image title

Finding tea and hospitality in Turkey

March 21, 2016

ASU grad Allison Weidemann wins a Fulbright to teach English

Arizona State University graduate Allison Weidemann is spending a year in Turkey, where she has been embraced by the community.

“Turks have a reputation for their notable hospitality and I have absolutely found that to be true,” said Weidemann, who earned an undergraduate degree in sustainability and a master’s degree in global health. She won a Fulbright grant to spend a year as an English teaching assistant.

“The best part of my experience has been being invited into the homes and lives of the people around me. I have joined in the lively traditional dancing at an engagement celebration, and stood solemnly at a graveside as flowers were arranged in memory of a beloved sister.

“I’ve watched my host community react to the refugee crisis with concern and respond to the bombings in their capital with courage,” said Weidemann, who is from Gilbert.

“Turks value making time and space to be together with others to share the bitter and sweet of life.”

Allison Weidemann in Turkey

ASU graduate Allison Weidemann in Turkey, where she is teaching English after winning a Fulbright award.

She answered some questions about her Fulbright year in Turkey:

Question: Why did you decide to apply for a Fulbright?

Answer: I had previously traveled to Turkey, studied Turkish at ASU, and worked with college-aged English language learners as a student worker in ASU’s Global Launch program, and I had enjoyed these experiences immensely. Thus, when I learned about the Fulbright ETA program in Turkey, I was eager to apply because it offered the opportunity to immerse myself more deeply in Turkish language and culture while helping university students improve their English.

Q: Can you give an overview of what you’re doing in Turkey:

A: I live in Amasya, a charming, small city in north-central Turkey that is situated along a river, nestled between a cluster of mountains and rife with history. I teach listening and speaking to 105 students at Amasya University. My students take a total of about 24 hours of English classes per week as part of a year-long, intensive English preparatory program.

Q: What is a typical day like for you?

A: On a typical day, I chat with some Turkish ladies while waiting for the city bus that I take uphill to the university. I teach two or three two-hour classes, in which I facilitate listening exercises, group discussions and activities in order to help my students practice processing and producing spoken English. In the middle of the day, I eat lunch with my Turkish colleagues at the university dining hall. I walk home after school, bumping into and having short exchanges with my students as I make my way down the hill. I usually unwind by making dinner and watching television with my Turkish roommate (to practice my own listening comprehension) or by going out to a restaurant or café with friends.

Q: What do you do on the weekends?

A: On the weekends that I don’t travel to another of Turkey’s many incredible sights and cities, I hang my laundry out to dry on my balcony before walking to the “Pazar” (bi-weekly farmer’s market) to buy produce for the week. I usually do some lesson planning, catch up with my friends and family back home, and spend time with Turkish or ex-pat friends walking along the river or sitting at a café playing “tavla” (backgammon) while sipping “çay” (Turkish tea).

Q: Have there been any challenges?

A: Starting life over in a new setting and a new language has been extremely humbling. Especially during the first few weeks, the simplest tasks were enormous challenges. My first time at the grocery store, I remember thinking, “Here I am, a Fulbright scholar at the height of achievement, and I’m making my shampoo selection based purely on the color of the bottle since I can’t make anything else out!” Looking back, those kinds of moments are some of my funniest memories.

Q: What will you bring back from your experience that will help you in your career — or your life?

A: I will bring back major empathy for people who start over in a completely new context. I will also be able to draw from the language-learning strategies that I’ve acquired here in my future language learning and teaching pursuits.

Q: What’s next for you, after you return?

A: The Fulbright ETA program in Turkey is unique in that it offers the option to renew your grant and stay for a second year. After my second year in Turkey, I want to return to Phoenix and continue working with English language learners, whether refugees, immigrants or international students, to extend hospitality and assist their social and cultural adjustment. 

Q: What would you tell someone who is contemplating applying for a Fulbright?

A: Once the glitter of the prestige of winning a Fulbright settles to the ground, you will find yourself in one of the most challenging, humbling and stretching situations of your life. However, the lessons learned, relationships developed and perspective gained from such an experience make it absolutely worth it.

Top photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


image title

Fulbright Day to help launch ASU students, faculty abroad

ASU faculty, student Fulbright winners tell of joy, challenges of life abroad.
Interested in studying or working abroad? Find out how at ASU Fulbright Day.
March 22, 2016

Current winners describe joys, challenges of living overseas

People in the Arizona State University community who won Fulbright awards this year are living abroad and studying subjects ranging from virus engineering and flamenco guitar to a World War II resistance heroine.

One ASU Fulbright grantee lived through the earthquake in Nepal and watched her community cope with the chaotic aftermath.

Another volunteers helping mothers and children in India.

Several Sun Devils get up every day in countries where they don’t speak the language and face classrooms full of children who are eager to learn English and hear about America.

They’ve unintentionally insulted their hosts with their primitive language skills, taught in schools when the power went out, evaded wild animals and eaten live octopus.

The experience is daunting and challenging and rewarding beyond measure.

Allison Weidemann, an ASU graduate who is teaching English in Turkey, said: “My first time at the grocery store, I remember thinking, ‘Here I am, a Fulbright scholar at the height of achievement, and I’m making my shampoo selection based purely on the color of the bottle since I can’t make anything else out!’ "

Despite the language struggles, Weidemann has found warmth and hospitality.

“I have joined in the lively traditional dancing at an engagement celebration, and stood solemnly at a graveside as flowers were arranged in memory of a beloved sister,” she said. “I’ve watched my host community react to the refugee crisis with concern and respond to the bombings in their capital with courage.”

And now is the time for ASU faculty members and juniors to decide whether they want to pursue the challenge of living and working in another country.

The Fulbright is the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program, which pays for winners to work, study and teach abroad. ASU has 10 faculty members, called Fulbright scholars, and 22 students who won the grants this year. (Read about some of their experiences here.)

ASU is holding Fulbright Day on Wednesday, March 23, so current faculty and students can find out how to apply for the prestigious program. The event, to be held at the Memorial Union, will include faculty and students who won the awards in the past, plus representatives from Fulbright.

“We want to introduce students to the program to get them excited about it, particularly on the heels of our success,” said Kyle Mox, who’s the director of the Lorraine W. Frank Office of National Scholarships Advisement at ASU.

ASU was the top producer of Fulbright scholars among research institutions for 2015-2016 and was in fifth place for student awards.

The application process is rigorous, but ASU provides a lot of support, said Mox, who also is associate dean at Barrett, the Honors College.

“We get students started and work with them throughout,” he said. “We prep them on coming up with a proposal and drafting their proposal.

“It would not be strange for me to read five to eight drafts of one essay for an applicant as the student revises over three months.”

After that, a faculty committee screens the student candidates, who number up to 75 each year. The students get feedback on their proposals and interviews, as well as coaching on writing if needed.

The process takes months and can be grueling.

“We recognize the intrinsic value of the process in that it’s a transferable skill to a lot of other things,” Mox said.

There are two main types of student awards — academic research and English Teaching Assistant. Applicants for academic grants propose a yearlong research project or area of directed study.

Jaxon Williams in Seville, Spain.

Jaxon Williams in Seville, Spain, where he is studying classical and flamenco guitar after winning a Fulbright award.

Jaxon Williams won a Fulbright award to study classical and flamenco guitar in Seville, Spain, this year after earning his undergraduate degree at ASU in music and guitar performance.

“I've always felt that to reach the next level as a musician, I need to live abroad and connect with the classical guitar's roots, which are in Spain,” said Williams, who has been playing concerts and studying with guitar masters. 

“Much of this music is passed on orally and in person, so it's very hard to learn these things outside of Spain.”

For Matt Ykema, one of the biggest advantages of the Fulbright is that he has no required classes, so he can immerse himself in researching viruses at the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam.

“I spend about eight to 10 hours in my lab, doing experiments, making viruses, reading papers and writing publications,” said Ykema, who earned bachelor of science degrees in molecular biology and economics at ASU.

Students who apply to be English Teaching Assistants write a proposal describing how they would engage students, Mox said. Those applicants don’t need to aspire to teach English as a career, but should show how a year instructing people in other countries will benefit their goals.

“It’s like a job application in many ways,” Mox said. “The judges are looking for leadership, responsibility and self-reliance.”

ASU grad Claire Cambron plans to go to medical school, but she wanted to live abroad first. She earned her undergraduate degree last year in biochemistry and genetics.

“I felt that by traveling, I could learn more about a different culture, which would help me be a more open-minded and receptive doctor and person,” said Cambron, who is teaching English at an elementary school in South Korea. “I also was looking for an opportunity that would push me out of my comfort zone and challenge me.”

Fulbright scholars are faculty members who win awards to study and teach abroad. They, too, get help in the process, according to Karen Engler, the ASU provost liaison for the Fulbright program.

“We connect faculty to Fulbright representatives for individual consultations and mentoring on their applications,” she said. “If the faculty member has an idea of what country they’re interested in, the Fulbright office can provide individual support for the applicants.”

Maureen Goggin is a professor of English at ASU who is spending this academic year at Karl Franzens University of Graz in Austria. She studies needlework as a form of communications and is an expert on samplers, pieces of embroidered cloth that were typically created by women.

Among her Fulbright projects is research on one piece of needlework — a sampler created in 1942 by a woman who was imprisoned in Terezin Small Fortress, part of the Theresienstadt concentration camp. The woman, accused of aiding in the assassination of a Nazi leader, was executed in 1943.

“It offers an interesting insight into Prague resistance during World War II,” she said. “It is a piece that has been ignored.”

Goggin said that faculty members who want to apply for a Fulbright should investigate the country, university and department they want to study in.

“Make sure you have something to offer in teaching that will complement but not compete with what is already available in the department,” she said.

“Research, research, research is the key.”

Fulbright Day will be held at Pima Auditorium 230 in the Memorial Union on Wednesday, March 23. An information session on faculty applications will run from 1 to 2:15 p.m. Faculty members can then meet one-on-one with Fulbright representatives from 2:30 to 4 p.m. A student information session will run from 2:30 to 4 p.m. A networking reception with faculty and students who have won Fulbrights will be held from 4 to 5 p.m. in the Ventana Ballroom 241-C.

  • Read about ASU faculty and students' Fulbright experiences here.

Top photo: ASU graduate Allison Weidemann in Turkey, where she is teaching English after winning a Fulbright award. 

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News