Graduating in just a few weeks, Shannon Foss will spend her first year out of school as a Fulbright Scholar, undertaking an English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) in Romania. Foss is majoring in Comparative History of Ideas and Communication, along with Interdisciplinary Honors. Her experiences as a tutor through the UW Pipeline Project at the Odegaard Writing and Research Center (OWRC), study abroad opportunities in Romania and Prague, and emphasis on research have prepared her to find success in this new adventure:
What made you decide to apply for a Fulbright? And why the ETA in Romania?
“I knew that I wanted to take a gap year in between my undergraduate career and graduate school – especially because I did my undergrad in three years – and I knew I wanted to travel. I started looking into a lot of different programs and attended a couple of information sessions about the Fulbright through the Office of Merit Scholarships, Fellowships and Awards.
“I decided to apply for the ETA in Romania specifically because I had studied abroad in the country for a month in 2013 and I was curious to go back and continue exploring the questions that the trip had raised for me. I’m also interested in education both professionally and academically, as I’ve been a tutor at the OWRC for almost two years and have taken several classes that focus on education during my time at UW. Being an ETA in Romania sounded like a fantastic opportunity to both learn more about the country and to immerse myself in a novel educational system by teaching.”
Did your Communication degree play a role in the application process and/or do you think it will play a role while in Romania? In what ways?
“My communication degree played a large role in my application process. My focus in the COM department is rhetoric and critical studies, so I wrote one of my application essays about hearing stories of Romanian higher education during my first study abroad and wanting to gain a better understanding of what those narratives reflect. My other essay was also about my first trip to Romania and how it helped me both understand the rhetorical norming of my demographic in American society and come to see the conditions of my own cultural production. I drew heavily on ideas from my COM classes for both of these. I also proposed a supplementary research project relating to myths about education in the public sphere. I think my background in rhetoric and critical studies will be also relevant to my time in Romania because it helps me understand how language and ideology shape nationhood.”
What advice do you have for students thinking about applying for a Fulbright Scholarship?
“My primary piece of advice would be to live with your application essays. By this, I mean that you shouldn’t just sit down and write them and be done with it. You need to think through them as you go about your daily life and talk to other people about them, whether that’s advisers or friends or family or writing tutors. The essays are a huge part of a Fulbright application, and I think that’s one of the things that really helped me be a successful applicant.”
What are you most looking forward to?
“I’m most looking forward to the chance to experience another educational system and to understand how I can contribute to it and learn from it. Education is something that’s so ubiquitous for most people that it really becomes naturalized, and we forget that there are many different ways of thinking about education and that our institutions of learning are shaped by our nation’s ecological contexts. I think that being an ETA in Romania will help me learn to visualize how these factors mold education and to appreciate how the process of learning can occur in different contexts.”
Is there anything you are nervous about?
“I know that a lot of times new teachers have a sort of naive idealism about what they can accomplish in a classroom, and despite knowing this I’m probably no different. I anticipate there will be a steep learning curve where I have to reconfigure my expectations and understand the context and student needs rather than stubbornly trying to implement the vision I had before beginning the trip and trying to impose my own way of doing things.”
How long will you be in Romania? Do you have plans for after your time as a Fulbright Scholar?
“I will be in Romania for nine months — from October to June. After this time I’m considering pursuing graduate education in discourse studies, rhetoric, or education. I’m thinking about an eventual career in academia, but I’m still uncertain what I’ll end up doing in the long term.”