Imagine Fulbright: Exchanging experiences from Carthage to Kota Bharu
With its spicy food, numerous mosques, Buddhist and Hindu temples, and tropical climate, Malaysia is very different from Wisconsin, as Skye Rutherford ’18 recently discovered when she began a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant position in the coastal region of Kelantan.
Ms. Rutherford, whose hometown is Janesville, Wis., finds life in Malaysia to be full of surprises and new experiences. She lives in Kota Bharu, the state capital and royal seat of Kelantan, and drives to the rural town of Tumpat to teach at a school of about 600 students, ages thirteen through seventeen. She arrived in early January 2019 and went through a few weeks of orientation before beginning to teach.
Although her ten-month grant has only just begun, Ms. Rutherford has already collected countless stories about her experiences. She recalls visiting the local police station with her mentor teacher to introduce herself, and ending up with a free lunch and a photo op. She attended a neighbor’s wedding reception, and was invited to a dinner at the United States Ambassador to Malaysia’s mansion, saying “I had the opportunity to chat with members of the U.S. Department of State and the Malaysian Minister of Education. A U.S. state consul from Wisconsin sought me out and she was awesome.”
Not all of her encounters have been so civil: during a recent visit to a beach, she dodged her fair share of aggressive monkeys.
Ms. Rutherford highly recommends Malaysia to students considering applying for a Fulbright grant, as the Malaysian-American Commission on Educational Exchange ensures that ETAs are well prepared for teaching in a new culture, and there is plenty of time for connecting with students outside of the classroom and traveling. After Fulbright, she intends to pursue graduate school and eventually become a screenwriter or playwright.
While at Carthage, Ms. Rutherford held a Writing Fellow position in the Brainard Writing Center. Jean Preston, the director of the Writing Center, was not surprised that Ms. Rutherford would be recognized through the Fulbright Program.
“Skye was an active and positive member of the Writing Center staff, always striving to help students become better writers and to strengthen the Writing Center community,” she said. “I am certain that her experience with the Writing Center is helping to enhance her experience in Malaysia.”
“My minors come in handy when I need to improvise fun English wordplay activities and work with the choir,” she says.
Her service as an orientation leader gave her the ability to lead large groups with flexibility, and her time as a Writing Fellow and English tutor gave her the skills she needed to overcome language barriers and help students express their ideas in English.
“My experience at Carthage has been incredibly beneficial for my work as an ETA. Although I lack formal teaching coursework, I consider assisting my peers with writing, literature, and acclimating to a new culture to be adequate preparation.”
Ms. Rutherford’s interactions with students and locals are just beginning, but they are already a meaningful part of her Fulbright experience.
• • •
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 Professor Dan Choffnes, Fulbright Program Adviser.