How to choose a freelance language teacher

In this post, I am outlining the aspects you might want to pay attention to when looking for a freelance language teacher.

This is the time of year when many of you might be considering hiring language teachers for yourself or your children. It makes a lot of sense to cut out the middleman (a language school) and hire a freelance or a self-employed teacher directly. But if you decide to do that, you might find yourself browsing through tens of profiles a day and still unable to make a choice. In this post, I want to outline several aspects you might want to pay attention to when looking for a freelance language teacher.

Degree

A degree in teaching is not a 100% guarantee of good quality teaching, but it definitely helps. People who get a degree in language teaching do not only study the language in-depth, they also study teaching principles and methods. It is, of course, possible but less likely that a person with a degree in engineering will make a great language teacher. They might be a proficient or a native language speaker, but they simply might not know how to help you learn the language.

Experience

The more, the better. However, the experience must be relevant. The teacher who has worked in state schools for 10 years might not be the best match for a project manager who wants to be able to make presentations or negotiate in a foreign language. And vice a versa. The person might be an excellent teacher in their sphere, but might not be able to meet your needs.

Growth and development

This aspect boils down to questions like,

  • Has the teacher done anything related to language learning or teaching since they graduated?
  • Have they attended any teacher development courses?
  • Have they taken any international tests? When? What scores did they get?
  • Have they taken part in any teaching contests, projects, programs?

The more “yes” you get, the better.

Social media

It sounds like a cliché but social media profiles speak volumes. Do check them out. I can’t give any guidelines as to what constitutes an appropriate profile, so you have to go with your gut. Personally, I wouldn’t hire a teacher whose profile had countless shares of cooking recipes and nothing related to languages or teaching.

More

This aspect boils down to questions like,

  • Does the teacher produce anything related to teaching or languages (in any form)?
  • Does the teacher create their own handouts or exercises?
  • Does the teacher use videos, podcasts, newspapers articles to supplement the material in the book?
  • Does the teacher make videos? Does the teacher write a blog?

If the teacher doesn’t do any of the things above, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are a bad teacher. But if I was going to hire a language teacher, I would definitely look for one who does and wants to do more than just follow the coursebook.

Finally, after you’ve done your research, call, message or meet the teacher. The way the person interacts with you will help you make the final decision. 

I teach. That’s it from me.

Disclaimer 1. None of the aspects above guarantees anything, but some of them combined will give you an idea of what the teacher is like. 
Disclaimer 2. Sometimes, in rare cases, even if the teacher’s profile is perfect, things might not work out anyway. Because of a personality mismatch, because of the position of the stars or just because.

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Fulbright FLTA memories. Part 2. Translating Dovlatov back into Russian with my American students.

In this post, I am talking about using Dovlatov’s book to teach my American students.

What I want to share in this post was probably my favorite part of my teaching Russian as a foreign language experience, which was teaching language with the help of literature (or is it literature with the help of language?).

In the second semester, the Russian teacher at UNH, Daria Kirjanov, taught a course called, “Stories of Displaced Lives: Russian and Eastern European Memoirs of Exile.” As part of this course, the students of Russian were supposed to attend a language lab class, the purpose of which was reading some of the course materials in the original. I got my own language lab class with three beginner level students. The beauty part was I didn’t have a rigid program to follow and had the freedom to create my own materials.

Talking about Dovlatov in this kind of course was absolutely inevitable. But his works came later in the semester.

What we started from was Silver Age poetry. Since my students had only been learning Russian for 5 months, we started from the easiest and most obvious thing to do – reading and translating the poetry into English.

It went well, but at some point I got this nagging feeling that “variety is the spice of life.” I needed and wanted to vary my tasks. I thought long and hard. When we got to Dovlatov, it hit me, “Why don’t we reverse what we’ve been doing and translate literature from English back into Russian?”

I decided to work with Dovlatov’s “The Suitcase.” Firstly, because it suits the topic perfectly; secondly, because I found it online in both English and Russian; thirdly, because it is written in the past tense.

The past tense might be the single simple aspect of the overall complicated Russian grammar. There is only one past tense and all you have to do is change the ending of the infinitive. For example, жить – жил, работать – работал, ответить – ответил (masculine)It’s beautifully straightforward.

We only worked with the foreword as we didn’t have time for the whole piece. I cherry picked the portions I knew the students could handle and provided a glossary of the words they didn’t know. We then compared their translations with the original. You will find an example below and you are very welcome to give translating Dovlatov a shot too. (I have included the beginning to give you some context.)

Чемодан. The suitcase.
Foreword

So this bitch at OVIR says to me, “Everyone who leaves is allowed three suitcases. That’s the quota. A special regulation of the ministry.”
No point in arguing. But of course I argued. “Only three suitcases? What am I supposed to do with all my things?”
“Like what?”
“Like my collection of race cars.”
“Sell them,” the clerk said, without lifting her head.
Then, knitting her brows slightly, she added, “If you’re dissatisfied with something, write a complaint.”
“I’m satisfied,” I said.
After prison, everything satisfied me.
“Well, then, don’t make trouble…”
A week later I was packing. As it turned out, I needed just a single suitcase.
I almost wept with self-pity. After all, I was thirty-six years old. Had worked eighteen of them. I earned money, bought things with it. I owned a certain amount, it seemed to me. And still I only needed one suitcase – and of rather modest dimensions at that. Was I poor, then? How had that happened?
Books? Well, basically, I had banned books, which were not allowed through customs anyway. I had to give them out to my friends, along with my so-called archives.
Manuscripts? I had clandestinely sent them to the West a long time before.
Furniture? I had taken my desk to the second-hand store. The chairs were taken by the artist Chegin, who had been making do with crates. The rest I threw out.
And so I left the Soviet Union with one suitcase. It was plywood, covered with fabric and, had chrome reinforcements at the corners. The lock didn’t work; I had to wind clothes line around it.
Once I had taken it to Pioneer camp. It said in ink on the lid: “Junior group. Seryozha Dovlatov.” Next to it someone had amiably scratched: “Shithead”. The fabric was torn in several places. Inside, the lid was plastered with photographs: Rocky Marciano, Louis Armstrong, Joseph Brodsky, Gina Lollobrigida in a transparent outfit. The customs agent tried to tear Lollobrigida off with his nails. He succeeded only in scratching her. (1) But he didn’t touch Brodsky. He merely asked, “Who’s that?” I said he was a distant relative…
On May 16 I found myself in Italy. I stayed in the Hotel Dina in Rome. I shoved the suitcase under the bed.
I soon received fees from Russian journals. I bought blue sandals, flannel slacks and four linen shirts. I never opened the suitcase.
(2) Three months later I moved to the United States, to New York. First, I lived in the Hotel Rio. Then we stayed with friends in Flushing. Finally, I rented an apartment in a decent neighborhood. I put the suitcase in the back of the closet. I never undid the clothes line.

 

Glossary
(1)
Бродский, m., adj., Accusative, animate, the ending is –ого.
to touch = тронуть
to ask = спросить
merely = всего лишь
to reply = ответить
distant relative = дальний родственник
(2)
later = через (is written at the beginning of the sentence)
to move = перебраться
with friends = у друзей
finally = наконец
decent = приличный
to put (in a vertical position) = поставить
in the back = в дальний угол
The original
(1)
А Бродского не тронул. Всего лишь спросил — кто это? Я ответил, что дальний родственник…
(2)    

Через три месяца перебрался в Соединенные Штаты. В Нью-Йорк. Сначала жил в отеле “Рио”. Затем у друзей во Флашинге. Наконец, снял квартиру в приличном районе. Чемодан поставил в дальний угол стенного шкафа.


 

The students did a great job. Curiously, they made two types mistakes: writing everything in direct word order (subject+verb) and including every single pronoun in the sentence. For example, they wrote “Он не тронул Бродского.” for “А Бродского не тронул.” (At this point, I would like to remind you that these students had only started learning the language 5 months before.)

Thanks to this perfect combination of Daria’s course on immigrant writers, “The Suitcase” and the simplicity of the past tense in Russian, my beginner students could have a go at translating Dovlatov. How cool is that?! 

Special thanks:
I would like to thank Daria Kirjanov for giving me the language lab class and the freedom to teach it the way I saw fit.
I would also like to thank Alma Classics for the foreword in English and multiple resources for the whole book in Russian.  
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Fulbright FLTA memories. Part 1. Teaching Russian from scratch: my proudest achievement.

In this post, I am sharing my experience of teaching Russian as a foreign language.

I am a teacher of English as a foreign language, but last year, thanks to the Fulbright FLTA program, I got an incredible opportunity to teach Russian as a foreign language at the University of New Haven (CT, USA). In this post, I want to share a tiny portion of this experience.

When you win a Fulbright FLTA grant, you don’t get to choose your host institution or your duties there. The only thing you can do is accept or decline the grant offer (but why on earth would you do that?). I got an offer from the University of New Haven and happily accepted. According to my terms of appointment, I was going to be a primary teacher for beginner level students.

Truth be told, teaching beginners was the last thing I wanted to do. In my defense, I just didn’t know how rewarding it would be because I had never taught beginners in my entire life. Anyway, I went through with it and I don’t regret it for a minute.

When I say beginners, I mean absolute beginners – people who literally knew zero Russian. In the first semester, we worked on the basics, like the Cyrillic alphabet, pronunciation, noun cases and verb conjugation. The second semester was when I started doing what I enjoy most – develop my students’ speaking skills.

 We actually started working on speaking several weeks into the semester, but speaking basically went like this, “What is it? – It’s a cat.” or “Where do you live? – I live in West Haven.” These and similar questions were introduced in the course book we followed. Answering these questions, while admittedly necessary, wasn’t particularly exciting because the answers were so obvious and predictable. My aim was to engage the students in more natural, relevant, and meaningful conversations. In pursuing this aim, I discovered that Russian is an incredibly difficult language to learn. Just kidding. … I discovered that I could get by with very little grammar or vocabulary. And I didn’t need a lot of time either. My class started at 8 am. The time slot between 7:55 and 8:05 was enough.

Achieving my aim was simple. All I did was ask questions, consistently and relentlessly, five minutes before and after the beginning of every single class. That’s it. No more, no less.

We started from “Как дела?” (How are you?) which, fortunately, is a very simple question in Russian. The students already knew two ways to answer this question, “Хорошо.” (Good / Fine.) and “Отлично.” (Excellent.) because I had been using these words to comment on their performance since the very beginning of the school year.

Little by little, I added more questions and answers basing them on the material covered in the book but making them more relevant. For example, the book introduced the conjugation of “хотеть” (to want) and used such examples as “I want to study Russian. / I want to live in Moscow.” I thought to myself, “How relevant are these sentences if they are already studying Russian and have never been to Moscow?” and added the following to my morning QA session, “Do you want to sleep?” – “Yes, I want to sleep,” which sounds very relevant in the morning, doesn’t it?

As a result, my students could have a conversation that went something like this:

 1 Some phrases might sound awkward in English because I am giving direct translation. 
2 Some phrases might look complicated in English but aren’t in Russian due to differences in grammar. 

If you think about it, this is a conversation you might actually have with your friend at the beginning of the day. I went through these questions at the beginning of every class, so the students got used to them and answered effortlessly. And the beauty part is the students enjoyed the freedom to vary their answers depending on the circumstances of the day, which made the conversations truly meaningful.

I consider these short conversations to be my proudest achievement in teaching Russian in one year. Helping students get there from scratch gave me the satisfaction that advanced groups don’t.

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The phone that transformed the way I work

In this post, I am giving insights into how Blackberry PRIV has transformed the way I work.

I used to be very old-school. I used to own phones that could only make calls and send messages. I used to think that smartphones were just toys. That was until January 2017, when I got a new phone – a smartphone, which has completely transformed the way I work. Please give it up for my current phone – BlackBerry PRIV!

What has changed?

First and foremost, PRIV comes with a physical keyboard, thanks to which I have started writing consistently. The physical keyboard is so convenient that I can easily type long texts. I have never written so much in my entire life, even though I have a blog which dates back to May 2013. Writing used to to require a lot of discipline because I had to sit in front of the computer and focus. I now enjoy the freedom of writing in any place and at any time – on the metro (sitting at off-peak times or standing in the rush hour), at an airport (killing time waiting for my flight), on the plane (when there is absolutely nothing to do without internet connection), you name it.

Second, PRIV comes with Android OS, which means that all Google services are pre-installed and ready to use. As a result, I have started writing on Google Docs, which means everything I write on my phone is available on all my other devices and vice versa. Additionally, I collaborate with students on their writing on Google Docs. More often than not, I do it on my phone. I encourage my students to write a lot and they do. Collaborating with them on Google Docs saves me masses of time.

Third, PRIV and Google Docs allow me to create beautifully-formatted documents with portions of texts underlined, put in italics, highlighted, or changed in any way I need. Text formatting is of paramount importance for me because I create my own handouts for class on a regular basis. Let me give you an example of how I do it on my new phone. Say, I have a Ted talk in mind for my students. On the way to the office, I go to ted.com, copy the script, paste it into a Google Doc, type several listening-for-gist questions at the beginning, create a gap-fill exercise, type a wordlist, type several discussion questions at the end, and by the time I get to the office, I have a handout that is completely ready to be printed out.

Last but not least, PRIV is helping me to go paperless. I used to print out a ‘teacher’s copy’ of every handout I was using (a copy with all the answers, for my own use). I don’t any more. Most of ‘teacher’s copies’ are on my phone and I don’t have to carry around or store piles of paper.

I didn’t expect a smartphone to revolutionize the way I work. But there is no denying that it did. I absolutely love my Blackberry PRIV. It allows me to do more and be more.

 

Photos by Irina Lutsenko

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I try walking in my student’s shoes and write an IELTS essay

In this post, I am sharing an essay I wrote in IELTS format. I make my students write a lot of essays, but I myself don’t often practice what I preach. So I decided to walk in my student’s shoes and wrote an essay I gave him for homework.

I have a question to all the teachers out there – how often do you write essays in English? I mean essays in IELTS / TOEFL / GRE or any similar format. (Please message me – I’d love some kind of statistics). I have to confess, I don’t*. But I make my students write a lot. Which might be a little unfair, don’t you think?

That’s what I thought when I was on a bus from my home town back to St Petersburg yesterday (a 4-hour journey). I had nothing to do, so my mind began to wander until suddenly it stumbled upon the essay topic I gave my student on Thursday.

We were discussing the article called Phoney war (New Scientist, 25 January 2017). The articles deals with the questions of end-to-end encryption and it’s importance in the ‘privacy of communications vs. public security’ debate. As a follow-up task, I came up with an essay topic for my student (a very diligent, Advanced level student who is going to take IELTS in the future).

Anyway, my mind stumbled upon this topic and started working frantically. Since I had nothing to do on the bus, not only did I decide to write this essay, I actually went through with it. The result is just a couple of lines below.

The essay is in ‘as is’ condition, which means I haven’t edited it since I got off the bus. Neither did I use dictionaries, Google or other resource outside my brain when writing it. Honestly.

“Some people believe everybody must be granted total privacy of online communications by default, while others argue that such privacy undermines public security and authorities should therefore be able to get access to private data. Discuss both these views and give your own opinion.”

It is commonly believed that people must have the right to unlimited privacy of communications. However, it can also be argued that exercising this right can lead to detrimental consequences in terms of public safety and officials must therefore be granted access to all online communications. In this essay, I shall discuss both these views and give my own opinion.

On the one hand, expectation of privacy is intrinsic to different spheres of people’s life, including online communication. Whenever people send private messages, they expect them to be read by the recipient only. Private messages are a safe environment, in which people feel free to express the views that they might not feel comfortable expressing publicly for reasons such as fear of discrimination or political oppression. If people do not resort to means of public communication, they must be granted the right to keep their communications secret.

On the other hand, authorities take a dim view of not being able to read private communications as it prevents them from ensuring public safety. The reasoning behind this view is compelling since end-to-end encrypted messages open up a range of opportunities for terrorists to plan and execute terrorist attacks. Having access to messages of terrorists or crime suspects would enable law enforcement to prevent crime and save people’s lives. Privacy can therefore be sacrificed for the sake of security.

To conclude, both approaches in the ‘privacy versus security’ debate are valid. While granting the authorities keys to open any communications would violate people’s rights, not doing so might result in deaths of innocent people. In my opinion, the decision must be made on a case-by-case basis, with the responsibility of evaluating each case lying with the court.

286 words

Disclaimer: This essay was written as a response to a task and does not fully represent my personal opinion.

I now have two questions:

How did I do?

How often do you think teachers should write essays?

*In my defense, I write a blog in English and I actually wrote a lot of essays one week before each IELTS / TOEFL test I took.

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What I do on Sunday mornings or Dasha’s Speaking Club

In this post, I am talking about how I prevent my speaking skills from going rusty.

With language, it’s use it or lose it. Language skills, speaking in particular, go rusty in a flash. Teachers are not an exception here; let’s face it, teachers’ speaking skills deteriorate too (for a variety reasons that I won’t go into now). Sitting around and complaining is a tempting, but counterproductive approach to solving this problem. In this post, I am going to talk about the solution my colleague and I came up with to stop our speaking skills from going rusty.

… It all started on a gloomy, hopeless, rainy November afternoon from Dasha’s message. The message went like this, “How about starting our very own speaking club? We could meet once a week (Skype, of course) and just talk about stuff. What do you say?” I jumped in excitement and immediately replied, “I’m in!” We discussed the possible time and scheduled a session for Sunday 10 am.

You are now probably wondering who the hell Dasha is. Dasha, officially known as Daria Maslovskaya, is this top-notch English teacher, author of the blog and website Anglofeel. We went to university together.

So, the speaking club…

Being experienced teachers, we knew full well that we needed a foundation and ‘just speaking’ wasn’t going to work. We went for Ted talks as these are topical and can easily spark lengthy discussions. Other materials will work too. (We are trying New Scientist today. We’ll see how that goes.)

We have gradually arrived at the following procedure, which has proven effective.

First, 2-3 days before the session, we give each other links to talks we find thought-provoking or insightful. As we watch the talks, we take notes of useful vocabulary or ideas we want to discuss. We then put our notes in a collaborative online doc. (I try to create topic word lists, which I write by hand first. I’m going to let you take a peek at one at the end of the post). As we discuss the talks, we do our best to use the words from our word lists. Vocabulary use is pretty much inevitable if you have the words right in front of your eyes and try to use them really hard. Each session lasts 1,5 hours, which is long enough to discuss 2 talks. At first, it was only two of us, Dasha and I, but we are occasionally joined by other people we went to university with.

And that’s it. It’s that simple. Granted, what I am describing now sounds old-school and unoriginal. But I’ll let you in on a little secret – the simplest methods that you put a lot of effort into work better than complicated methods that involve zero effort from you.

The initial purpose of the Speaking Club was to keep up our English level. Surprisingly, it turned into something more. It became a kind of support group. We discuss how to set and achieve goals, be more productive, develop new habits and things like that. We didn’t intend to at first, but these are the topics Ted talks deal with, we have no choice :). More importantly, we support each other in doing those things and hold each other to our intentions.

Can you do it, too? Absolutely! Contact your English-speaking friends, set the time (be strong, no cancellations!), decide on the resources and Godspeed!

Here is what my notes look like. This word list is based on the talk by Steven Johnson “Where good ideas come from” and deals with the topic of ideas.

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All my applications or the value of failure

In this post, I am looking at my successes and failures. The failures have taught me valuable lessons though, which I am also sharing.

If you are one of my students, you probably have heard me say, “There are lot of grants and competitions out there. Apply for everything you see. Apply, apply, apply.”  Well, do I practice what I preach?

In this post, I want you to take a look at my applications/ submissions / competitions and analyze the success to failure ratio. I also want to tell you what I learned from my failures. I certainly hope that my story serves as an inspiration to persist and try, try, try again.

Here is my application history over the last years:

2013 IELTS Morgan Terry Memorial Scholarship – failed

2014 Communicative Assessment course by British Council – failed

2014 Russian Language Assistant program in the UK – failed

2014 Cambridge English Teacher Scholarship – failed

2014 IELTS Morgan Terry Memorial Scholarship – failed

2014 Essay Contest “Inspiring Teachers” – partly succeeded (Didn’t win, but was shortlisted as a finalist, got a certificate, a book, and my essay was published in a serous journal.)

2015 Guest blog post submission on OUP ELT Global Blog – succeeded (My post was published.)

2015 Essay Contest “My Inspiring Summer” – failed

2014-2015 Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant program – succeeded!

Here is what learned from my failures:

Lesson 1: Creating a relevant, powerful, and unique piece of writing takes me 2-4 weeks. The next time I decide to apply for something important, I will start well in advance.

Lesson 2: Producing a linguistically excellent, but purely informational 500-word essay takes me 1-2 hours. I can write fast in order to meet a deadline. What I write fast might have little value. 

Lesson 3: The more applications I write, the easier it is for me to write them. Having written a lot of applications in the sphere of teaching, I have a lot of ready-to-use ideas, which makes writing each new application easier. (That said, I don’t write the same thing in all my applications. But before I write each new one, I do a lot of brainstorming, which is where I have all my ideas from.)

Lesson 4: Failing at one thing doesn’t mean failing at all things. Failing one time doesn’t mean failing all the time. Having failed so often, I am not discouraged by the possibility of failure. In the end, I have not only failed, I have succeeded as well.

Lesson 5: Failure is a sign that I didn’t do my utmost or my utmost is not what the world needs. So I learned and am still learning not to focus on myself and the way I see the world. I learned and am still learning to be open to new ideas, to explore, to move forward, to look at other people’s points of view, to look at my points of views from a different angle. I learned and am still learning to think outside the box.

 

When I won the Fulbright grant, my friends and students supported me, saying “This is a remarkable achievement! You have been selected out of hundreds of participants!” It’s true. Participating in Fulbright FLTA program really is a remarkable achievement and my proudest success story. But behind this success story, there are numerous failures that people don’t know about. What these failures have taught me is not to give up, but to try, try, try again.

I am going to persist and keep applying, submitting, competing. So should you. Don’t give up, but apply, apply, apply!

P.S. Here is a quote about success and failure I like by Michael Jordan. I have no connection to basketball whatsoever, by the way, I just like the quote =).

FailureQuoteMJordan

http://quotesgram.com/img/michael-jordan-famous-failure-quotes/9437344/ 

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The benefits of being a Fulbrighter

In this post, I am elaborating on what makes participating in Fulbright FLTA program an experience of a lifetime.

The benefits of being a Fulbrighter (based on personal experience)

The benefits of participating in Fulbright FLTA program are numerous and I am only giving a small portion here. (If you need some background on my participation in the program, read this and this.) Here goes:

– You meet lots of great people.

Before you even leave for the USA, you meet your fellow FLTAs from your own country. Applicants go through a rigorous selection process, so the ones that do get selected are intelligent, creative, enthusiastic, and a lot of fun. Then you meet your fellow FLTAs from all over the world. Again, you meet intelligent, creative, enthusiastic, and fun people, but this time there is an added benefit of meeting people from other cultures (around 50 countries all told). You get a chance to see these people dance national dances, wear national clothes, and try authentic home-cooked national foods. The experience just opens your eyes to how fascinating and diverse the world is.

– You get first-hand experience of American education from two perspectives: as a teacher and as a student.

I did all the mundane things students do – I took notes in classes, did homework, wrote quizzes, sat exams, worried about my grades, checking blackboard 3 times a day, just like an average American student.

At the same time, I did all the mundane things teachers do – I graded homework, assessed exams, filled in online attendance after every class and so on. Fortunately, I got a lot of guidance and support from Professor Daria Kirjanov, who not only shared all her materials with me, but also gave me insights into what to expect from students and how to deal with any issues that arose.

– You get first-hand experience of American life.

Let me give you just some examples of things I got first-hand experience of. In the USA, everything is well-organized and made convenient for people. Everything starts and finishes exactly on time. Mass transit is not very well-developed (at least compared to Russia) because people don’t need it because they go everywhere by cars. When you get on the bus, you have to have exact change because tickets machines or drivers don’t give change. You get a grocery store discount even if you don’t have the store card. People hold doors and give up their places in lines for you. Everyone, regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, or disabilities, is included and respected.

– You improve your English skills significantly.

First and foremost, living in an English-speaking country for a year definitely boosts your fluency and breaks down the speaking barrier that most learners of English have even if they have been learning English for 10 years. Additionally, you learn real-life and natural language that you don’t always find in books. I don’t think any book I’ve ever used to learn or teach English introduced the phrase Have a good one! (which means “Have a nice day” or simply “Bye”). Or, Are you all set? (which means something like “Do you need anything?” or “Can I help you?”). Or, I’m good. (which means, “I don’t need anything, thank you.”). All these phrases are ubiquitous in the USA, yet they aren’t usually taught in books.

– You develop professionally in the direction you like without the pressure of completing a degree or graduating.

 Since I write a blog, I wanted to improve my writing skills and took “Speaking and Writing for Professionals” and “Introduction to Creative Writing”. Since I was not very confident about my speaking skills, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and take “Introduction to Public Speaking and Group Discussion”. And I did it just for me, just because I wanted to.


– You can travel the country more cheaply and effectively.

Fulbrighters are scattered all over the country. So when you travel, you can stay at their places saving money on hotels and time on researching what to see in the area. I might never have visited Oregon, if it wasn’t for an FLTA there.

– This is just my personal benefit: I did everything I had on my bucket list during my Fulbright year!

There were only two things though: 1. See whales (which I did on both the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean!); 2. See Mayan pyramids (which I did because a fellow FLTA suggested going to Mexico during the winter break!).

To cut a long story short, there are myriads of benefits of being a Fulbright FLTA on many levels, definitely more than I’ve described. Feel free to expand my list in the comments!

Lutsenko_benefits

Some of my Fulbright memories. 
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My Fulbright year: what, where, when

In this post, I am going into detail about my participation in Fulbright FLTA program.

And now I’m back, with a backpack of new experiences, inspiration, knowledge, and ready to write, write, write!

I went to the USA for my Fulbright FLTA experience on 8 August 2015 and returned on 4 June 2016. The experience was great, fantastic, eye-opening, mind-blowing, developmental and many other positive adjectives. But first, some facts: where exactly did I go and what exactly did I do?

Good news: On 30 April 2015, I got an email, which made me jump and yell triumphantly. It started,“Congratulations! You have been selected for the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) Program.” In August, I went to teach Russian and study at University of New Haven (West haven, Connecticut, USA). (More about my Fulbright application).

University: University of New Haven (UNH for short) has a student body of 5,000-10,000 students. Most of the people taking Russian at UNH have one of (or both of) these two majors: criminal justice and national security.

Location: UNH is located in a small town of West Haven, which is very conveniently located and has good transport links. New York City is only a 2-hour train ride away and Yale is only a 10-minute bus ride away.

Lutsenko_map_unh

Housing: I lived in university housing, in a two-floor shared house. My roommate* had some kind of office job at the university. The house was a 30-minute walking distance from the university or a 10-minute bus/car ride. There was a university shuttle service and I was also provided with a free local bus pass. (Although I didn’t have to walk, I often did.)

*(In the USA, they use the word “roommate” to mean someone who shares accommodation with you, not necessarily a room. Me and my roommate had our own separate bedrooms).

Teaching: I was a primary teacher at beginner level, teaching 3 times a week at 8 am. Additionally, I had office hours (6 hours a week), Russian tables (2 hours a week) and in spring semester I taught a “language lab” on Russian émigré writers and poets of the 20th century (which I absolutely loved!). I also took part in and / or helped organize film and culture festivals as a representative of Russian culture.

Studying:  As part of the program, we were required to take at least 2 courses per semester, one of which had to be in US Studies and the other three had to be related to our professional development as teachers of English. I took all 4 courses on credit basis, which means I did all coursework, took exams and was assessed on the same basis as every other student enrolled in the course. The courses I took and the grades I got: Speaking and Writing for Professionals (A+), Public Speaking and Group Discussion (A -), Introduction to Creative Writing (A+), American History since 1607 (A).

Finances: The grant covered everything: housing, meals, university tuition, travel to and from host institution, and a medical insurance. I also got a monthly stipend, which wasn’t large, but given that everything else was provided, I could save up for traveling.

I think that pretty much covers the everyday specifics of my Fulbright year. If you have any questions, feel free to ask. The next post will be on the benefits of being a Fulbrighter, stay tuned!

Disclaimer: Every Fulbrighter has a different story to tell. This is just my personal experience and the details of my participation in the program. 

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My Fulbright application or a teachable moment on essay writing

In this post, I want to share two excerpts from my Fulbright application essay and give you some tips on essay writing.

I did it on 30 May 2014. I submitted my Fulbright application. Now, 1 year and 2 months later I am going to the USA as a proud Fulbrighter! Yay!

The program I am participating in is called Foreign Language Teaching Assistant or FLTA for short. As a participant of this program I will be teaching Russian and studying at an American university for an academic year.

When my students heard the news, they asked, “What did it take to get this grant?” And I replied, “Well, there were several stages. First, I had to write a lot of text. Then, I …” And one student said, “I am curious to read what you wrote.” I suppose many are, so I am going to let you in on one of my application essays.

One of the essays I wrote is called “Objectives and motivations”. What I wrote is too long to upload here (1274 words, no less!), so I am only going to show you my introduction and conclusion. Oh, and I see a teachable moment here, which I just can’t help using. Ok, let’s get cracking!

Here is my introduction:

lutsenko_fulbright_intro

Let’s have a look at how I choose to structure my introduction:

1. I start with a quote. (Admittedly, starting an essay with a quote is a bit of a cliché. But it’s still not a bad way to start. To avoid sounding too clichéd, I expand the quote and add a personal touch.)

2. I explain what my job is and what I am like.

3. I speak about my main objective.

Here is my conclusion:

Lutsenko_fulbright_conclusion

Let’s have a look at how I choose to structure my conclusion:

1. I repeat what my job is and what I am like (point 2 from the introduction).

2. I repeat my main objective (point 3 from the introduction).

3. I connect all the information to the quote and my addition to it (point 1 from the introduction).

And here is the teachable moment:

– Make your essay personal and unique.

– Address the topic directly and clearly.

– Organize your ideas logically.

– Be consistent.

– Unite the ideas.

Essay writing aside, I want to emphasize that everything I wrote is absolutely true. They are not beautiful words I wanted to impress the readers with. I do want to keep moving, but stay focused.

So, students, don’t be sad I’m going away for so long. You now know why I’m doing it. I’ll return.

I’ll return and do what I do at a new level and with a new mind. See you in a year!

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