With less than a week remaining before the deadline, senior Adrian Secter made a last-minute decision. Pulling together three letters of recommendation and a speedy faculty review of his proposal, he submitted his Fulbright Fellowship application for a teaching assistantship in Ulan Bator, Mongolia. Half a year later, he received notice that he was accepted into the elite program.
Secter is one of the three seniors to receive English language teaching positions this year through the Fulbright Fellowship. Senior Tawni Sasaki will be spending her time in Taichung, Taiwan and Senior Charlie Harned will be in Madrid, Spain.
This is the first time since 2012 that Knox students have successfully pursued a Fulbright after graduation. All three students are either International Relations or Political Science majors. Generally, students come from a wide variety of departments.
Each of them will be doing different kinds of teaching work during their time abroad. Secter will serve at the Mongolian Institute for Engineering and Technology in the Foreign Languages department, serving as an independent teacher in lower-level courses and a co-teacher with upper-level courses. Secter went to Mongolia in a study abroad program during his junior year.
“[Mongolian is] an extraordinarily difficult language,” Secter explained. “It was written until 1922 like traditional Chinese, so all the syntax and grammar is Chinese. Then they invited the Soviets in and used the Russian Cyrillic but with Chinese grammar, so it’s like the two hardest languages you can think of … mushed together.”
Sasaki will spend her time in a city of 2,000 teaching primary and middle school aged students, working similarly on an independent and co-teaching basis. She knows Chinese from her study at Knox and also her time abroad in China.
“I remember middle school being an awkward time for me, so I hope to make it less awkward for them,” Sasaki said, laughing. “I found that middle school is often when you discover whether or not you like learning. Depending on how your teachers, you know, approached learning with you or they showed that you were able or give you support, I feel that helped to influence a lot of how you continue to see education.”
Harned’s program required him to know some Spanish before he began his program, as it is a more accessible language to Americans, and will co-teach at a secondary school. The Madrid program is somewhat unique in that their Fulbright teachers will help teach English but also teach courses that they have familiarity with, such as a government or politics related course for Harned. Outside the classroom, he will split time between working with a Global Classrooms program similar
in nature to Model U.N. and involve himself in volunteerism, which may involve doing test prep help or helping to coach basketball. He has travelled abroad previously in Japan and China, but this will be his first immersive experience.
“They were saying that it might be hard to find volunteer opportunities [in Spain] because it’s not part of the culture,” Harned said. “But even that, that’s fascinating. Just finding out … the different things about the culture, the different things about Spain … And also soccer — I’m going to watch a lot of soccer.”
They all see a Fulbright as an opportunity to help them in their future, either with grad school, building language skills and maybe even preparing them for work in the Foreign Service.
To future applicants, Sasaki offered this advice: “Make sure you know what you’re getting into. Because if you haven’t studied abroad or lived away from home, I don’t know how you’ll cope with something in a completely new environment on your own. But I don’t think anyone should shy away from it either.”
Secter added: “If that is something you want to do then do it, but really something that you have to understand is that this is very much a commitment. It’s not something you need language skills for, it’s not something you need study abroad for. … It’s also a good buffer to figure out the rest of your life while doing something prestigious.”
Editor’s Note: Tawni Sasaki is Discourse Editor for TKS.