Fulbright program brings visiting teachers from across Eastern Europe, Central Asia to School of Education


During a six-week stretch in the fall semester, the UW–Madison School of Education hosted 22 teachers from 12 different countries across Eastern Europe and Central Asia as part of the Fulbright Teaching Excellence and Achievement (Fulbright TEA) program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of State and administered by IREX.

The visiting educators were part of a Fulbright TEA Media Literacy Cohort that focused on helping teachers promote and develop media literacy and critical-thinking skills that they can use in their home classrooms, schools, and communities.

Fulbright ScholarsThese teachers were in the Madison area Sept. 13 to Oct. 24, taking academic seminars at UW–Madison, while also receiving media literacy training via PBS Wisconsin. In addition, the visiting educators observed classrooms and shared their expertise with teachers and students at three area high schools (Madison West, Madison Memorial, and Monona Grove).

The group also enjoyed some fun activities, like touring the Wisconsin State Capitol, taking in a Badgers volleyball game, visiting Chicago, and attending the School of Education’s Homecoming Tailgate event Oct. 22 at Union South.

Several of the visiting teachers took the time to share their thoughts about the experience before heading home. Following is a sampling of some responses:

Egle Foltmanaite Barauskiene
Lithuania

Egle Foltmanaite Barauskiene
Barauskiene

Why did you apply for the Fulbright Teaching Excellence and Achievement program? I applied for this program because I wanted to learn new things about the U.S. educational system, to experience the culture of this country, and to deepen my knowledge about media literacy.

How would you describe your experience? I learned a lot of new things about media literacy, had an opportunity to see the educational system from the inside while observing the classes in high school, and attended many cultural and community events, which helped me to get a better understanding of American culture and traditions.

Is there a particular highlight that stands out to you from this program and your time in Madison? The Chicago trip was really amazing. Visits at school were very useful for my professional development. Dinner with the host family melted my heart. Devil’s Lake was fantastic, too. The volleyball match impressed me as well. I met a lot of inspiring lecturers while attending classes at UW–Madison. The university itself was also very impressive.

What is one thing you learned during your time in Madison that you hope to take back home and be able to implement in your classroom and country? How to get resistant to manipulation in the media.

Similarly, what do you hope those on the UW–Madison campus and in the Madison community learned from you? I hope they learned a little bit more about the educational system in our home countries, and the challenges we face while teaching.

What did you know about Wisconsin and the United States before coming to Madison? And how, if at all, have your perceptions changed about this state or the U.S.? I did not know a lot about the way the American people communicate, and this experience revealed that they are so positive about everything, and this really inspires me.

Petr Brandejs
Czech Republic

Petr Brandejs
Brandejs

Why did you apply for the Fulbright Teaching Excellence and Achievement program? The main reason was that I was curious.

How would you describe your experience? It was very inspiring, interesting, and intense.

Is there a particular highlight that stands out to you from this program and your time in Madison? I can’t choose one, there were many interesting and big things, as well as small details.

What is one thing you learned during your time in Madison that you hope to take back home and be able to implement in your classroom and country? The relaxed, calm, and patient approach of teachers to students.

Similarly, what do you hope those on the UW–Madison campus and in the Madison community learned from you? It’s hard to say. Maybe that the structures of the school systems are very different.

What did you know about Wisconsin and the United States before coming to Madison? And how, if at all, have your perceptions changed about this state or the U.S.? This is my fourth visit to the USA. Again, the remarkable thing for me was the kindness and patience of the people in Madison. Other interesting findings and experiences include the achievement-oriented approach of all the organizers and UW mentors; their drive, enthusiasm, professionalism, and punctuality; and following the rules and plans with enough flexibility and understanding.

Riina Pauklin
Estonia

Riina Pauklin
Pauklin

Why did you apply for the Fulbright Teaching Excellence and Achievement program? It seemed like a wonderful opportunity to discover the USA — and especially the parts of the USA I would probably not visit as a tourist. I am curious about different types and styles of schools and about new teaching methods. Also, I wanted to meet other teachers from other countries. I assumed (correctly) that the chosen teachers would be the brightest of their countries and therefore good company. I admit the topic of media literacy was the least of my reasons, although it is a topic in all of my courses.

How would you describe your experience? It exceeded all of my expectations. I feel blessed to be in Madison in care of these incredible people, to live in a very nice hotel, to have a huge budget for food, and to have sooo many amazing cultural activities. I also feel that I have grown A LOT as a teacher and even as a person. I am very, very grateful for the whole experience!

Is there a particular highlight that stands out to you from this program and your time in Madison? The most emotional were the cultural and optional activities (volleyball match, hiking at Devil’s Lake, concerts, visiting American families). As a professional I found the most useful for me was (UW–Madison Secondary Education — Social Studies Coordinator) Tom Owenby’s classes. … I got many new methods from my cohort fellowship and from school experience.

What is one thing you learned during your time in Madison that you hope to take back home and be able to implement in your classroom and country?  My teaching in the future will be much more student centered and I will use a lot of seminar style.

Similarly, what do you hope those on the UW–Madison campus and in the Madison community learned from you? I am a very introverted person and not a great sharer. I presented four times (45 minutes each) about my home country and culture to Monona Grove High School students. In seminars of course I participated actively and shared my opinions. But others are much more talkative than me and I was definitely on the receiving end of the line.

What did you know about Wisconsin and the United States before coming to Madison? And how, if at all, have your perceptions changed about this state or the U.S.? I think I knew quite a lot about the USA, but mostly about really big cities. I acknowledged that the USA is a huge country and (its) culture, people, nature, and politics vary very much depending on the geography. I knew nothing about Madison and Wisconsin prior to finding out that it was our destination. I did my research then and found out Wisconsin is a dairy state and has lots of farms. It has a similar climate to Estonia and is rather liberal. I also found out that Madison is very family- and bike-friendly, and has won a lot of awards. My perceptions didn’t really change, but I found many things still surprising. It surprised me how open, polite, and friendly Americans are. I didn’t expect Madison to be so beautiful and I REALLY like the rural areas — there are a lot of family farms. Unfortunately in Estonia little farms died out in the last 20 years and now we only have huge ones with thousands of cows and pigs.

Ausma Sereiviene
Lithuania

Ausma Sereiviene
Sereiviene

Why did you apply for the Fulbright Teaching Excellence and Achievement program? I have been working as a teacher since 2000. I cannot imagine myself doing something else. Despite the fact that teaching children is quite a challenging process, it is also one of the most rewarding ones. I decided to apply for the Fulbright TEA Media Literacy program because I recognized it as a unique chance to develop myself not only as an educator but also as an individual. It is difficult to think of a better opportunity to meet so many skillful, brilliant professionals from all over the world, to gain knowledge, and share experiences.

How would you describe your experience? Participating in the Fulbright TEA program has been an invaluable all-round experience. The University of Wisconsin–Madison is really an impressive place to study. The special social scene and impressive campus made a great impression on me. Lectures we attended were extremely interesting and useful. The hosts’ constant concern for participants made us feel really welcome.

Is there a particular highlight that stands out to you from this program and your time in Madison? The greatest highlight that stands out to me from this program and my time in Madison is the people I have met — hosts, our group members, teachers and students at school, people in the streets. They were so warmhearted, smiling, ready to help.

I was also provided with the opportunity to conduct lessons in the high school and it was the most unforgettable experience. I was so proud of myself!

Is there anything else you’d like to add about your experience? All the time spent with the Fulbright group members working, communicating, learning from each other, having fun times together — it made us very close. Special thanks to our guardian angels Kate McCleary, Christina Eddington, Kelly Laschinger, and Adam Riley for their help, patience, warmth, and smiles. I really hope I will manage to bring at least a bit of this unbelievable atmosphere to my country, my institution, and to my family.

Versaviia Gura
Kyrgyzstan

Versaviia Gura
Gura

Why did you apply for the Fulbright Teaching Excellence and Achievement program? I applied to gain foreign experience in teaching and to share about my culture and country in the USA.

How would you describe your experience? It was a great professional and cultural experience. We took teaching courses at UW–Madison and had field experience at an American high school. In addition, we had a chance to travel to Chicago and Washington, D.C., and participate in different cultural activities.

Is there a particular highlight that stands out to you from this program and your time in Madison? One of the best highlights is watching a female volleyball game in Madison. I was amazed by American sports culture. Also, I enjoyed the field experience at American schools. I had a chance to observe different lessons and conduct sessions about my country there.

What is one thing you learned during your time in Madison that you hope to take back home and be able to implement in your classroom and country? I learned about the importance of building relationships with students. During my school observation, I noticed that teachers do their best to build relationships and rapport with their students. In my home country, I plan to implement different strategies that will help me to communicate with my students more effectively.

Similarly, what do you hope those on the UW–Madison campus and in the Madison community learned from you? I hope that I was able to share my culture with educators and students in Madison. During the field experience, I presented about my country to high school students. They participated actively and asked questions to know more about my place and our education system.

What did you know about Wisconsin and the United States before coming to Madison? And how, if at all, have your perceptions changed about this state or the U.S.? I had information about the education system in the USA before coming to Madison. However, knowing it and experiencing it are two different things. After studying in the USA and collaborating with other teachers from different countries I can conclude that all over the world teaching is about sharing, caring, and facing challenges every day.

Fatma Tekin
Turkey

Fatma Tekin
Tekin

Why did you apply for the Fulbright Teaching Excellence and Achievement Program? I applied to learn about the U.S. education system, to improve my professional development as a teacher, to learn more about the culture and different perspectives, to share teaching experiences and culture with the colleagues from different countries, to collaborate, to have a network for future projects, and to learn about media literacy.

How would you describe your experience? It is much better than I imagined and expected. I feel much more proficient in teaching English and I have learned how to use technology and teach media literacy.

Is there a particular highlight that stands out to you from this program and your time in Madison? I am grateful for all of the teaching and cultural activities during the program. The classes with UW students were very interesting and helped me to understand the way that professors train students of education. I learned a lot about the U.S. education system during my observations in Monona Grove High School. I have many ideas to share with my colleagues.

What is one thing you learned during your time in Madison that you hope to take back home and be able to implement in your classroom and country? I learned a lot about how to conduct a lesson in a student-centered way and I’d like to implement that in my classes and share the methodology with my colleagues.

Similarly, what do you hope those on the UW–Madison campus and in the Madison community learned from you? I hope that they know more about my country, my culture, and the teaching methods I have used in my classes.

What did you know about Wisconsin and the United States before coming to Madison? And how, if at all, have your perceptions changed about this state or the U.S.? I had known that I was going to one of the best states in the U.S. I knew that the U.S. had an advanced education system. I have had the opportunity to learn how they teach, learn, and design their classes. I have learned about how they do it. I thought that people would be distant, but they are really kind and respectful. It is one of the things that has impressed me a lot.

Maria Cristina Mocanu
Romania

Maria Cristina Mocanu
Mocanu

Why did you apply for the Fulbright Teaching Excellence and Achievement Program? I applied for the Fulbright TEA program as I have always dreamed of experiencing the U.S. as a professional. Being immersed in the academic and school environments that I could learn immensely from and then being able to drive change in my own community back home have always been my goals.

How would you describe your experience? The experience was edifying in so many ways, from the academic knowledge I have gained throughout the seminars and lectures I have taken part in, to the thrill of the school practicum experience that provided an opportunity to observe, interact with fellow teachers and teach American students, thus putting that acquired knowledge and my previous experience into action. It was also enriching on a personal level, as I observed different ways in which interaction is fostered in academic and school communities, as well as the ways in which individuals are devoted to professional development — all the while caring for their and the others’ wellbeing in any circumstance.

Is there a particular highlight that stands out to you from this program and your time in Madison? Being invited to participate in the Teaching About Democracy Conference was definitely a highlight of our academic program in UW–Madison. I was exposed to quality input pertaining to the topic from various researchers and professionals in Madison and other universities in the U.S., which made the event both highly instructional and intellectually enjoyable.

What is one thing you learned during your time in Madison that you hope to take back home and be able to implement in your classroom and country? I have learned a lot of things during my time in Madison, most of which I will implement in my classroom and in the teacher training sessions I organize in my country. From teaching approaches and media literacy techniques to classroom interaction protocols and group dynamics management in youth and adult classes, I have gathered knowledge and relevant materials that will reshape and improve my practice. I already have some project ideas that I will carry out with partner teachers in Madison schools, as well as peers in the program. So I will take time to reflect and find all the ways in which this experience will not only benefit my personal and professional development but will also generate long-term impact in my school community.

Similarly, what do you hope those on the UW–Madison campus and in the Madison community learned from you? I am confident that people at UW–Madison as well as those in the community have learned a bit more than they had known about Romania and Europe prior to meeting me, as it happens when one gets to meet people from places that are rather unexplored. I do hope however, that the people I have interacted with have come to understand that being a teacher is an international profession and that we all face similar challenges and are constantly in search of solutions to boost our students’ knowledge and skills. Asking the right questions and highlighting solutions has only helped support those ongoing conversations and I truly hope I was one of the participants that brought those issues to the table that would benefit all participants in the program.

What did you know about Wisconsin and the United States before coming to Madison? And how, if at all, have your perceptions changed about this state or the U.S.? I did not know much about Madison, though I knew quite a lot about the U.S., but indeed some of my perceptions have changed during this experience. On the one hand, I could observe diversity and see how academia strives to make the community embrace it to its fullest. I have always felt that it was the other way around, and that communities drive change in the U.S., whereas while I was here, I felt that it is academia that acknowledges diversity more and thus generates these changes by educating students and staff.

On the other hand, I have experienced a change of perceptions about the U.S. school system, having only been exposed to media descriptions of it prior to this visit, and I now come to see how it actually works and how it fosters student agency in ways that are at times challenging, but definitely well thought through. I appreciate that there is always an individualized approach that leads to students’ deeper understanding and increased sense of responsibility.

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