Raja, FLTA

Teaching Arabic at USF St. Petersburg

Foreign Language Teaching Assistant known as FLTA, is a Fulbright grant sponsored by the State Department to bring exchange educators from all around the globe to teach their native languages at American universities. Among the languages taught is the Arabic Language.

The University of South Florida St. Petersburg was one of the universities to apply to host a Fulbright Arabic instructor for the year 2011-2012.

A Mutual Cultural Exchange in an Educational Environment

Fulbright logoAs a Fulbright candidate from Morocco and one of almost 140 Arabic instructors from the Middle East and North Africa, I had been selected to teach Arabic at the University of South Florida Saint Petersburg.  Prior to arriving to my host institution, we attended orientations and workshops in Turkey, and Michigan State University organized by the IIE (International Institute of Education) and then a midyear conference in Washington DC, in order to reinforce the objectives of exchange programs, and the role of each one of us to teach our native language, develop our foreign language teaching skills, be cultural ambassadors of our countries and bring our students closer to new customs.

USFSP Arabic Instructor

USFSP Arabic Instructor

I arrived to USF St. Petersburg to teach the first Arabic class at the College of Arts and Sciences, Department of World Languages  for the year 2011/2012.  With warm welcomes and support from faculty and staff, I enthusiastically started my first class with students from different majors. As a speaker of a foreign language, I felt a sheer responsibility towards my students to bring the joy of speaking a new language and exploring the spells of a new culture. The Arabic Class students shared the same passion and curiosity. We wanted to bring a new feeling to class, we sat in a shape of half a circle, facing each other and remembering every one’s name. We started calling it our Arabic Class Family. Students did not individually respond to assignments, they have performed a number of collective works that made them bond together and stay friends even after classes have ended.

Picture taken By : Raja Benchekroun

Final class group picture of the first Arabic students in USFSP, Fall 2011.

The class was a channel of mutual cultural understanding of similar values between the United States and the rest of the Arab world. We built a strong will to boost our understanding of a new culture and accepting differences without losing who we truly are. The language taught in class is MSA, Modern Standard Arabic that is spoken by 422 million people, which unites 23 states from North Africa to the Middle East. Now has been given a national day to celebrate as World Arabic Language Day on December 18 by the UNESCO.

To teach a new language to students with no previous knowledge of the language is tremendously delightful. But bringing your students closer to new customs and people is a precious feeling of satisfaction for a foreign language educator. Students are not only able to receive knowledge that will make them linguistically literate but also what’s needed to be culturally educated.  I have spent a great school year full of a number of cultural, social and linguistic experiences, and built some valuable relationships on a personal and professional level.

My Fulbright exchange program has ended, but my role as a cultural ambassador and a language educator hasn’t. Now I am back to maintain the Arabic Program as a graduate in USFSP MLA program. The College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Society, Culture & Languages (formerly World Languages) faculty and  staff  have welcomed me back with great support and advocacy for the Arabic program. USF St. Petersburg now offers Arabic I, II ,III. The Arabic Students have formed an Arabic Club to unite their passions and explore the culture more closely in a number of events and activities. To connect with the Arabic program students, you can join our open Facebook group USFSP Arabic Club. There is also a page that I have created to share material with whoever is interested in learning Arabic Arabic For Speakers of Other Languages.


Map of Moldova

Returning Fulbright Award

I was awarded a returning Fulbright grant and will be heading back to Moldova in July and August. I will be working on a research project about the impact of decisions of the European Court of Human Rights on legal and constitutional reform in Moldova.

I will also be making preparations for my Spring 2013 Alternative Spring Break Study Abroad Course. (I will be bringing students to Moldova for a comparative politics course studying the history, government, and politics of the Republic of Moldova.)

Flag of Moldova

Flag of Moldova

I am bringing my 7-year-old daughter with me, and she has projects in Moldova as well.

She is working on 2 community service projects in Moldova (one with Casa Gavroche in Chisinau and the other with a Peace Corps Volunteer in Telenesti) for her upcoming 2nd grade Gifted Kids Care assignment.

Coat of Arms of Moldova

Coat of Arms of Moldova

I am making progress on the logistics for the trip — airfare booked, housing secured, summer camp arrangements made, conversational Romanian and Russian lessons taken during drive time, packing…. (One pleasant surprise re: logistics for this 2012 trip is that the CDC recommendations for travelers to Moldova have changed. We don’t need any vaccines this time!)

We are looking forward to our new adventures. Wish us a “Drum Bun”!

You can follow along on our Moldova blog:

Fulbright Program Brings Moroccan Scholar to Teach and Learn at USFSP

Raja Benchekroun honed her professional language teaching skills in her native Morocco, teaching English to local and European students and Arabic to American students that were studying in Morocco. And now, as a Fulbright foreign language teacher at USFSP for the 2011-2012 academic year, Benchekroun is developing her understanding of education in the United States, something she formed an interest in after teaching many American students and visiting the U.S. as a tourist.

“It is surely fascinating to be standing in a bridge between two cultures,” Benchekroun said. “My experience as an educator in the United States is definitely teaching me a lot about the American educational system.”

Through Fulbright’s Foreign Language Teaching Program, foreign educators receive a grant to teach at an American university and take two courses per semester to better understand American students and their educational environment.

Fluent in English, Arabic and French, Benchekroun earned her bachelor’s degree in English studies and a master’s degree in communication studies from the University of Caddi Ayyad. She earned language teaching certificates from the British council in Morocco.

She wants to offer her students insight into another culture and introduce them to a subject they may have more interest in then they realize, she said.

“I want to leave an imprint on my students,” Benchekroun said. “I desire to be that remarkable teacher that they remember.”

Education Graduate Selected for Fulbright Teaching Program in Cyprus

In September, with her master’s degree in elementary education from USFSP in hand, Ali Billias will take her newly developed skills to the Republic of Cyprus. The island country in the Mediterranean Sea will be her home for nine months while she teaches English and American studies as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant.

With guidance from George Roy, assistant professor of mathematics education, Billias learned about the Fulbright international teaching program and applied in October of 2010. She applied to the Cyprus program because of her Greek heritage.

“I thought this was going to be a long shot,” Billias said. “It was such an intense application process that I felt so honored to be chosen. It’s important to think about the culture of the country you’re looking to work in and what your connection to it might be.”

Billias’ assignment in Cyprus includes teaching in two schools and leading a community service initiative of her choosing. She wants to combine her love of teaching with her passion for art and create an arts education program. The culminating project of her program will be the creation of a public mural touching on issues of peace, tolerance and unity.

“Ali displayed leadership, curiosity, and determination that made her stand out from her peers,” Roy said. “These are essential qualities when experiencing a new educational endeavor and they will benefit her work in Cyprus.”

Billias earned a bachelor’s degree in art history and English from New York University in 2008. After several internships with art museums and galleries, she landed her first job at an arts public relations firm and supervised the firm’s interns.

“The experience reminded me how much I love working with people in a capacity where I can help them and help them realize their potential,” Billias said. “You could tell how much they appreciated my help and it made me think about my teachers and what kind of impact I could have with a career in education.”

After five years in New York City, Billias returned to her hometown of St. Petersburg in August 2009 to pursue her master’s degree in elementary education in the College of Education at USFSP. She said the program ideally suited her because she did not have a background or undergraduate degree in teaching. The program covers the foundations of teaching and includes internship experiences in local elementary schools.

“One of the things that I loved about the program was the relationships I developed with my professors and how small the classes were,” Billias said. “It made me feel more prepared because I felt like I could really talk to them about my concerns.”

Before Billias leaves for Cyprus in September, she is honing her art teaching skills as an AmeriCorp volunteer with CityArts in Providence, Rhode Island. CityArts provides free arts education to elementary school students from low-income families.