Thursday, July 8, 2010

On Using Your Time Outside of the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) Classroom, By Mark Beasley-Murray, 2008-2009, Fulbright ETA to Brazil

• What use you will make of your time outside the classroom? (Most ETAs work no more than 20 to 30 hours per week.)

Although this question is the last bullet point listed in the Fulbright U.S. Student Program website’s section on developing the Statement of Grant Purpose for Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) grants, it is certainly not least in significance.

Because I’m a Fulbright ETA alumnus and because there is much room for interpretation on how ETAs might spend those 20-30 hours per week outside of the classroom, I thought I would delve a little deeper and offer some suggestions.

So, how does one plan a worthy ETA side project in one of over 50 countries when the location and placement circumstances are initially unknown? Good question. Although there is no easy answer (sorry), there are several considerations to keep in mind while crafting a description of your proposed side project. The suggestions below have proven helpful to other Fulbright ETA applicants I’ve advised – and who were awarded the grant. My hope is that my two cents may prove helpful to you, too.

First, do not underestimate the importance of your time outside the classroom. Since much of your time will be spent outside of the classroom, Fulbright application reviewers are curious to know what you might be up to the other quarter or half of your work week. This is an opportunity to show what you hope to gain from your experience and how you might contribute to your Fulbright host country.

Second, keep in mind that the reviewers evaluating your Fulbright ETA application understand how difficult it is to describe a potential side project without knowing the particulars of your placement. Even though they recognize the difficulty of this task, they still expect you to be able to undertake it, however. Your ability to successfully describe an adaptable, worthwhile project will distinguish your application from other candidates with similar credentials who have not thoroughly thought through what they hope to accomplish. That said, it would be wise to heed the advice offered in the ENGLISH TEACHING ASSISTANTSHIPS: Developing the Statement of Grant Purpose section of the website: do not be overly specific or grand in your side project proposal. You may have a five-star, phenomenal, blockbuster idea for a research, vocational, or community service project. However, if the project is too location-specific or too involved, this may doom your otherwise strong application if it is seen as detracting from the primary focus of your grant – being an English teaching assistant.

Third, know the range of possibilities in the country to which you are applying. These may vary considerably (as was the case in Brazil where I was an ETA). Your placement may turn out to be far from what you anticipated. It may be urban or rural, in an institution of higher education, in a primary or secondary school with access to educational materials and resources (or without), in one school or several, and so on. Often, the range and nature of ETA placements are described in each host country’s profile. Research those country-specific placements as best as you can. However, keep in mind that, if awarded the grant, you may end up piloting a new ETA placement, let alone one that hasn’t been listed yet on the Fulbright U.S. Student Program website. If you have a preference for a particular type of ETA grant, describe how your side project would fit well with that specific placement but would still be adaptable to other placements as well.

Fourth, despite the uncertainty regarding your eventual placement, reviewers will want to be certain that you will be able to accomplish your proposed side project - regardless of the circumstances. While you should not to be too specific in your project proposal, this does not mean that you cannot outline the particulars of your project. Reviewers want to be able to envision your project as clearly as possible. This requires at least a few details. For those who are considering a community group or school-related project, there are some universal points you may want to consider when writing your project description, such as:
  • Is your project appropriate for the country to which you are applying? If so, why?
  • How does the project align with your expertise?
  • Who are the stakeholders in your project? If your project involves community members, how many participants do you aim to have? What is the age group? How will you attract participants? How does it benefit them?
  • What are the resources necessary to undertake your project? (Physical location? Art supplies? Computers or Internet connection?) And how would you go about ensuring that these resource needs would be met or overcome? (Additional non-Fulbright funding? Personal out-of-pocket funds? Jettisoning an online component?)
  • Where would the project take place? (In a school classroom? In a community center? In a park? In your host country apartment?)
  • When and for how long would the project take place? (How many weeks? How many days per week? How many hours per day? Will the project coincide with your placement school’s academic calendar?)
  • What will be the tangible outcome of your project? (Student projects? Theatrical productions? Artwork?)
  • Who is the audience for your project? How large is that audience?
  • How does your project promote the Fulbright Program’s mission of promoting cultural exchange and mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries?
The list above is not exhaustive. Each project will have its own particulars. Also, remember that it is not necessary to address every one of these questions in your Statement of Grant Purpose (in fact, given the online application space limitations, this would be a Herculean feat). Still, you should clearly and thoughtfully describe the details of how you will spend your time outside the classroom.

I hope that these suggestions on how to plan a Fulbright ETA side project prove helpful. If you have any questions regarding the ETA application process, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Good luck!

Photo: Mark Beasley-Murray, 2008-2009, Fulbright ETA to Brazil, reading to his students in a Pirai classroom.

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