International Fulbright fellows reflect on what they learned, what they’ll miss


Erik Ketcherside

In January, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College welcomed 18 visiting educators from around the globe. These guests from eight nations arrived as fellows of the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program for International Teachers. Fulbright DAI brings international primary and secondary school teachers to the U.S. to benefit from professional development and to share their experience and perspective with each other, with teachers and students in local schools, and with the community.

As their four-month stay neared its end, two Fulbright fellows shared what they learned and experienced in Phoenix, Arizona.

Sera Henare

Sera Henare
grew up in Levin on the north island of New Zealand. Her Māori tribes are Muaūpoko, Ngāti Raukawa and Ngāi Tahu. Today, her home is Te Kauwhata, a small village in the Waikato region, where she is head of the department of dance and drama at Te Kauwhata College, a year 7–13 school.

Tell us about your job at TKC.

I use indigenous methodologies and culturally responsive and relational pedagogy. We do a range of drama styles, and students create their own plays as well as a range of choreography, typically with a lens on social justice issues and political activism. I am also the Māori Dean and do pastoral and guidance mentoring with students, their families and our wider community.

How does your teaching in New Zealand compare to your experience visiting a Phoenix school?

The passion and love from the students is very similar. You can see the students entering into the theater space engaged and excited to learn. The plays are different here — not as politically focused — and due to demographics [in New Zealand] and our school’s core values we use a range of different pedagogies that I did not see in North High School. However, I learned so much more than I could have from researching U.S. classrooms from books. Being in the space weekly allowed me to see how the teacher embedded trust into the students, and I realized that I could implement a lot of things around accountability and manners into my own classroom back home that would benefit my students immensely. American manners are lovely.

What have you enjoyed most about your visit?

Things have been great for different reasons. If I think professionally, it would be when I gave a lecture on activism in the classroom to the cohort of ASU master’s degree students for the Youth and Community Activism for Social Justice program.

If I think professionally in terms of my performing background, it would be related to being the assistant director of the biggest Native American play to ever be put on in the world. [“Native Nation” with Cornerstone Theater Company from Los Angeles.]

If I think of cultural experiences, it would be related to when I danced at two coming-of-age ceremonies on the San Carlos Apache reservation and met with the medicine man.

If I think experience-wise, it would be having access to in-depth critical learning and world-class professors at an innovative and collaborative university that I loved.

If I feel with my heart, it would be related to friendships that will continue to exist across continents, oceans and years of not physically seeing one another. This is the remarkable thing about Fulbright, that it engaged my heart more than my head (even after countless hours of research). My heart will be forever grateful and enriched from this opportunity and I will treasure these lifelong friendships forever.

What have you missed most about home during your stay?

Delicious, organic New Zealand food. Teaching in my classroom. Talking to my students who I miss dearly. Being able to walk everywhere — Phoenix is really spread out, and hot.

What will you remember most about the time you spent here?

That American culture is overly polite. I did not realize this before coming here. I enjoy being in a society where it is customary to be so polite. Sugar is in everything. Everything is bigger in America — I have never managed to finish a meal.

What do you hope the students and teachers you worked with here will remember about your visit?

I hope they remember to dream big! Although I think they will continue to discuss my accent and the fact that they often thought I was not speaking English.

Ana Misuari

Ana Misuari
lives in the island province of Basilan in Mindanao, the Philippines. She teaches high school English, including communication (writing and speaking in English, grade 11), Anglo-American literature (grade 9) and world literature (grade 10).

Compare how your subjects are taught in the Philippines and in the U.S.

The way subjects are taught here are more student-centered rather than teacher-centered. Students are given the utmost consideration. Teachers look into their needs. Aside from that, students are given enough facilities such as laptops and reading materials and a classroom environment that is flexible and conducive for students to learn. In the Philippines — especially in my school — because there is a lack of resources, teachers resort to a teacher-centered method for lessons.

What have you enjoyed most about your visit?

The field experience at North High School. One of the experiences I had was shadowing a student. I was able to attend all her classes in one day. Her classes are from one building to another building and I saw how classes in different subjects were done. Also, I was able to participate and act as a student in her class, which was a completely new experience.

Another thing I enjoyed was going around Arizona. Arizona has a lot to offer. It has amazing places to visit, and if you want to change your environment from hot to cold, it is possible. Such a great experience!

What have you missed most about home during your stay here?

Filipino food. And also eating together at 3 a.m. during Ramadan.

What are some things you’ll remember most about your visit?

I certainly will miss my friendship family, Amanda [Parks] and Mike, and their dog, Miller. I spent time with them watching ball games and going around Arizona. Watching ball games is so American for me! I will also miss waking up very early to go to the high school in very, very cold weather. Lastly, I will miss the Orbit rides! Yey!

What do you hope the students and teachers you worked with learned from you?

I hope they were able to learn about the educational situation in the Philippines. They have seen the difference between the Filipino classroom and the American classroom; that the Filipino learners are struggling to learn due to a dearth of resources and materials.

I also hope that they learned one of the value systems of the Filipinos, which is resilience — the ability to stand strong after disaster. The Philippines is a Third World country that has a high rate of poverty, but despite that, Filipinos stay positive and keep fighting.

Sera and Ana also shared what the Fulbright DAI program has meant to them.

Sera: The Fulbright program is held in high esteem internationally. Through this phenomenal opportunity I have been able to access learning and facilities that I could not have dreamt of. The time over here has meant I have connected with a range of indigenous and native scholars who have revitalized my vision and allowed me to make lifelong connections. During my time in the U.S. my country suffered such trauma and pain through an act of severe terror. Being away from home was really tough, and it made the vision of Senator William Fulbright really come alive for me. Mutual understanding is key to a lot of the issues we all face in the world and I feel truly honored to be able to take all the learning and experience back to my tribe, students and country. I based my inquiry around something Senator Fulbright said: “The essence of intercultural education is the acquisition of empathy; the ability to see the world as others see it, and to allow for the possibility that others may see something we have failed to see, or may see it more accurately.”

Ana: Fulbright DAI is regarded as one of the most prestigious programs in the Philippines, joined by individuals who have notable passion for everything they do. The Fulbright program has been so helpful to me in molding myself as a professional. I was able to experience various things that are all new and unique to me. Most importantly, I was able to learn American culture through immersion and engagements.

Fulbright DAI at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College is one of many initiatives of the Center for Advanced Studies in Global Education.