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FLTAs Bring New Perspectives

FLTAs Bring New Perspectives(Posted: October 10, 2012)

This year, 389 of the world's brightest scholars from 48 countries received Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant fellowships to American universities, and two of them are at the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith.

Jia-Hui Li from Taoyuan, Taiwan, who is teaching Mandarin Chinese, and Ghislain Ait El Alim from Avignon, France, who is teaching French, are the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistants in the College of Languages and Communication.

In the upcoming spring semester, Li will be teaching a course titled "Language and Culture - Chinese," and Ait El Alim will be teaching a course titled "Language and Culture: France."

Li is the first of her three sisters to attend college and earned a bachelor of arts in applied English from Ming-Chuan University, the first university in Asia to be American-accredited. For the past four years she has operated a Mandarin language instruction business on YouTube called "PeggyTeachesChinese" which she updates frequently. She has 8,500 subscribers, and her posts on YouTube have had more than 2 million hits.

"My background is similar to many of the students here at UAFS because I was the first generation in my family to attend college," Li said. "It makes me want to help them learn and become accustomed to college."

Li said that very few people understand that the College of Languages and Communication offers a course in Mandarin.

"My goal is to talk to as many students as I can and get them interested in Chinese," she said. "I want more people to understand Chinese culture."

Speaking of her work in teaching Mandarin, Li said that she has gone very slowly with her students during the first part of the semester.

"We went through the 'pinyin' part of learning the sound of Chinese at first," she said. "Pinyin is a way to assign a phonetic value to a written Chinese character. Now we are picking up speed and we are also learning how to write Chinese characters. We are learning more about Chinese culture. The 'Moon Festival' recently occurred and we discussed that."

Li laughed when she said that "moon cakes" are part of the celebration in China, but she didn't serve American Moon Pie snacks to her students.

Li said her greatest adjustment has been how important a car is for life on a college campus.

"This is very much a 'driving culture,' and I don't drive a car. I can get out and shop or hike with friends," she said. "But it is confining without a car."

Ait El Alim has a degree in English Literature and Civilization Studies with a major in research and teaching skills from University of Avignon (Universite d'Avignon et des pays du vaucluse). He said his hope is to "destroy the cliches and to build the understanding that people have about other cultures." He cited, as an example of such cliches, the misapprehension he had about life in the southern part of the U.S. before he arrived here.

"I was so surprised to discover how great 'Southern hospitality' truly is," he said. "People are so nice here."

Ait El Alim said his class is learning a little about French history and the many connections Americans have with French culture. He pointed out how a large percentage of the English language is derived from French and that Fayetteville is named for the Marquis de Lafayette, who played such an important role in the American Revolution.

"We are going to study the role of the French Resistance in the Allied victory over the Nazis," Ait El Alim said. "It saved many American lives in World War II."

This is Ait El Alim's third visit to the United States. One year, he was a camp counselor in New York. He has previously taught in a secondary school in Great Britain but this is his first year as a teacher in the U.S.

"Learning about America's culture, its politics, its history and its presidents has become a passion for me," Ait El Alim said. "This is a great opportunity for me to be at UAFS, especially during the year of a presidential election. Political issues here and in France are radically different, and this is a great experience for me"

Ait El Alim wants to earn his doctorate and become a teacher of American history and culture in France.

"I want to be able to tell my future students all about my experience at UAFS and to share my Fulbright experience," he said. "I would love to influence my students to go for a Fulbright. It's very competitive but truly worth the effort –- the very long effort," he said with a laugh.

According to the Fulbright Scholar Program, the fellowships are funded by the U.S. State Department. The program is intended to strengthen foreign language studies in American colleges and universities.

Dr. Greg Armstrong, of Van Buren, head of the department of world languages, is pleased to have the Fulbright teaching assistants on the campus.

"We have noticed a marked increase in student interest in learning a world language," Armstrong said. "We're most pleased to be working in conjunction with the Fulbright program in order to provide more cultural and language-learning opportunities to our student body. These teaching assistants are not only extremely bright, they are very engaging."

Students can learn more about registering for the spring semester classes by contacting their adviser or the Department of World Languages in the College of Languages and Communication.

Takeo Suzuki, of Fort Smith, executive director of international relations, said the administrators of the Fulbright program made the process easy to work through.

"This is quite a prestigious achievement for UAFS," Suzuki said. "But it was very pleasant to work with the program administrators. The real surprise of this program is how much fun it is to learn from our teaching assistants. UAFS students couldn't ask for more friendly and competent faculty members."

Article by: Frank Kelly, Public Information Specialist
Photo(s) by: Corey S. Krasko, Photographer, Marketing Communications

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