STATEMENT OF GRANT PURPOSE
Sarah Kaiser-Cross, Turkey, English Teaching Assistantship
The muezzins all ascended the spiraling staircases of the minarets and called the faithful to prayer. Women in hijabs hurried off to pray while their western counterparts continued chatting on cell phones. A modern Islamic nation, Turkey, represented a beautiful blend of east and western culture; a perfect fusion of my two worlds, the Middle East and my western roots. The presence of historical Christianity and a modern Islamic society compel me to inquire about the people, the culture and Turkey's geopolitical importance, now a leader in the Arab world.
Studying the Middle East is my passion and I have been aching to learn Turkish since hearing the symphonic language interlaced with Arabic words that I recognized. Now enrolled in Beginning Turkish at my university, I am eager to communicate and soak up the culture in a land where I found myself inspired.
My first experience abroad was in Israel where I fell in love with the Middle East. My study abroad programs stretched over twelve months and prepared me for an international lifestyle while communicating in a non-native tongue. I participated in three intensive language programs all of which shaped my worldview and enriched my appreciation for the gift of knowledge. Teaching is the most influential way to make a difference, as teachers have been an integral piece of my cultural understanding. Working as an English teacher instructing non-native English speakers in Italy, I learned to instruct different skill levels in one classroom, challenge my students, and construct creative lessons to encourage enthusiasm and retention.
Cultural sensitivity, adaptability, initiative and patience best enumerate a successful teacher. Living in the Middle East, I quickly learned the acceptable boundaries of conversation and how to communicate with neutrality and yet express empathy. I felt like an anomaly, constantly switching between the worlds of my Israeli and Arab friends. I treaded softly and learned quickly how to maneuver cultural differences and focus on similarities. At times, conversations about Middle Eastern politics and religion were candid and rarely concluded with concessions on either side. To engage in the process taught me to respect viewpoints vastly different from my own. Residing in Cairo this summer on a Critical Language Scholarship, I was encouraged by my teachers to speak and make mistakes. This gift of patience is what I will extend to my students encouraging them to go outside of their comfort zones and gain insight into the English language while simultaneously absorbing the culture.
Along with English instruction, I would like to continue studying Turkish in order to absorb every word to meaningfully communicate. Combining the best of my intensive language programs along with new ideas, I plan to host a weekly cultural exchange club that explores different facets of American and Turkish culture through activities such as movie nights, cooking lessons and holiday gatherings in an informal setting. I want to create an environment open to candid questions and assist in bridging the gap of thoughtful communication and education between Turks and Americans. I will be an enthusiastic, patient, creative teacher working with YOK, the Turkish Higher Education Council.
Upon return to the states I will apply to graduate school in Middle Eastern Studies with a focus on modern Islamic nations and regional languages, with eyes open to similarities between the east and west. I plan to work in diplomacy in the region with the US State Department, urging peaceful interaction and open communication. Throughout the vast, modern Islamic world I hope to open people's hearts to meaningful cultural exchange and extend my knowledge of English to my students to help them actively participate in this rapidly changing world.
Sarah Kaiser-Cross, Turkey, English Teaching Assistantship
Raised in Jupiter, Florida by two ministers, I grew up with my church family. What my beachside hometown lacked in diversity it made up for in strong values and a tangible sense of community. Wherever I went I was recognized as the pastors' daughter, greeted with hugs, stories and smiles. I grew up in the stereotypical American, middle class home spending weekends at the beach, attending church every Sunday and making cookies after school. Though unlike most, I dreamt of more. I was six years old sitting at the coloring table sketching myself riding camels in exotic lands. I always had a passion for the world and three years ago decided it was time to finally act on that passion. I chose Israel.
Going abroad for the first time in the summer of 2008, I dove into studying Hebrew in Israel. A month later, I plunged into Arabic. In the city of Haifa, Israel I was entranced. Chatting in Arabic, I would buy fruit from an Arab vendor; then switching to Hebrew, I would walk next door to pick up fresh Mediterranean fish. Upon my return to the University of Florida, I continued studying Arabic, Hebrew and the politics of the region. I hadn't planned on changing my major, focus and career goals all because of one summer. I discovered languages are my forte and the Middle East was the passion I never knew I had. I needed an experience to immerse myself back into the world I was dying to understand. Hijabs, prayers and terrorism coexisting were issues I yearned to learn for myself and not just from a textbook. In the fall of 2009,1 attended the American University in Cairo studying in an intensive Arabic program.
Before heading to Cairo, I worked as an English teacher and camp counselor in Italy. Instilling a passion for learning in my students was the impetus that influenced me to pursue teaching again. Leaving Italy with a different perspective, I ventured to Cairo to study Arabic and work with Arab students struggling in English. Wanting to expand my experiential learning of the Arab world, I traveled to Turkey and instantly was absorbed in the nation where east meets west. While strolling down the cobblestone streets in Istanbul, I glimpsed the western pace of life with people darting to and from work. But when I ventured out to Cappadocia, life was similar to the Middle East; religious conservatism, Muslim greetings like insha'Allah (God willing) and an enjoyment of the slow sweetness of life. In 2010, during the spring of my junior year, I participated in an intensive Hebrew work-study program in Rehovot, Israel on a Kibbutz. I wanted to round out my perspectives of the Middle East, crucial to maintaining an objective perspective of a conflict-riddled region. I tilled the fields in the hills of Israel while studying Hebrew and opening myself to views vastly different from my own.
Together, these experiences created an irreplaceable undergraduate education. Equally influential were my experiences at the University of Florida, which taught me to take initiative. When my University did not offer the major I wanted, I constructed my own undergraduate experience in the Middle East to attain language competency. I have been a student leader on campus organizing events like University Shadow Day an event hosting prospective freshman, and also working as an official tour guide of the university. As an ETA, I will bring an unique element into teaching English by utilizing the best aspects of my intensive language programs along with my distinctive experiences to provide a successful English-learning environment and a culturally open and diverse atmosphere. A Fulbright grant will allow me an opportunity to bridge the gap of communication and education in a place I know will serve as an inspirational model of a cultural blend of east and west.