3/03/2021 Peter Durantine

Diplomats Abroad Overcome Pandemic Challenges

Two years after she graduated from Franklin & Marshall College with degrees in creative writing and Spanish, Anna Milton ’18 found herself in a job she knew wasn’t right for her.

“I always had a clear path in front of me with my studies and this was the first time in my life where I was lost and uncertain,” she said. “Finally, I realized that the problem was simple: I wasn’t motivated because I wasn’t doing something that I was passionate about and I needed to make a change.”

Milton wrote to Monica Cable, F&M’s director of fellowships and a teaching professor of anthropology, who encouraged and inspired her.

“After two years of feeling like I wasn’t good at my job, a feeling which bled into other things, Dr. Cable’s words reassured me that I did have something to offer this world,” Milton said. 

Cable said, “I work with students and alumni of all types and love to help them find something that inspires and motivates them.”

In six of the last seven years, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program has recognized F&M among its top producing institutions. Despite the waxing and waning of the pandemic’s intensity last fall and early winter, Milton and three other F&M graduates managed to reach their destinations abroad and begin teaching fellowships. These are their stories.

Finding Her Path Again

Not wanting to wait to apply for a Fulbright for the 2021-2022 program, Milton followed Cable’s advice and applied to the Spanish Ministry of Education’s North American English Language and Cultural Assistants Program, which accepted her as language teaching assistant or Auxiliar de conversación.  

  • As a language teaching assistant through the Spanish Ministry of Education’s North American English Language and Cultural Assistants Program, Anna Milton '18 works at a school in Punta Umbria in Andalusia. As a language teaching assistant through the Spanish Ministry of Education’s North American English Language and Cultural Assistants Program, Anna Milton '18 works at a school in Punta Umbria in Andalusia. Image Credit: Anna Milton

“I decided I would apply for the Spanish government program first and revisit the Fulbright later,  Milton said. “In a flurry, I pulled the application together and submitted it in the nick of time – and I’m so glad I did!”

She was placed in a “fantastic school, where the students are kind and curious and my colleagues are extremely supportive. If you’re as passionate about foreign languages as I am, it is incredibly empowering to be able to speak in a foreign language to an entire class of native speakers.”

For Milton, the most difficult aspect of her traveling to Spain “was getting my documents prepared. I wasn’t able to get my visa appointment for a month and my visa didn’t arrive until one week before my departure date! So, I would highly recommend booking your visa appointment as soon as possible, because the consulate had very limited availability and slow processing times due to COVID.” 

Like the other fellows, the pandemic has limited her ability to explore the country and changed her teaching experience. No matter, Milton said, “I’ve still had an amazing time.” She is now in the process of applying to renew her teaching position for another year.

“In the meantime,” she said, “I want to keep developing relationships with my students, learning from them, and taking advantage of all that I can do under the current circumstances.” 

Connecting With Culture Through Language and History

Harmony Zhao ’20 considered herself lucky when she got a direct flight from New York City to Taiwan in late December. Other Fulbright English Teaching Assistants that she met upon her arrival had to take connecting domestic flights before the long journey across the Pacific. 

“One of my main hopes is that during my time in Taiwan, I will be able to make interpersonal connections with my students, coworkers, and local residents,” Zhao said. “In addition, within these next months, I hope to strengthen my Mandarin skills through Chinese classes, as well as learn more about Taiwanese culture and history.”

Zhao and Paige Alexander ’20 experienced many of the same challenges at the start of their fellowships in Taiwan, including 15 days of quarantining in a quarantine hotel and six days in another hotel for a "self-health period," in which they could go outside with a mask, but not to crowded places. But Alexander faced other obstacles in her journey.

  • Fulbrights in Taiwan: Harmony Zhao '20 and Paige Alexander '20 want to connect with their students as well as the residents and culture. Fulbrights in Taiwan: Harmony Zhao '20 and Paige Alexander '20 want to connect with their students as well as the residents and culture. Image Credit: Harmony Zhao

“Getting myself to Taiwan has truly been a journey in every sense of the word,” Alexander wrote in the blog she is keeping. “Considering just the flights, the plan was to fly out of Dallas Dec. 30, transferring in Seattle (2-hour layover), then arriving in Taiwan Jan. 1. However, in typical 2020 fashion, things did not go as planned. A positive COVID case in the Dallas Love Field control tower resulted in an emergency evacuation of the building, causing hundreds of flights to be delayed, including my flight to Seattle.”

With her degrees in art history and Chinese, Alexander said she “fell in love with language as a form of self-expression and cultural understanding during my year abroad studying Mandarin in Beijing.” She became a Fulbright because she “wanted to learn more about language learning from a teaching perspective.” 

As a co-teacher at a local elementary school in Taitung, an area in Taiwan known for its aboriginal culture and prehistoric excavation sites, Zhao, who graduated with a degree in government, wants to connect with her family’s history.

“My mother is from Taiwan and being Taiwanese American is an important part of my identity,” she said. “I am hoping to make deeper connections with my cultural roots while here.”

A Feminist and LGBTQ+ Educator

A teaching assistant in a public secondary school in Cambré, a small town just outside the city of A Coruña in Galicia, Spain, Sarah Silverstein’s travels to the country required attentive planning. 

“It was crucial that I avoided layovers in countries outside of the United States as that would have changed the requirements I needed to meet to enter Spain,” Silverstein ’19 said. “I also needed to obtain a PCR or RMA COVID-19 test with a negative result to present to Border Control. I had 72 natural hours to evidence negative test results to Spanish officials to be granted entry into the country. Once I landed in Madrid, I needed to take a second flight to Galicia, a province in the northwestern region of the country. La Coruña has a small airport and I was very lucky that there was a scheduled flight from Madrid on the day I landed. Otherwise, I would have taken a flight to Santiago la Compostela and commuted to A Coruña from there.” 

  • Two of their English as a second language students greet Sarah Silverstein '19 on their first day at a public secondary school in the Spanish town of Cambré. Two of their English as a second language students greet Sarah Silverstein '19 on their first day at a public secondary school in the Spanish town of Cambré. Image Credit: Sarah Silverstein

With their degree in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, Silverstein applied for a Fulbright because they wanted to “expand my professional skill sets in supporting and working with youth populations. The opportunity to cultivate these skills in an international context that would also allow me to connect to my own familiar heritage and solidify my Spanish-speaking skills was what drew me to specifically apply for a grant in Spain.”

Silverstein’s work involves teaching in bilingual subject courses including visual arts, history, mathematics, music and English classes for 7th through 10th grade. They also teach one class of vocational students who range in age from 17 to 25.

“As a professional, I hope to cultivate and expand my skills as a feminist and LGBTQ+ educator,” she said. “I’m currently organizing a week of feminist and LGBTQ+ program for my school’s students, faculty and the greater local and Fulbright community.”

"If you’re as passionate about foreign languages as I am, it is incredibly empowering to be able to speak in a foreign language to an entire class of native speakers.”
Anna Milton on the Plaza España in Punta Umbria, Spain.
Anna Milton '18
"The opportunity to cultivate these skills in an international context that would also allow me to connect to my own familiar heritage and solidify my Spanish-speaking skills was what drew me to specifically apply for a grant in Spain.”
Sarah Silverstein '19 in Spain on a Fulbright.
Sarah Silverstein '19
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