New Texas A&M University graduate Matthew Petty, an International Studies and Russian double major, has been awarded a coveted Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) Scholarship to teach English in the Central Asian country of Tajikistan.
Petty’s scholarly interests originally were focused on Russia, specifically the Russian culture and language. Even before receiving the grant, Petty was awarded two National Security Language Initiative for Youth Scholarships, which allowed him to work as an English as a Second Language (ESL) volunteer at the American Center and in a local school in Kazan, Russia.
He then returned to Russia, this time to Tomsk on a Benjamin Gilman Study Abroad Scholarship where he split his time once more between an American Center and a Siberian Lyceum, similar to an American high school.
It was while in Tomsk that Petty found his interests beginning to shift from Russia to the countries of Eurasia, or Central Europe. It was also during his stints in Russia that he met Fulbright scholars and the head language officer at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
Petty says these interactions allowed him to realize that his interest in teaching and Soviet culture could lead to a career in linguistics, English language instruction and curriculum development.
“In many ways Matthew has already become an ambassador and connection between U.S. and Central Asian culture,” notes Sumana Datta, executive director of Honors and Undergraduate Research at Texas A&M. “Here in Texas, his friendship with an Uzbek student led Matthew to the realization that rural Texas farming culture has much in common with the cultures of Central Asia.”
Datta adds that, while in Russia, Petty discovered he greatly enjoyed Tajik food and the hospitality of its citizens. “Matthew firmly believes that an in-depth understanding of a language cannot be accomplished without a thorough understanding of the culture and history that has shaped it.”
While teaching English in Russia, Petty would entwine American cultural touchstones such as holiday food, country music, radio broadcasts and sports with language lessons. Petty says he hopes to further develop an understanding of American English and American culture during his time as a Fulbright Scholar in Tajikistan by incorporating movies, cultural discussions and creative writing into his teaching plans.
“After his Fulbright Scholarship and graduation, Matthew intends to pursue a master’s degree in curriculum development with an emphasis on ESL education. This training in addition to his increasing experience in Russian language and Central Asian culture will set Matthew’s feet on the road to a professional career promoting international goodwill and understanding through the sharing of education and culture,” Datta says. “Senator Fulbright would be proud.”
The Fulbright Scholarship program is founded on the philosophy of late Senator J. William Fulbright: that international educational exchange is the most significant and important path to create “leadership, learning and empathy between cultures,” and thereby the hope of global peace.
The U.S. student Fulbright program funds approximately 1,900 grants each year enabling students to travel, study, research and teach in more than 155 countries. Among the core Fulbright Programs is the English Teaching Assistantship, where U.S. students help English teachers in foreign countries while acting as cultural ambassadors. English Teaching Fulbright applications are targeted towards the specific country of the applicant’s choice and cover the Fulbright Scholar’s living expenses in the host country as well as round trip transportation.
Current students interested in applying for the 2016 Fulbright Program should contact Jamaica Pouncy, program coordinator, National Fellowships and Honors Academic Adviser, firstname.lastname@example.org.