We (Fulbrighters + Tucker) recently reached the halfway point of our grant period and had a great time catching up in Warsaw at our mid-term meeting. While it is extremely difficult to believe we’re over halfway finished, it was really inspiring to hear what my fellow Fulbrighters have accomplished thus far. During our time together we commiserated on how difficult teaching can be, we compared notes on what our cities and schedules are like, and, of course, we had to formally present our personal and professional achievements from this past semester. I’m generally terrible at presenting information about myself, especially when supervisors are watching (i.e. judging), and unfortunately, I feel I lived up to this particular shortcoming at this meeting where I unexpectedly lost my voice right before I had to give my three minute presentation. It wasn’t a great moment, but it’s okay because I really have done some amazing things here, and I’m so happy to share some of them with a different (but equally important) audience…in written form, which is apparently much better for me.
When I think of all the opportunities I’ve been given since the start of my grant, I’m absolutely blown away. I could never have imagined what this experience would do for me as a teacher, a researcher, and as an individual. However, Fulbright is not really about what we can gain, it’s more about what we can share; thus, I’d like to perpetuate the sharing by describing some of my contributions, connections, and developments (so far) in the hope that they will sparks ideas, conversations, or even change in others.
Contributions: One of my main contributions has been in the classes that I teach at the University of Łódź. I’m trained in Applied Linguistics (thanks GSU!), and I absolutely love the language learning process, so spending time with future English teachers, translators, and researchers is a great use of my time. I feel that my teaching style and enthusiasm in the classroom have really had an effect on these students, who are at the end of their degree program and are feeling drained and perhaps a little apathetic. It has been my pleasure to revive them and remind them how awesome the field of linguistics is! Aside from my own students, I’ve also been able to help others in the university’s writing center, ERIC. Writing is not my favorite subject (as with many of these students), but it gets the job done. By focusing on a very practical approach to academic writing, I hope I’ve been able to show them it’s not quite as painful as it seems, and that it has a purpose. I’ve had a great time getting to know these students, and I’m looking forward to another semester with both new and old friends.
Outside the university, I’ve been working to develop a series of workshops for fellow instructors/presenters. I have a different educational and cultural background than my colleagues, and I’ve seen how curious they are to learn about typical presentation methods in the US. Therefore, I’m planning workshops centered around presentation software, audience interaction, and the use of visual aids/technology. Another contribution I am quite proud of is a book chapter on the L2 Writing situation in Poland, which I am co-authoring with my Polish language instructor and friend, Mateusz. We discovered that his job here and my job in the US are mirror images of each other (the only difference being the fact that I teach English and he teaches Polish). So we put our heads and keyboards together and have submitted an abstract, which hopefully will become part of an edited volume focused on non-English L2 writing contexts. Last but not least, my slow-burning contribution is the research I’m conducting on the influence grammatical gender has on societal perceptions of physical gender. I have already met some extremely insightful people and have had wonderful discussions about gender equality and fluidity in Poland. I’m really excited about where this research has taken me thus far, and I can’t wait to continue the process.
Connections: I am very happy with the contributions I have been able to make, but to me the personal connections have been even more valuable. I have been extremely lucky to have made great connections with colleagues and students here in Łódź as well as in several other Polish cities. Many of these connections and friendships have been sparked by school visits. There are students (and teachers) all around Poland who are learning English and love the opportunity to practice and speak with a native English-speaking American. Because of this now global trend, I’ve been invited to visit students all over Poland and to give presentations on everything from Thanksgiving to Higher Education in the US. I absolutely love getting to see so many Poles in their element, and I doubt I’ll ever forget the random questions I’ve been asked (including, of course, the ever popular “What is your favorite color?”). Another amazing way I’ve been able to connect to different groups of people has been through the weekly conversation club I lead at the American Corner. These groups have been such an awesome place for me to ask all my questions about Polish culture and to have some extremely interesting discussions and revelations. Personally, one of my favorites was the complete shock and disgust many people felt after we told them about the excessive number of water fountains in the US.
Of course, not all my connections have been so formal. I have truly made some great friends here in Poland, locals and expats alike! It seems so amazing to me how much we can share just by having fun and hanging out at restaurants, bars, escape games, concerts, trains, wherever. I know Tucker and I will leave here with some life-long connections, and I’m so grateful for that. Another way I keep connected is (gasp) through social media. These posts allow me to continuously share some of my impressions, conversations, and experiences abroad with my friends and family in the US. My written words (plus the plethora of photos I post) is my way of bringing the intercultural knowledge I’m gaining every day back to my home country. There is so much we can learn about each and every culture, but I find the similarities and connections between them the most important of all.
Developments: Something that has really surprised me during my time in Poland is how much I’ve changed and developed as a person. These developments are another important part of this process, and I definitely view them as personal achievements. Being immersed in a new culture often brings about new challenges. During my time in Poland, my independence, confidence, and patience has been tested as it never was in the US. I’m extremely fortunate to have had this experience, which I believe has made me more perceptive and more adaptable than ever before. As a language teacher, I think another important aspect in my development has been living with a language barrier. It’s a completely unique experience to not be able to express yourself clearly and completely when you need to, and while I’ve previously had this feeling in a foreign language classroom, it’s magnified ten-fold in real life.
During this time, I’ve also been lucky enough to partake in some professional development by attending several conferences and multicultural events. The number and diversity of such events has been astounding, and I’m looking forward to attending (and hopefully presenting at) more conferences in the future. In addition to all these amazing experiences I’ve be able to have in Poland, my time in Europe has also afforded me the opportunity to travel to many other countries. In my opinion, travelling to new places is perhaps one of the best ways to grow as an individual. For me, the feeling is almost indescribable. There is so much to explore both in the world and in our own minds, and travelling seems to bring the two together in the most beautiful way. I’m so incredibly lucky to be having these experiences now, and I know that they will categorically shape me and my life forever.
Shockingly (or rather not) I went into more detail than I had intended, yet it still wasn’t quite enough. I wish I could share every experience and every detail because they have been so incredible. I do hope my “progress report” is inspiring and encouraging for others because one thing I’ve realized is that I didn’t have to come to Poland to make contributions, connections, and developments like this. There are so many amazing experiences and open doors ready and waiting for anyone willing to look for them.