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My experience as a Fulbright Scholar

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Editors note: Dr. Sidury Christiansen, assistant professor in the Department of Bicultural-Bilingual Studies, spent last fall semester in Aguascalientes, Mexico as a U.S. Fulbright Scholar. In Mexico, Christiansen trained 87 future English language teachers in the use of technology, provided seminars and workshops to graduate students, conducted research on the use of technology and agency in a foreign language classroom, and established two sites for UTSA graduate students in the Teaching English as a Second Language program to do a practicum through a study abroad. In honor of her time as a Fulbright Scholar, Christiansen shared with COEHDnews her unique  experience.

Last school year, my appointment as a U.S. Fulbright Scholar in Mexico consisted of “Integrating Technology in English Language Learning and Teacher-Training.” Not only was I able to achieve my goal, but I was able to collaborate with teachers, students, and faculty in and outside my host university, the Universidad Autónoma de Aguascalientes (UAA), in numerous, meaningful ways.

The technology project was carried out mainly at UAA’s Department of English Language Teaching Instruction. I co-taught two courses with Mtra. Karla Valdés, a faculty member: Assessment in English Language Learning Classrooms, and Methodologies for English Language Teaching. All students were introduced to, trained on, and given time to practice and implementation to at least seven different platforms and apps for language teaching, learning, and assessment. Their capstone project was a poster session in which students planned a lesson integrating technology skillfully into their plan. This poster session was open to all faculty and students in all language programs and departments. 

Due to the limited structure of the academic writing program, I was asked to reconfigure their academic writing class, which all students must take on their 7th semester prior to writing their BA thesis. My role was to introduce new methods and techniques for teaching academic writing. Not only did I model novel ways to teach writing using a hands-on approach to L2 writing instructors, but I also introduced technology for writing such as formatting, automatic citation, and use of software for the editing and proofreading process.

My participation in the Languages Department was not limited to these three classes. Due to the increased number of Japanese living in Aguascalientes, there is a rising need for UAA students to learn how to teach this particular population who want their children to learn English. I counseled and provided activities and cultural notes to students who were tutoring or teaching Japanese children English. My extensive experience working with Asian populations aided me in providing students with ideas, tools, and cultural highlights about these students.

I also visited some language classes to observe how teachers who work in low-tech environments implement technology. More importantly, I wanted to observe how students were using and integrating technology on their own. To this end, I participated in a Japanese class and was able to observe first-hand what students do with technology (agency) that the teacher does not assign, and how they take what the teacher gives to them. I interviewed my “classmates” and I also had myself test the very tools that I use when I train our MA in TESL students here at UTSA. I wanted to experience the use of technology as a student myself. This experience was rewarding in the sense that I have a better idea how students take up technology and how some technological tools that appear to be a great idea from the teacher’s perspective do not always convey easily to students.

At the graduate level, I worked with the students of the MA in Research into Social Sciences and Humanities, PhD in Sociocultural Studies, and PhD in Educational Research. My role was to mentor and train students in digital ethnographic methods and discourse analysis techniques. I provided seminars, guest lectures, and advising for their particular projects. Faculty in the department of Communication, Anthropology, Education, and Sociology (including Dra. María Eugenia Patiño López and Dra. Rebeca Padilla de la Torre) and I formed a strong collaboration. BBL students in our PhD program will benefit from this collaboration. 

While those weekly lessons, workshops, seminars with students at the BA in English Language Teaching and in the Humanities and Sociocultural studies and meetings and workshops with faculty at this department were the center of my duties as visiting scholar, the societal changes that Aguascalientes is experiencing prompted me to start a new research project. The major societal change is the rapid growth of the international population in Aguascalientes. On the one hand, due to the automotive plants, the Japanese population has increased tremendously, as well as the French and German population, the latest which just relocated about 600 families to the city. Additionally, there is also a great influx of Chinese and Korean immigrants. Marginally, but importantly, are the Syrian student refugees that initially relocate to Aguascalientes to learn Spanish before going to their chosen universities in another Mexican state.

This influx of international populations is having an impact in Aguascalientes; it’s changing the ways in which services are offered, the linguistic landscape, and the way the local people interact with them and with each other. Thus, I started a new project on transnational populations starting with Japanese, and then going to the other communities. One of my PhD students, Brenda Sarmiento, is undertaking the study of the Syrian population. These projects will be long-term ethnographies that focus on the language use, language ideologies, and identities of both international populations and Mexicans. Another project that I continued during my stay is that of studying U.S. returnees to México, especially those who decide to study in a Mexican university, but also those who are working in call centers, which are common here in Aguascalientes.

For help on these projects, I have formed collaborations with CENDICS México S.A. de C.V., a language institution that offers language classes such as Spanish for returnees, Spanish for Japanese, Spanish as a foreign language, German, Japanese, and English for Mexicans and other internationals that wish to take another language. CENDICS’s director, Lic. Patricia Molina Macías, has been instrumental in the development of the research on the Japanese population in particular. She has offered full collaboration with UTSA personnel providing free services of interpretation and translation, culture classes, and access to facilities. These research projects are in the preliminary stages, but the research site I have been able to establish with CENDICS and the links with some of the faculty at UAA in the Humanities departments of Communication and Anthropology will open doors for research of our UTSA faculty and students who wish to study educational and non-educational settings, but related to culture, language, and literacy.

Two highlights of my Fulbright semester in Mexico: The first one is that I participated as a featured speaker at the 44th Mextesol International Convention in León, Gto. in November 2017. The presentation was well attended and received. The second is that I was a guest of Radio UAA multiple times to discuss our UTSA program, my role at UAA, and opportunities for students to do postgraduate work at UTSA as an MA or PhD student or to do an academic stay via Fulbright program. 

My experience in my Fulbright in Mexico gave me much more than professional gains. There is no space to recount the ways in which this experience enhanced my personal live. I would strongly encourage any student and faculty to apply to the Fulbright programs of their choice and be an agent of change in how our culture is seen around the world, but also to really, fully immerse and learn those cultures. 

Student testimonials:

  • “I've learned how to use a lot of websites that allowed me to assess my classes in an easier and faster way. I really liked that she [Dr.C] showed the pros and cons of each and helped us to use them.” - student from an assessment class
  • “I liked her [Dr.C’s] classes because I learned a lot. I learned how to use [technology] appropriately depending on the purpose I have. I began using apps and websites already on my classes and I liked that my students really enjoyed them. Thank you!” - student from a methods class
  • “It’s been a pleasure having you [Dr. C] here with us. If it weren’t for you, our Academic Writing course would’ve been much more limited. Seeing the writing process of an English-language researcher first-hand was useful to me as I begin to develop my thesis. You helped me to organize my thoughts as I defined my topic and taught me how a great lesson on writing looks like.” - students from the academic writing class
  • “La experiencia de aprendizaje con la Dra. Sidury fue muy satisfactoria, en primera instancia por su amplio bagaje de conocimientos y experiencias en temas que son de mi interés. En lo personal, me encuentro en la fase de planteamiento de la metodología para mi tesis doctoral, por lo que particularmente los contenidos relacionados con el uso de la tecnología para la investigación cualitativa, así como las bases teórico-prácticas de este enfoque de investigación me resultaron muy significativas. Por otro lado, reconozco y agradezco la apertura a compartir su estilo y estrategias particulares para hacer investigación; para quienes incursionamos en esta labor esto es ilustrativo y enriquecedor.” - student from the Ph.D. program

Foto mextesol

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