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Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistants share their cultures and languages

| Monday, February 25, 2019

Notre Dame is currently hosting 11 Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistants (FLTAs).

The FLTA program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The prestigious program supports teaching assistantships in over 30 languages at hundreds of institutions of higher learning. The program has motives similar to that of study abroad programs — to enrich the lives of all involved through the exchange of cultures and languages.

The program is highly competitive, and FLTA scholars must compete against other top applicants in their countries for a limited number of spots. Graduate student Fabielle Rocha Cruz secured one of these spots from her native country of Brazil and now teaches Portuguese.

“For such a big country, there were only 20 spots available, so I got one, running against the whole [of Brazil],” she said.

During the 2018-2019 school year, 400 scholars were chosen from over 50 countries to teach their languages and share their cultures in universities and communities across the United States.

Graduate student John Prendergast, from Ireland, is currently teaching the Irish language — Gaeilige — in the department of Irish language and literature. Pendergast has previously taught or tutored classes in the language at universities in Montana, Canada and Wales.

“Each FLTA that comes to Notre Dame brings with herself or himself their own history, language and rich interwoven tapestry of culture,” Prendergast said. “Sharing and exposing these facets of their identities with the University is not only rich and rewarding, but a sheer necessity in today’s globalized climate.”

Graduate student Pooja Ranade is from India and is teaching two courses in Hindi this semester. Before participating in the program, she was an Assistant Professor of English at Savitribai Phule Pune University in India.

This year she, along with other Notre Dame FLTAs, has participated in community outreach and teaches Indian culture and Hindi at local elementary schools.

“It is like a mini gateway to the world,” Ranade said.

FLTAs at Notre Dame do not just teach classes, but also take them. Each semester the teaching assistants take three Notre Dame courses, one of which must be with the American studies department. This allows the scholars to learn while they teach.

“We face so many different emotions at once that I feel like there are a million different things I have learned about myself and about the world,” Rocha Cruz said. “It is a globalized version of living, much more than my local community back in Brazil.”

FLTAs also share their home worlds with each other. As part of the networking and professional development enmeshed with the program, all 400 teaching assistants gathered in Washington, D.C. last semester for a mid-year enrichment conference.

“Being amongst so many different voices, intellects and backgrounds was hugely inspiring and reinforced my deep-seated belief that no matter how different people may seem, we’re all bound together by our shared humanity,” Prendergast said.

Notre Dame has one of the largest groups of FLTAs in the country. They work together through interdisciplinary measures to, “foster great moments with our language and culture, in order to nurture the idea of human beings rather than individuals,” Rocha Cruz said.

Rocha Cruz said she found an incredible sense of community at Notre Dame.

“Notre Dame became our home, and so we take care of it the way it should,” she said.

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