Fulbright Winners Prepare for International Work
Rocío García (middle), Sylvia Lee (right),
and Casey Brienza (left) recently won Fulbright awards.
While peace activists
demonstrate and diplomats negotiate, Fulbright scholars work toward
peace and understanding between nations by teaching and studying
in more than 140 countries worldwide. Three Mount Holyoke scholars
are eager to join that global effort. With generous awards from
the Fulbright Program, they will depart this summer for academic
exchanges in Korea and Mexico.
Rocio Garcia '03
Foreign-owned assembly plants on Mexico's border, maquiladoras,
are notorious for low wages and poor working conditions. Nevertheless,
they are the destination of thousands of workers (mostly women)
who migrate from across Mexico. Psychology and Spanish major Rocío
García would like to examine the barriers women who may
want to emigrate to the United States face, as her mother did
in the 1970s. Thanks to a Fulbright grant, García will
soon be able to study this issue.
García will begin conducting research on emigration barriers
to Mexican women this August, when she becomes a student at La
Universidad de las Americas in the central Mexican state of Puebla.
A pioneer in migration research, the school offers García
a two-year master's program in United States studies of
North America and the chance to study with Jose Antonio Alonso,
a professor who has written extensively on the sociological aspects
"Once I have gained an understanding of the barriers women
must overcome to emigrate from Mexico to the United States, I
will have a better comprehension of the barriers women who have
immigrated have overcome," says García, who ultimately
hopes to become an attorney involved in immigration or labor laws
in the United States.
García is well on her way to understanding this important
aspect of the Mexican community. In addition to her family background,
she is connected to the community through leadership positions
in several organizations dedicated to raising awareness of Chicano
issues, immigrant rights, and social justice, including Movimiento
Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán and the East Coast Chicano
Student Forum. She also spent the summer of 1998 living in the
central Mexican state of Guanajuato, where she promoted community
health with the program Amigos de las Américas. Living
on her own in a new country and carrying out such a large-scale
project with the help of community leaders was difficult at the
age of sixteen, says García. But the experience challenged
her to become independent and fueled her desire to understand
Mexico's political, social, and economic systems.
"I plan on staying involved with education, immigration,
and social justice issues," says García, "anything
I can do to remain an active part of the community. I am absolutely
thrilled to receive this honor and take another step toward building
a bridge between cultures and better understanding the immigrant
culture. Gaining this understanding is crucial to me so that I
may be better equipped to serve the Mexican community as a leader
Casey Brienza '03
Casey Brienza doesn't speak a word of Korean and hasn't
been to Korea since a New Jersey couple adopted her as an infant.
Still, she has no doubt she will thrive as a Fulbright teaching
assistant in Korea. "I teach English as a foreign language
now and I love it," says the English and Asian studies major
who has worked as a language tutor and Speaking, Arguing, and
Writing Program mentor for nonnative speakers of English in the
course Writing Across Cultures. "During my years at college,
much of my most valuable time spent inside and outside the classroom
has been in conversation with these students," she says.
Language has also been an important part of Brienza's learning
experience at Mount Holyoke, where she has studied both Spanish
and Japanese. In Korea, she will have six weeks of intensive language
training at Kangwon National University in Chunchon before being
assigned to teach conversational English twenty hours each week
at a Korean middle or high school.
"Each new language that I have learned has added depth and
formality to my understanding of English and ability to conceptualize
my own native language from the perspective of a foreign speaker,"
says Brienza. "As such, I adhere to no one philosophy of
teaching and, indeed, have never studied education per se. I work
with students strictly on a case-by-case basis, determining a
practical course of action based upon their abilities, needs,
and desires. I work to allow my knowledge of the language to complement
the students' knowledge and learning styles, not to override
Brienza's assistantship will not only introduce her to a
third foreign language and formalize her teaching experience—both
useful for her future as a professor of English—it will
also allow her to better understand a cultural identity she calls
"totally American." "At Mount Holyoke I discovered
I loved spending time with international students, especially
students from Asia, not because I believed I was one of them,
but rather because they, far better than anyone else, understood
that I was not," says Brienza, who was born in Korea but
adopted at three months old. "These international students
accepted me as purely American in a way that the bulk of white
America never will. Without misguided presuppositions of ethnic
or national identity as we shared our lives, we saw eye-to-eye.
And, indeed, much of what distinguishes one culture from another
are 'superficial elements' such as food, holidays,
name brands, and mass media. However, there are occasional subtler
elements as well. With their guidance, I learned what underlying
beliefs, attitudes, and cultural assumptions make me truly American."
Says Brienza, "The cliché is eminently true—we
do need others to understand ourselves."
Sylvia Lee '03
It is ironic that history major Sylvia Lee will be a Fulbright
teaching assistant in Korea next year. Lee's parents, originally
from South Korea, introduced their daughter to their childhood
home when she was in seventh grade, a two-week trip that Lee calls
a "vacation gone wrong." Feeling miserable and out
of place, Lee vowed not to return to Korea. As a child Lee also
vowed never to become a teacher, the career her parents urged
her to pursue.
"It's funny and fitting that I'd apply to do both now, to
live what was once my worst nightmare," says Lee. "I
find that I am drawn to the classroom, and I am honestly eager
to go back to Korea—to strengthen my language skills and
to immerse myself in the culture from which I once felt so disconnected."
Like Brienza, Lee will receive six weeks of language and teaching
training, then be assigned to live with a family and teach in
a middle or high school in a rural or small metropolitan area
of Korea. She hopes to create a classroom environment in which
students feel comfortable learning English. "I anticipate
that my encouraging attitude and willingness to acknowledge myself
as a learner will help my students feel more at ease," says
Lee, who remembers struggling to learn Korean during Saturday
classes at the Korean language school she attended as a child.
In preparation for her new adventure, Lee is researching techniques
for teaching English as a foreign language and increasing the
amount of Korean she speaks at home with her family. But Lee,
who now envisions a career as a high school history teacher, already
has lots of ideas about how to create an effective curriculum,
such as incorporating newspapers, films, and other elements of
everyday life and building on the interests and joys of her students.
"I truly want my students to have fun with English and the
curriculum that I help develop, as well as gain confidence in
their own conversational skills," she says.
To get to know her students, Lee plans to lead school activities
and organizations, develop a pen-pal program with Korean American
students in the United States, and be as visible as possible in
day-to-day operations. "I want my students to know that
I care about being in the school, and more importantly, that I
want to be there for them."
"Living in Korea for a year and teaching English to middle
and high school students is everything the seventh-grade version
of myself would have feared and loathed. Yet having developed
a passion for the classroom and a true longing to know more of
my Korean heritage, serving as a Fulbright English teaching assistant
is an opportunity to feed the passions I have for my future and
for my own personal growth."