Language builders

Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistants get the opportunity to teach overseas, observe educational differences between here and home.

Aya Owada taught English in Japan for more than a decade when she applied for the Fulbright at the last minute — and was surprised when she was accepted.

“I was just excited, because this was my first time to come to an English-speaking country,” said Owada, who is a teaching assistant in Japanese. “I had been working as an English teacher for 13 years in Japan without knowing what a ‘real’ English conversation was.”

In August, Owada and Amany Ismail were two of 400 young educators to receive Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant to teach in the United States. Recipients are chosen on the basis of academic and professional achievement as well as leadership potential. This is the sixth year for State’s department of languages, literatures and linguistics to host recipients.

Amany Ismail

Ismail was happy to learn she had been accepted. She taught non-native speakers Arabic back home in Egypt, but had never taught Arabic in another country until now.

“This would be a new experience,” Ismail said. “And at the same time, I wanted to know more about American culture.”

Right away, Owada noticed stark contrasts between teaching languages back home and in America.

“In Japan, students learn English seriously for their entrance examination, but I noticed that American students like Japanese culture rather than just language,” Owada said. “It’s interesting finding people wanting to learn Japanese language for Japanese culture. They were especially interested in animation, TV, video games — so that was really interesting.”

Owada, who traveled to Indianapolis to attend the Indiana Foreign Language Teachers Association conference and learn more about language teaching in Indiana, initially found it difficult to acclimate to living in America — both as someone who was Japanese and as someone on campus who was neither a student nor really a professor. Luckily, Owada had a fellow Fulbright to share her frustrations with and navigate their new campus.

“As is the case for all international guests, it is frequently a challenge to really get to know Americans outside of our departmental ‘family,’” said Ann Rider, chair of Indiana State’s department of languages, literatures and linguistics.

Ismail was also uncomfortable upon her arrival. She learned she was allergic to grass and bugs, but that didn’t stop her from sharing her culture with LinkingLanguageLearners in their World Food celebration. She is also not a fan of the cold, ice and snow.

Like many other students, Owada and Ismail often vent about confusing classes.

“We talked a lot about class, our own classes and the classes we are taking,” Owada said. “Taking the same class with someone else will make a good bond.”

In addition to teaching their own classes, Owada and Ismail are taking classes on teaching methods. Owada said it was difficult for her to write entire essays and journal entries in English.

“This is my very first time to take a class in English. It’s really confusing and like my paper, I turn it in and of course it was horrible,” Owada said.

Another observation that surprised Owada about college in the United States is the extreme workload that some students have in addition to taking classes. American students have much more homework than Japanese students, she said, and their schedules must compete with hours in class, out-of-class homework and hours spent working to pay for that education. In Japan, most expenses are paid by the parents.

Aya Owada

“Some students cannot come or skip classes because of having to go to their job. I feel that is really bad, but they have to work for a living,” Owada said. “American students have a lot of responsibility. So I admire my American students, but at the same time, I don’t want them to skip classes.”

One of the differences Ismail noticed about universities in Egypt and those in America was the use of a syllabus, which is used only in private or non-governmental institutions.

Ismail hopes to use the teaching techniques she learns at Indiana State back home with non-native speakers in her own country, as well as communicate better with English speakers with her enhanced English skills — which Rider says are already ‘quite good,’ so this has not been an obstacle for her.

Rider says that while the department has been sponsoring Fulbrights for many years, this was the first year they have sponsored someone from Japan.

“We were pleased to have (Owada’s) expertise in the classroom for Japanese,” Rider said. “She is a gifted teacher with boundless energy and ideas. Her classroom is truly a communicative space where students learn language and culture.”

When Owada returned to Japan on May 23, she wants to take her Fulbright experiences back home to become a better teacher.

“I can teach more authentic English to students,” Owada said. “Of course my English ability — I hope it gets better when I get back to Japan, and the methods I learned for how to teach English as a foreign language.”

Owada thinks everyone should experience living in a different culture at some point. At first, she struggled with the cultural differences, but she has gotten used to the new culture and enjoys it.

“Japanese students are interested in learning language, but most of the students won’t use English at all after graduating. But there are lot of things they can learn by learning a language — culture and attitudes,” Owada said. “So through my class, there are a lot of things that I could teach them or help them experience through learning a language. I mean, class itself is not what is important; what’s important is getting that experience.”

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