Imagine Fulbright: Fostering passion for bilingual education across cultures
Zoe Rodriguez ’18 has taken her passion for language education to Colombia with a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant position in Barranquilla, located along that country’s Caribbean coast.
Teaching at a university in the city center, she serves middle-lower class students training to become bilingual teachers, much like Ms. Rodriguez herself, who graduated with an elementary education major and Spanish minor. On returning to the United States, she plans to continue to teach English language learners and pursue a Master’s degree in second language acquisition.
The Kenosha native thanks her experience at Carthage for giving her the flexibility she needed to understand and participate in a new culture. She remarked that in Colombian culture, being on time to appointments is less important than she was used to in Wisconsin, and many students leave class early because of obligations to jobs or family.
“What I plan for class doesn’t always work out and I’ll have to change in the middle, cut out some plans, or follow a better direction,” she said.
Ms. Rodriguez’s potential was apparent to her professors early in her time at Carthage.
“From the first year I had Zoe in an education course, I knew she would be an amazing educator that puts the ‘whole student’ first,” said Professor Lara Christoun of the Education Department. “She is a natural and I was pleased to have her tutor an ESL student who was shy and just needed that special someone to break the ice. This speaks to Zoe’s strengths as a culturally responsive ambassador and future educator.”
Ms. Rodriguez has loved the opportunity to connect with multiple parts of Colombian culture, traveling from the Caribbean coast to the Pacific Ocean coast and enjoying the chance to chat with locals on her daily walk to work.
“I’ve never met so many kind people,” she said.
She especially enjoys the local food, and has grown fond of the regional specialty arepas, which she describes as looking “like a thick tortilla, stuffed with a lot of meats and veggies, but my favorite is just cheese.”
She also enjoys visiting the neighboring towns and taking weekend trips to coastal cities like Santa Marta. Although she was fairly confident in her Spanish abilities when she arrived, Ms. Rodriguez was surprised by how many different dialects and indigenous languages she has discovered as she travels around Colombia, an adjustment she made from the moment she arrived in her host city.
“I live on the Caribbean coast,” she said, “and many of the Barranquilleros that I meet tell me that they don’t speak Español, they speak Costeñol.”
Walking through other Colombian cities and towns and hearing all the different dialects and indigenous languages has made her feel more connected to the culture than anything else, saying, “I am constantly amazed and intrigued by the many ways the language differs from place to place.”
The Fulbright Program emphasizes cultural exchange, and Ms. Rodriguez has pursued this mission energetically: “I was able to share about American music in class, start a book club where we read ‘The House on Mango Street,’ which, fittingly, is set in Chicago, ran a conversation club, and provided one-to-one tutoring for interested students.”
She finds it rewarding to work with students motivated by many factors, both personal and professional, including a young mother who came to weekly tutoring in order to gain the language skills that could help her support her family. The relationship with her students has been an extremely gratifying one, she says.
“Some parts of life and work here can be hard, but I really love the students I’m fortunate enough to work with.”
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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.