Each year, students across the country are awarded the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) Award. The program places Fulbright scholars in classrooms across the world to assist English teachers. These assistants are also considered cultural ambassadors for the United States. This year, four Trinity University students were given the award.

The four recipients are all seniors at Trinity and will be traveling to various places. Emily Acker will be traveling to Colombia, Sonam James to the Czech Republic, Laurel Meister to Germany and Sarah Yaccino to Ecuador. The Fulbright program is not major-specific, and applicants can only apply to one country.

Sonam James, a Fulbright ETA recipient will be headed to the Czech Republic.

“The Fulbright is supposed to facilitate international understanding between Americans and the country that they are residing in,” James said.

James is a political science major and Spanish and economics double minor, and was originally planning on taking a year off after graduating before attending law school.

“I had thought about teaching abroad, and a friend mentioned the Fulbright program to me,” James said.

James then sought out Sarah Pinnock, chair of the religion department and faculty Fulbright Program Advisor, and applied for the opportunity.

Senior Sarah Yaccino, who will be headed to Ecuador, heard about the award through one of Trinity’s emails about post-graduate opportunities during her junior year.

“I also attended a Fulbright information session led by Dr. Pinnock and a former Fulbright scholar who spoke about his incredible experience,” Yaccino said.

She also studied abroad in Quito, Ecuador, and was prepared to apply for the Fulbright ETA award soon after.

The application process for the award involves several different aspects. Emily Acker, who will be at the Universidad de Boyaca in Tunja, Colombia, applied to the program during the Fall 2015 semester.

“The selection process has been a bit long — I wrote a couple essays, got letters of recommendation and did an on-campus interview,” Acker said.

Applicants’ essays are a very important part of the selection process and Acker went through several revisions and drafts before submitting her application.

“In January, I was notified I had made it through the first round of cuts, in mid-February I had a Skype interview with the Colombian team,” Acker said.

Initially, she was nervous when she didn’t hear back for another five weeks, but her worries were settled when she was selected as a finalist in March.

The students had different ideas and motivations for wanting to teach abroad. Yaccino, who is a Spanish and Human Communication double major, already planned on being an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher.

“Because many English language learners will likely speak Spanish, I want to attain a native-like fluency in addition to gaining experience teaching English. I also know that immersing myself in Latin American culture will equip me with a better understanding of and sensitivity towards my future students’ backgrounds,” Yaccino said.

After returning from Ecuador, Yaccino  will be back in San Antonio in July to start Trinity’s Master of Arts in Teaching program and hopes that the ETA program will “deepen [her] appreciation for cultural and linguistic diversity.”

“Teaching abroad is an amazing opportunity not only to experience a culture but also to interact and communicate with people. I really wanted the chance to explore a new place and culture before applying and going to [grad] school,” Yaccino said.

Laurel Meister, an English major with minors in German and Music, is headed to Germany and hopes to be an English professor.

“The program will add depth to my understanding of education, language and the world. Also, helping others learn English while I strive to achieve fluency in German is mutually beneficial,” Meister said.

The seniors were also proud to be a part of the only class to have more than two Fulbright scholars.

“It’s wonderful to know that more Trinity students are being chosen for such a prestigious program, I also think this will encourage more students to apply to the Fulbright program,” James said.

“I’m very excited and so proud of our class,” Yaccino said. “I think Trinity is full of excellent candidates. Dr. Pinnock told me that many students may feel intimidated by the application process, but I promise it’s not that bad!”

Each student will receive a monthly stipend for assisting their respective universities and, according to Acker, are expected to be “involved within the university and local community.”

Yaccino mentioned that the graduates are also encouraged to design their own service project in order to get more involved with the local community.  

“The goal of the experience is to allow for cultural exchange in the hopes that it will promote mutual respect and understanding,” Yaccino said.

The Fulbright ETA award continues to help Trinity students further their careers after graduating, and all students are welcome to apply for the post-graduate opportunity.