Five students granted Fulbrights to teach English abroad

By Brigid Lowney | April 29, 2018 2:43pm

The Fulbright Program is a highly competitive program offering merit based grants for international educational exchange. This year, UP has produced five Fulbright Scholars going to the countries of Malaysia, Spain, Taiwan, and Mexico.
by Molly Lowney / The Beacon

The results are in, and this year five University of Portland students have been named finalists for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. The Fulbright program offers research, study and teaching opportunities to recent graduates and graduate students in over 140 countries. Finalists spend a year abroad where they will represent the United States by working, living with and learning from the people in their host countries. 

All five of this year’s finalists have been accepted to the English Teaching Assistant (ETA) program, where they will spend a year teaching English in their host countries. The Fulbright finalists for 2018 are:

Tsikata Apenyo ‘18 - Taiwan

Arran Fagan ‘18 - Malaysia

Lauren Jones ‘18 - Malaysia

Hannah Robinson ‘14 - Spain

Molly Steiner ‘18 - Mexico

According to a UP news release from the University of Portland, 64 UP students have participated in the Fulbright program since 2001, and Apenyo is the first UP student to be accepted to the Taiwan program.

UP is a top producer of Fulbright awards in the nation among masters-level institutions, according to a study released by the Chronicle of Higher Education. About 20 percent of UP applicants are accepted each year, according to John Orr, English professor and director of Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement.

Tsikata Apenyo was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship that will take him to Taiwan.
by Molly Lowney / The Beacon

Many of the finalists began the year-long application process around this time last year. Orr said he would like to see more UP students apply for Fulbrights in the future. 

“The process is the point,” Orr said. “What you gain from going through a process like this is clarity. You start to figure things out. It forces you to think about ‘What am I gonna do in the next year or the year after?’”

Orr said that students tend to have some common misconceptions about the Fulbright program, especially the ETA program. Students may think that applicants have to be fluent in a foreign language or plan on becoming a teacher, but neither are requirements for applying. Proficiency in a foreign language is only a requirement for certain countries like Mexico.

Students applying for the ETA program do need some teaching experience, but that definition is broad and could be satisfied with any experience in which you had to “think like a teacher,” Orr explained. 

Within the next year, the five finalists will travel to their host countries where they will spend a year teaching English. The Beacon sat down with some of the finalists to talk about their acceptance. 

Arran Fagan was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship that will take him to Malaysia.
by Molly Lowney / The Beacon

Arran Fagan - ‘18

In January 2019, Fagan will set out to Malaysia where he will spend 11 months teaching English and traveling. Fagan is one of 100 English Teaching Assistants accepted to the Malaysia program from across the United States this year.

Fagan began the application process this time last year and worked with Michele Leasor, program coordinator for undergraduate scholarly engagement, to find which host country was the best fit for his strengths. Orr and Fagan worked on his essays every week during the summer until September, Fagan said. 

“It was a lot of changing a few sentences here and there,” Fagan said. “You only get two one-page essays, and that’s it, so you’re trying to fit as much as you can and tell a story.”

In one of his essays, Fagan told a story about working for Camp Adventure, a summer camp for kids at a military base in Japan. When the camp was over, Fagan hiked a Buddhist pilgrimage trail called the Kumano Kodo for ten days by himself. 

“I camped and met a lot of people and just had a good time and cleared my head,” Fagan said. “It’s the oldest pilgrimage in Japan, and I got to see a lot of shrines and temples.”

Fagan, a biology major, is hoping to get placed in Borneo, an island of Malaysia, because of its rich biodiversity, he explained. He also wants to see some orangutans. 

At UP, Fagan is the general manager for KDUP and trip guide for Outdoor Pursuits. After his Fulbright year, he plans on becoming a high school teacher and recently deferred acceptance to UP’s 10-month master's in teaching program for secondary education. 

“I just want to experience as much as I can and learn as much as I can,” Fagan said. “I’d like to learn about their teaching practices and maybe use it in my own classroom one day.”

Molly Steiner was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship that will take her to Mexico.
by Molly Lowney / The Beacon

Molly Steiner - ‘18

Steiner, an elementary education and Spanish major, said she is thrilled to be teaching in Mexico. Steiner is fascinated with Latin American culture and studied abroad in Ecuador and Costa Rica, but has never been to Mexico. 

Steiner explained that she has a lot of friends who have family in Mexico and is excited to get to know the Mexico that her friends know. She also wrote a final paper for one of her classes about Mexican art history and is looking forward to the opportunity to travel around the country and go to art museums.

“I’m excited to go to Mexico and see what’s true and not true about what I’ve learned,” Steiner said. 

In her time at UP, Steiner has served as a Service and Justice Coordinator and R.A. for Shipstad Hall. And as an senior elementary education major, Steiner has been student teaching in a fourth grade classroom for the past year.

In her Fulbright year, she hopes to improve her Spanish so that it sounds less academic and more conversational and to learn about cultural norms in Mexico. 

“It’s a huge weak spot in my work that I’ve never been to Mexico,” Steiner said. “I can say that I care about them, their culture and their language, but it doesn’t really mean anything until I go there and experience it. I’m hoping to gain a greater understanding of what education is like in Mexico to see where these kids are coming from.”

Steiner is passionate about the right to education and wants to eventually work with migrant and undocumented kids, or students with interrupted formal education (SIFEs). Upon graduation, she will be receiving her teaching degree with an ESOL (english for speakers of other languages) endorsement.

“There’s entire populations of kids in the United States that don’t go to school at all, particularly undocumented kids,” Steiner said. “It’s been my focus of my education major at UP. A lot of kids are too scared or don’t speak enough English to enroll in school.”

Before heading to Mexico this August, Steiner will spend part of her summer in Portland working as a substitute teacher. 

Lauren Jones was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship that will take her to Malaysia.
by Molly Lowney / The Beacon

Lauren Jones - ‘18

Jones, a psychology and sociology major, will head to Malaysia in January with Fagan. At UP, she served as a freshman workshop leader for three years as well as a peer mentor. She also worked as a camp counselor for the past three summers in Stanwood, WA and is excited to bring her appreciation of the outdoors to Malaysia. 

“I really want to see a tiger, or maybe hold a sloth,” Jones said. “That’s all I want in life is to hold a sloth.” 

This summer, Jones will be working at a summer camp in Montana with high school students. She hopes to either stay in Montana or spend some time at home with her family in the fall before she leaves for Malaysia.

Jones said that her friends and family are excited for her and very supportive. She is both excited and nervous for the challenges of adjusting to a different culture and the social rules for women in a more conservative country. 

“I’m really excited for traveling that part of the world because it is pretty scary, and I don’t think I would have done it on my own (without Fulbright),” Jones said. “It’s nice to be in the Fulbright program and have a liaison.” 

Jones said that UP was very helpful to her in the application process when she decided to apply four weeks before the application was due. She expressed her appreciation and gratitude for the opportunity and said she sees this opportunity as a blessing.

After her year in Malaysia, Jones plans to apply to graduate programs that accommodate both of her majors. She hopes that her time in Malaysia will aid her in her career path and life beyond college. 

“I want to gain an appreciation for a culture that isn’t mine and to make myself a more open human being,” Jones said.