Perseverance and flexibility may not be explicitly named in William & Mary’s State of Values, but the arrival of COVID-19 has made them indispensable qualities for students whose intention to student abroad during college coincided with the pandemic.
Two graduating seniors never gave up on their dreams of going abroad and with the help of their William & Mary mentors and openness to an alternative, post-graduate experience, they applied for and have received prestigious Fulbright Awards to enable them to engage in meaningful service overseas.
The Fulbright Program is generally associated with scholarly research, but one of its flagship programs is very much anchored in service—through teaching.
“The English Teaching Assistant (ETA) Programs place Fulbrighters in classrooms abroad to provide assistance to the local English teachers. ETAs help teach English language while serving as cultural ambassadors for the U.S.” [source: Fulbright Award website].
Elias Wolman ’22 is a computational and applied mathematics and statistics (CAMS) major and German studies minor, and his ETA service will be in Germany. Wolman’s connection to the country and language go is lifelong (he lived there for six months as a child), and he has served as a teaching assistant in German studies. “I also work as a camp counselor in the summers, so I've always enjoyed teaching and working with children.” The pandemic prevented his studying abroad, so he is excited for the opportunity to combine to live and work in Germany thanks to his mentors and advisors. “I could not have done this without my professors in the German Studies department: Professor Robert Leventhal, program director; Senior Lecturer Jennifer Gülly; and especially Veronika Burney, former lecturer of German Studies and advisor to the German Language House, and Robin Ellis, assistant professor of German Studies.”
Josie Adolf ’22, a linguistics major and Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (AMES) minor will go to a different part of the world for her program—Morocco—but her interests and enthusiasm are very similar to Wolman’s. ”I have always loved teaching, whether that meant teaching improv classes to kids back home or being a TA here at William & Mary, and I knew the Fulbright ETA program would allow me to combine all these things I love,” Adolf says. “I came to William and Mary because I have always wanted to study abroad more than anything: I want to improve my Arabic, French and Spanish language skills (all languages I have a family connection to or have studied extensively), and I want to be a culturally-informed middle school teacher when I return to the states and begin my teaching career.” She applied for the Fulbright to learn about the culture of Morocco and practice her language skills, but she anticipates learning firsthand, “the benefits that culturally-informed and dialect-validating education can have for students of any age.”
As with Wolman, Adolf had thought her opportunity for study abroad would end with Commencement. “I never thought that this would be a possibility for me, but it really speaks to finding the program with the right fit. The Fulbright ETA to Morocco perfectly combined my passion for languages (since Arabic, Darija, French and Spanish are all spoken regularly there!), my skills and desire to teach as a career, and this perfect point in my life where living abroad is possible for me.”
Adolf credits not only the academic preparation William & Mary provided, but also the support she received from faculty who empowered her to apply. “My Arabic professor (and later TA advisor), Professor Mona Zaki, always believed in me, sending me dozens of opportunities to apply to over the years until one finally stuck— I would never be here without her unwavering support throughout the last four years. Additionally, the Linguistics Department here is unmatched in its ability to recognize the limitations of current language teaching and empower a new generation of linguists to advocate for broad change in language ideologies.”
And in the truest sense of the word, Commencement for Wolman and Adolf will be the beginning of a life of intellectual exploration, challenge and global service—William & Mary alumni who will carry most ably the values and vision of their alma mater wherever they travel.
About the Fulbright U.S. Student Program
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program expands perspectives through academic and professional advancement and cross-cultural dialogue. Fulbright creates connections in a complex and changing world. In partnership with more than 140 countries worldwide, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program offers unparalleled opportunities in all academic disciplines to passionate and accomplished graduating college seniors, graduate students, and young professionals from all backgrounds. Program participants pursue graduate study, conduct research, or teach English abroad.
During their grants, Fulbrighters will meet, work, live with and learn from the people of the host country, sharing daily experiences. The program facilitates cultural exchange through direct interaction on an individual basis in the classroom, field, home, and in routine tasks, allowing the grantee to gain an appreciation of others’ viewpoints and beliefs, the way they do things, and the way they think. Through engagement in the community, individuals will interact with their hosts on a one-to-one basis in an atmosphere of openness, academic integrity, and intellectual freedom, thereby promoting mutual understanding.
The U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) administers the Program under policy guidelines established by the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board (FFSB) in close coordination with binational commissions and foundations in 49 countries, U.S. embassies in more than 100 other countries, and cooperating agencies in the United States.