Back in February, I had exactly three dates marked for the entirety of my grant period: Orientation, my eventual flight home, and the Mid-Year Enhancement Seminar.
As I understand it, the Mid-Year Enhancement Seminar is a staple of Fulbright grants around the world: a chance to reconvene with the other Fulbrighters in your country, share experiences, and re-orient yourself for the second half of your grant. In addition, Mid-Year tends to be held in a major city, and because all travel and lodging is paid for by Fulbright, it also feels like a bonus vacation.
This year’s Seminar was held in Salvador—a northeast port city that served as Brazil’s colonial capital during the height of the slave trade. It’s now the fourth most populous city in Brazil, as well as a center of Afro-Brazilian culture. Its historical center, Pelourinho (named for the pillories it once used to house), is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Mid-Year’s programming ran from Monday through Thursday, covering presentations and workshops as well as a tour and some free time to explore the city. Like during Orientation, however, what I appreciated most was the chance to talk with other Fulbrighters. But I felt that opportunity was even more valuable this time, because we all had different experiences to share as well as the context necessary to really learn from one another.
And we had a lot of different experiences. There are Fulbrighters working at private and public universities. Some only teach classes; others are mostly working outside the classroom. The oversight and desires of host professors and institutions vary wildly. Meanwhile, Fulbrighters are living in apartments and houses and hostels in climates ranging from temperate to equatorial. Some are also researching with Brazilian academics, some are training with Brazilian athletes, and some are starting their own clubs to bring their own passions to Brazilians.
Even the challenges we face are different. Some Fulbrighters recounted how, on the first day of class, the students at their university declared they were proud of their non-native accents and that other non-native speakers should be similarly unashamed. By contrast, my students (who are mainly English teachers) are just trying to figure out how to get their own students to pay attention—they don’t necessarily have the luxury of worrying about how to resolve the tension in perpetuating a language whose prevalence is wrapped up in a history of conquest and colonialism.
Hearing these experiences helped me realize what I want the second half of my grant period to look like. I’m limited by my circumstances—the fact that the majority of my students work during the day and then commute in means that any extracurricular events just aren’t really going to work—but by seeing what others have done, I also realized what it might be possible for me to do.
I don’t want to speak for everyone else, but I know I left Mid-Year feeling rejuvenated and ready to face the upcoming semester. Mid-Year made me feel more confident in my ability to shape my experiences, which included giving me some concrete ideas for how to address those feelings that I’m not doing enough. I don’t know if my efforts will necessarily amount to anything, but the motivation to try goes a long way.
Five months ago, we all started with the same three dates on our calendars. We arrived at Orientation together, we attended Mid-Year together, and our grants will all end together. But besides that, it continues to be up to us to fill in the rest.