QuiAnne’ Holmes, 2016 University Scholars Program graduate, and Fulbright recipient in Colombia, South America.
“I believe attending Scholars Forum events through the early years of my undergraduate career pushed me to explore more which encouraged me to embark on my first study abroad opportunity.”
In this edition of Spotlight on our Students, we will hear from University Scholars graduate and 2016 Fulbright Scholarship recipient, QuiAnne’ Holmes about her experiences teaching English in Colombia, what she did to be competitive for the Fulbright Scholarship, and how her time in the University Scholars Program impacted her.
USP: QuiAnne’, first of all, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions! I know you’ve got your hands full, and that your time in Colombia is soon coming to an end. A lot of people reading this might not fully understand what an honor the Fulbright Program is, so could you start off by telling us a little more about it?
QH: The Fulbright Program is a scholarship that was created by Senator J. William Fulbright in 1946 to promote intercultural exchanges between the United States and other countries. The program is also sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Within Fulbright, there are four subcategories that award grantees: US Scholars, Visiting Scholars, US Institutions, and other programs. These subcategories provide many opportunities for recipients all over the world to have the opportunity to participate in global exchange through educational and research ventures. Personally, I applied for the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant position which is a ten-month commitment to teaching English, specifically in Colombia. To qualify for the position, there is an application process including several essays and you also have to describe a social project that you will conduct along with your teaching assignment. In addition, you should be proficient in the language of the host country to which you are applying. Finally, you have to have an upstanding GPA, recommendations, great interviewing skills, and previous study abroad experience. I believe that I qualified for the scholarship because I was involved in many scholarly and community-based societies, studied abroad in Peru, and majored in Spanish Language and Literature and Psychology. These experiences supported my application and my desire to make such a strong commitment to global exchange.
USP: So you worked with English Language Education as a part of your Fulbright experience. What was the main focus of your work?
QH: The focus of my work was incorporating new strategies into the classroom. I have had the opportunity to work on the university level so my audience has been my peers. From my experiences, in my undergraduate career, I knew that I could bring that perspective when considering the value of my lessons and activities. Along with this, I tried to build the respect of the students by establishing a common ground between our needs. Lastly, I created a social project that would provide a safe space for the students to practice their English outside the classroom.
USP: That sounds super cool! What would you say was the most memorable experience you had while in Colombia?
QH: The most memorable experience that I had in Colombia was my social project. I created an English Conversation Club called SWEET (Students Who Exercise English Together) that allowed students to come practice their English with a native speaker. This club was hosted during lunch time so students could come and discuss different topics pertaining to the United States. It was memorable because it presented me with much success and many challenges. When I created this club I never knew what would be the result in attendance or effect. I only knew that students wanted an opportunity to practice their English in a non-judgmental space and to have fun while doing so. Little did I know I would gain several friends and learn more about my identity in the process. I will be forever grateful for the students and despite the challenges that came with it I would never change the experience for the world.
USP: It sounds like that made quite an impact on you and the students. What would you say was the most challenging aspect of living and working in Colombia?
QH: I would say the relaxed culture. In the United States, typically, things are fast paced; everyone arrives at work on time, schedules are exact, and things are just very rigid and organized. I learned very quickly that this would never be the case in Colombia. At first, it was hard to understand and often times I would take it personally; however, I learned that time is something that is not necessarily followed but rather a guide to complete tasks. I also had to learn that everyone doesn’t have such rigid “rules” for their lives. This could be a good and bad thing depending on who you talk to but I grew to appreciate being more carefree and patient with where things take me. In all, I will not say that the challenge still doesn’t affect me but I can say that I no longer let it affect me emotionally.
USP: That seems like a lesson we could all learn, to take our time and be patient with one another. How would you say your time in the University Scholars Program prepared you for the Fulbright experience?
QH: The University Scholars Program strives to promote cultural understanding through events and study abroad opportunities. I believe attending Scholars Forum events through the early years of my undergraduate career pushed me to want to explore more, which encouraged me to embark on my first study abroad opportunity through the NC State Study Abroad Program. Finally, I think the constant encouragement to participate in safe spaces prepared me for living abroad because I used this philosophy inside and outside of the classroom. I remember that I am a cultural ambassador for the United States and should be creating safe spaces for people to discuss their opinions with me, as a teacher and as a person.
USP: So, to take that a step further, what would you say is an important lesson you learned about yourself from this experience?
QH: The most important lesson that I learned about myself is that I can have many rules, preferences, and desires but it doesn’t mean that the environment that I am in will adhere to these things. Therefore, I should be ready for anything and open to challenges. I am a very serious and reserved person and finally, someone just said, “If you don’t relax, you won’t be able to enjoy your experience completely.” Once, I relaxed and realized I should take things one step at a time; my anxiety and my emotional health quickly improved. I am very grateful for this advice because I do not think I would have appreciated the experience as much as I do now if I hadn’t.
USP: I think it’s so important for our students in particular to learn this lesson – flexibility and patience. If there are students reading this that think they’d like to have a similar experience, what can they do to prepare for it?
QH: Well, to the extent possible have a study abroad experience. This is a ten-month commitment and it can be hard on your mental, physical, and emotional health. You should also be ready to step outside of your comfort zone. If you are not accustomed to change, this is not the opportunity for you. Along with this, every day will bring something new. Some things will be large and life changing and others will be small nuisances that won’t make much of a difference, but you still have to be prepared for them. You also need to have a support system because you will want to share your experiences, good or bad, with someone. You cannot and should not keep anything bottled up on the inside. Spend time with your family and friends before you leave! I cannot stress this enough. Lastly, remember you are not a hero. You are a normal human being who has a job to do. Don’t ever lose sight of that. Build relationships with your colleagues, your students, and others. Don’t wear your identity on your sleeve; it is very easy to do so and even a privilege. Remember, privilege only gets you a seat at the table but it doesn’t mean that other people want to be at the table with you.
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