Fulbright students share language, culture with local school children; translate texts for parents amid pandemic

Author: Erin Blasko

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February 11, 2021

The Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) program at the University of Notre Dame is unique among FLTA programs in that it involves community engagement as well as teaching, exposing educators from around the world to life beyond Notre Dame’s campus while introducing local school children to different peoples and cultures.

Typically, this involves FLTAs offering in-person linguistic and cultural instruction to students at Nuner Fine Arts Academy, a K-5 public school in South Bend, as part of the school’s Cultural Immersion program with Notre Dame.

The FLTAs teach students about their languages, customs and culture, culminating with an end-of-the-year celebration involving the performance of a song, dance, poem or other such work by the students and FLTAs for Nuner teachers and parents.

“When a person travels to a new country and is placed on a campus, many times they end up living in the bubble that is that campus,” said Maggie Mello, assistant director of the Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures, which oversees the FLTA program at Notre Dame. “So if we didn’t have any community engagement work for the FLTAs to do, all they would know about American culture is Notre Dame and the bubble that is Notre Dame.”

But the pandemic has disrupted student travel and limited classroom instruction here and abroad. South Bend schools returned to some in-person instruction in the fall but still limit visitors. Meanwhile, just two FLTAs were on campus in the fall because of travel restrictions. The rest worked remotely from abroad.

Consequently, this year’s class of FLTAs — limited to six, from India, Ecuador, Tunisia, Germany, Kenya and Ireland, because of the pandemic — has turned to virtual tools such as Flipgrid and Google Meet to engage with students remotely.

The results have been positive.

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