By Tusannah Krauss
Melanie Ojwang, a recent McDaniel College graduate and a member of Phi Beta Kappa, has received a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship and is currently serving in India.
Introduced in a bill in 1945 by Senator J. William Fulbright, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program is sponsored by the Department of State. Its purpose is to foster international relations through a student exchange program that includes education, culture, and science. Recent graduates and graduate students are eligible to apply for research, teaching, and study grants in 140 countries. The Fulbright English Teaching Assistant program gives those who have received the grant the opportunity to teach English in schools in their chosen country.
Graduating in May 2016 with a double major in English and sociology, and minors in writing and urban and community studies, Ojwang began her nine-month assistantship in July and started teaching in August. In India, her primary responsibility is to work with the students to improve their English speaking skills and conversational English. While she has five classes and teaches mostly 6th-8th graders, Ojwang does have one special 10th grade class and also can act as a substitute teacher for 2nd-9th grade classes at her school.
Originally, Ojwang wanted to apply for the Fulbright Teaching Assistant grant in Kenya, where her family is originally from. However, her Fulbright advisor at McDaniel suggested that she would be more likely to receive a grant if she applied elsewhere, so she started looking into India. “Kenya and India,” Ojwang explains, “have a lot of similarities and have a lot of history (there is actually a pretty notable Indian population in Kenya) … so I was interested in trying to understand that connection more.” Ojwang adds that her world religions class in high school sparked her original interest in India.
During her first months in India, Ojwang started a literary magazine with her students and meets with the editors once a week. This project, she says, has become one of her favorite parts of working there, adding that her students are also excited about the magazine. Ojwang also has an English writing club where she works with more than 70 students. This provides her with a way to bond with her students more informally outside the classroom, which is another of her favorite parts of working as a teaching assistant.
Ojwang’s fellow teaching assistants hold degrees in a variety of fields, and Ojwang explains that while their exact disciplines are not always relevant, the broad liberal arts education she received at McDaniel helped to prepare her for her Fulbright work in India. Because the liberal arts encourage students to study different disciplines, Ojwang now draws on her experience interacting with and learning different subjects to adapt to different experiences in her current position.
The versatility that Ojwang developed through her study of the liberal arts has proved useful while working in an international setting. She explains that being able to juggle differing world views is a skill that is often underappreciated. “To put it briefly,” Ojwang says, “the cornerstone of a liberal arts education is being able to think broadly and to shift and to adapt—that is what has helped the most out of my liberal arts education.”
Tusannah Krauss is a junior at McDaniel College majoring in English and minoring in German. McDaniel College is home to the Delta of Maryland Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.