction. Homework and class activities focused on academic language development while teaching us the academic tools we need,” says Abdulrahman. The program provided training on plagiarism, giving the students a better understanding of intellectual property and how to cite works correctly. “I have learned about plagiarism before but with this instruction, I gained a deeper understanding and passed the plagiarism certification test.”

The students who were interviewed said that the most valuable part of the three-week virtual program was the poster project and presentation that was part of their final assignment. “It required me to study my topic in depth and apply the theories and practices of the English language,” says Abdulrahman.

“While all of the lessons were valuable, I think learning how to create and present a poster was the most beneficial,” adds Nuraini. “I had the opportunity to create a poster in a limited time, using minimal resources and then present it to teachers and fellow Fulbright students. While I was anxious to present it, it was a wonderful experience. I now have all the resources I need to perform my best in the upcoming Ph.D. program at the University of Missouri.”

“The Fulbright Program was a chance of a lifetime for me,” says Tretiakova. “It will allow me to advance and to move to an absolutely new level of professionalism.”

“I want to thank the English Language Institute at Syracuse University for a great program,” says Abdulrahman. “The classes challenged me to think, perform and grow to a higher level. The virtual program offered quality program content and a high standard of excellence. I want to thank my instructors for facilitating such a positive learning environment and teaching me lessons that I will carry over into my life’s journey. They truly made this three-week program one of the best I’ve ever had.”