Imagine Fulbright: Carthaginian Alex Ash’s experience as a Fulbrighter in Thailand
Central Thailand doesn’t have much in common with his hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania, or the landscape of Kenosha, but for Alex Ash ’16, Chonburi Province is now familiar territory. Placed in a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant position near the town of Si Racha — for which the famous chili sauce is named — he is immersed in Thai culture in a community near to the coast of the Gulf of Thailand. After serving as a Fellow in the Brainard Writing Center and a teaching assistant at an elementary school in Wheaton, Illinois, Mr. Ash is enjoying the opportunity to teach in Thailand.
Mr. Ash draws on hours of classroom experience to come up with fun, creative, and effective ways to teach his students, including through games and movies. He says he got the idea to use movies to help teach English and American culture while on a J-Term trip to Germany where he saw that many high school students had learned everything they knew about American culture from American movies. He also recalls the effectiveness of using games to teach his elementary school students, including special needs and English-language-learning students.
With a major in communication and minor in women’s and gender studies, Mr. Ash was also involved in activities across campus during his time at Carthage. In addition to working as a writing fellow, he was also an assistant to the Carthage diversity director, and as a laboratory assistant in the Biology Dept. He was president and co-founder of Students Against Sexism in Society, a member of multiple LGBTQ+ groups, a member of the women’s and gender studies and communication honor societies, and received a creative writing award for prose.
Mr. Ash thoroughly enjoys film and hopes to be able to make a documentary about the lives of the people he meets while in Thailand. Influenced by what he learned at Carthage and his love for hearing personal stories, he plans to allow the story to develop itself as he gains more footage.
The path to Fulbright wasn’t a surprise to Jean Preston, director of the Brainard Writing Center and adjunct assistant professor of English. “Alex’s teaching in Thailand, creative and enthusiastic and filled with openhearted curiosity and a sense of adventure, is simply a continuation of his stellar work in the Writing Center,” she said.
Mr. Ash says that Thailand is “much different than I expected, but still wonderful.” The students there learn English at a different pace than he was expecting, but despite the challenges, he has been able to build strong relationships with his second, fifth, sixth, and seventh grade students. He mostly helps them to build conversational skills based upon what they learn with their primary teachers and serves as the sole English teacher for the second graders. Many students make the effort to talk with him often and some even try to teach him Thai when they have the chance. He lives only two minutes away from the school, which he says “is awesome because whenever I walk around town I get to see my students and their families. On the other hand, everyone I encounter knows where I live and what I’m doing at all times. I’m the only farang (foreigner) around, and I’m often just referred to as kru (teacher) farang.“
The students are friendly and energetic, Mr. Ash says, and working at the school can often be filled with surprises. He recalls one occasion when the students told him “they couldn’t come to my class that day because they were having a New Years/Christmas party in their main classroom. They invited me to their party and made me sing Ed Sheeran songs. I think this a pretty great summary of my teaching experience in Thailand. Class could be cancelled for any random reason, you may never really find out why, and you have to just go with the flow.”
Established in 1946, the Fulbright Program aims to increase mutual understanding between the peoples of the United States and other countries through the exchange of persons, knowledge and skills. It is the largest U.S. international exchange program offering opportunities for students, scholars, and professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, and teaching in elementary, secondary, and post-secondary schools worldwide. The Fulbright Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, and fellowships are available to American students wishing to spend a year or more abroad after college to teach, conduct scholarly research, or engage in creative projects.
Carthage students interested in Fulbright opportunities should contact Prof.Dan Choffness, Fulbright Program Adviser.