Wabash College provides four language courses — Chinese, French, German and Spanish. This year the college has welcomed four Foreign Language Teaching Assistants from Argentina, France, Spain and Taiwan. There are no German TAs due to the pandemic.
The Fulbright FLTA program is the opportunity for young teachers of English from foreign countries to teach their respective native language at higher education institutions in the U.S. The aim of this program is to enhance their teaching ability and English skills, while they expose themselves to U.S. culture and interact with people.
During the 10-month program at Wabash College, the TAs also take two classes each semester. It is one of the requirements to maintain their visa status. Therefore, they experience being a teacher and a college student. They are also responsible for conducting a weekly one-hour oral session, or a lab.
“They also provide a lot in terms of cultural teaching,” said Dr. Jane Hardy, Department Chair of Modern Languages and Literature at Wabash College. “Since TAs are closer to the students’ age, they can help them with youth culture in the countries that they are from.”
Hardy is unsure when the program started, however, she assumes it began in the early 1990s. There have been many changes in the department since the college accepted the first TA. Wabash dropped Russian, but added Chinese. Another TA for Spanish was added because of its popularity. Therefore, it has become a custom to have two Spanish TAs at the college.
Joaquin Sartori is a Spanish TA from Argentina. He is 30, the oldest among the TAs, and it was his last chance to apply for the program due to the age limit. He learned about the program online while staying at home during the pandemic.
“I thought, ‘OK, maybe it is a good opportunity to travel abroad and to work and to live in another culture,’” Sartori said.
Alba Gonzalez is another Spanish TA from Spain. She is glad to study abroad in the U.S. thanks to the generous scholarship.
“I might sound crazy, but I have my life kind of planned,” she said. “And so, Fulbright was one of my steps.”
Emeline Papinot is the French TA from France. She knew about the program when she was a student in university.
“I decided to try because I want to discover new cultures and thought it is a nice opportunity,” Papinot said.
Anita Lee is the Chinese TA from Taiwan. She applied to the program because one of the professors at her university highly recommended it.
“It is a really great opportunity, especially with the pandemic, and I get the chance to travel everywhere within the U.S.,” Lee said. “In Taiwan, we cannot go anywhere.”
All of the TAs have started to learn English as a non-native language since they were young. They agree English is not an easy language to master.
“The TAs already have an excellent English level, but still the program helps them to learn slang and to hear accents like our dialects,” said Rachel Barclay, the FLTA Program Assistant at Wabash College.
Barclay helps the TAs with visa applications and offers support as they acclimate to their new lives here.
The TAs are enjoying their lives in Crawfordsville. Sartori thinks that people are very nice and friendly.
“They are welcoming us all the time and I feel comfortable living here,” Sartori said.
Papinot said it felt like being at home from the day she arrived.
“It is a small community and everyone is so nice. I feel like we already know so many people,” Papinot said.
Gonzalez did not have high expectations because her last experience studying abroad in Japan was not good. However, “I have lived in a total of nine different places because I am changing houses every year. And this [their house in the city] is the best l house I have ever lived in,” Gonzalez said.
Lee hopes that not only people on campus will learn various things from her, but she also wants to ewxplore new things from them.
“I am actually really happy and meeting other TAs from Spain, France and Argentina, and then, a lot of students,” Lee said.
Dr. María Monsalve, an assistant professor of Spanish at the college, used to be a Spanish teaching assistant from 2010 to 2011. She was not a FLTA, but came to the college as an exchange student from her university in Ecuador. After she earned a doctorate degree in the U.S., she returned to the college as a faculty member in 2017.
She remembers the time when she was a teaching assistant.
“I hope they will enjoy every minute ... by the time you find yourself adjusted, you are about to leave,” Monsalve said.