Celebrating 10 years of Fulbright FLTA Orientation at Notre Dame

Author: Charlene Dundek

This year marked the 10th anniversary of the Fulbright FLTA Orientation Program at the University of Notre Dame.  Scholars from 29 different countries gathered at ND to celebrate their arrival in America and prepare for the upcoming year of teaching their native languages in universities across the States.

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Photo credit: Matt Cashore

The Fulbright FLTA (Foreign Language Teaching Assistant) Program offers the opportunity for foreign college graduates and young teachers to come to the U.S. to teach their native language.  The program is sponsored by the United States Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and during the program the Institute of International Education (IIE) supervises and supports the FLTAs.  Each FLTA spends one academic year in U.S. universities, and their role is invaluable to the U.S. classroom.  The FLTA adds depth to foreign language classrooms by opening up new cultural perspectives and facilitating accurate understandings of a country’s unique language and culture.  It is as much a learning experience for the students as it is for the FLTA: by interacting with each other in classrooms and educational events, they are able to create a conversation across cultures and understand each other better.

Each year FLTAs from over 50 different countries enter the United States.  The FLTA Orientation Program is a key event in incorporating the FLTAs into American culture and in preparing them for their roles at their respective universities.  Notre Dame was the first institution to host such an event in 2006 with an event created for 6 Irish Fulbright FLTAs.  Since then, the program has grown and expanded tremendously.  There are currently 7 universities that host FLTA Orientation Programs, and each institution hosts 50-65 FLTAs per orientation.

This year, the Notre Dame FLTA Orientation Program hosted 64 FLTAs from over 29 countries.  Professor Brian Ó Conchubhair, Director of the CSLC, has organized the program at ND since the initial program 10 years ago.  The program was initially designed to introduce FLTAs to the expectations of the American classroom, but through conversations with IIE,  “grew and expanded to cover American cultures, politics, banking, policing, syllabus design, [and] best practices in second language acquisition,” according to Professor Ó Conchubhair.  The first Notre Dame FLTA Orientation hosted just a few Irish FLTAs.  Now, there are 60-65 FLTAs from all over the world annually, with a total of 500 FLTAs who have participated in the program.  Participants in the program this year were from Algeria, Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Burma, China, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Tanzania, Thailand, Tunisia, and Turkey.  Professor Ó Conchubhair calls the experience “a mini United Nations [with] 50-60 students from all over the world on campus of four days to share ideas and experiences before they begin their big adventure of living and teaching in the US for nine months.”

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Professor Brian Ó Conchubhair

Orientation this year kicked off on August 8th and lasted until August 12th.  After being welcomed at O’Hare International Airport, the FLTAs were brought to Notre Dame’s campus and celebrated their arrival with pizza in Keough Hall.  Professor Ó Conchubhair notes how they land at night, “tired and jet-lagged and wake up the following morning on campus looking at the Golden Dome.  Notre Dame serves as their introduction to America.”  What a better welcome?

The program took place this year in McKenna Hall with a variety of speakers and presentations.  Lectures included presentations on successful language teaching methods, diversity in the U.S. classroom, grading and academic integrity, conflict resolution, the needs and hopes of the American student, challenges faced by international students in America, and technology in the classroom.  The presentations on syllabus planning, adapting to American culture, and safety on campus were viewed as particularly useful to some of the FLTAs.

Seven of the FLTAs stayed at Notre Dame after the Orientation ended while the others went off to their respective host universities.  ND’s very own FLTAs this year include Mohmmed Alsheri (Arabic), Dongying Zhang (Chinese), John Woods (Irish), Dong-gyun Kim (Korean), Maria Gabriella de Castro (Portuguese), Guillermo Niño (Spanish), and Suman Rami (Hindi).

For John Woods, the orientation exposed him to the immense diversity of the Fulbright program and prepared him for the range of cultural backgrounds he would later find in his classroom and in his work at the CSLC.  His favorite part of the orientation was that it created a setting to “get to know Fulbright FLTAs from all over the world...the organisation of the orientation at Notre Dame made it possible to get a true sense of the global scope of the Fulbright FLTA program.  I have not experienced this in any other setting.”

Guillermo Niño noted that the orientation was particularly enriching in that it allowed the FLTAs to gather and share their thoughts and questions before embarking for the school year.  He said that the orientation gave them the “courage and motivation to face the challenge together before split[ting] in[to] different universities.”

The FLTAs truly did bond and grow close relationships in the duration of the program, and the program celebrated the global interconnectedness in the final event, the Farewell Banquet.  Dongying Zhang said that for her, “the most memorable part [of the program was] the last dinner we had with all the FLTAs from various countries and some officials and professors from Notre Dame.  It was a wonderful gathering!”  The Farewell Banquet was indeed the highlight of the program.  It asked the FLTAs to wear their traditional dress and celebrate coming together.  Professor Ó Conchubhair describes it as the final event, “where everyone is just about to leave and head off to their host institution somewhere in the US to teach for a year.  They are so excited and energetic yet sad to leave ND and the community of friends they have just formed.”  The banquet, then, serves as a celebratory send off.  Each FLTA left the Notre Dame Orientation Program with new friends and an energetic support base for the year ahead.

Stay tuned for updates on what ND's very own FLTAs are up to this year!