I Survived the Fulbright Pre-Departure Orientation: EAP Mongolia
If you are going to be a Fulbright ETA, you might be required to attend a five-day long orientation. The first three days are dedicated to learning how to teach English as a Foreign Language, which will be pretty useless for people who are already certified TESOL teachers. The second half is for all Fulbrights to your region, where you get general advice about the region, your country, and the Fulbright legal matters. This year the orientation took place from June 12-16, at the JW Marriot on Pennsylvania Ave, in Washington DC.
THE ETA ONLY DAYS
The first day of orientation was less of a day and more of an evening. I finally got to meet the group of amazing people I had been Facebook messaging for over a month. While I managed to embarrass myself when meeting the first ETA by talking way too much about bees in Roman poetry, I managed to show that I am not actually that pretentious and found myself quickly befriending Mac. Not too long after I managed to meet the four other ETAs: Eleanor, Emma, Sara, and Melissa. We might not have known each other that well, but our tiny group soon banded together in a sea of ETAs going abroad in much larger masses.
During this portion of the orientation, the major concern of the Fulbright Program Organizers is teaching English teaching strategies. However, the Mongolia ETA's major concerns were what we should do to get our visas and work permits in time. Fulbright does not help with anything regarding the visa, so for this, we were on our own with no comment from the Fulbright program. Instead, we learned strategies for teaching children, despite the fact that everyone going to Mongolia will be working at a University. This was just one of the major frustrations we had with the event. It seemed like our country did not fit in with the EAP region. Life in Mongolia is nothing similar to Macao, Laos, or Indonesia, but for some reason, we were placed in the same group. Nevertheless, team Mongolia made the most of our time by finding humor in the sometimes angering circumstances.
As one can expect, the teaching "breakout group" sessions did not stray from the barebones basics of teaching English. We discussed the basic teaching methodologies of the four skills (listening, speaking, reading, writing) and how to develop materials and lesson plans. Then we had to micro-teach a lesson, and this is when I, and other ETAs, got frustrated. We were told to make a ten-minute EFL lesson plan on any subject that we wanted. There was no other direction. Because of that, most of the lessons were wild guesses at what an EFL lesson should be. Some lessons were native English lessons, while others lacked any real language focus. This was not the fault of the ETAs, but the results of the lack of instruction in explaining the difference between English for native speakers and EFL.
Overall, the other Mongolia ETAs and I spent most of these two days interrogating Adrian, a former Mongolia ETA, and Saruul, the Exchange Programs Coordinator for the Public Affairs Section at the U.S. Embassy in Mongolia. They provided the most appropriate information for us to consider when packing and getting our visas. I can definitely say the first half of the orientation would not have been nearly as helpful without them.
THE ENTIRE CREW
This half of the orientation began with Mongolian food, the passing of a bread plate, and a speech that took way too long. Adrien was nice enough to suggest that we get a small taste of Mongolian cuisine, so he ordered all of the ETAs some pretty delicious tsuivan, buuz, and khuushuur. During this time we also met Will, another past Fulbright to Mongolia, that we would get to meet again in country. We stuffed our stomachs, but got slightly too full for the dinner we were supposed to eat that night. After the incredibly long days, we spent in workshops, Eleanor and Mac decided to skip out on dinner. So it was up to Sarah, Melissa, Emma and me to represent "Team Mongolia".
At the dinner, we got to meet the three other Fulbrights going to Mongolia. Sam, Kim (the researcher), and Kim (the scholar). The dinner was fancier than anything we had before, which made us ETAs laugh. However, as most first meetings go it became very awkward/hilarious. It all started with a bread bowl. Melissa passed it around for everyone, but it turns out no one, not even Melissa, wanted bread. So it made a complete circle untouched. This moment broke some of the ice and gave us all a good laugh. However, that laughing stopped once the hour-long speech and introductions started.
The next morning started the real orientation, these days were devoted to discussing the reality of living in the EAP region, reviewing the bureaucracy of a state department program, and getting general advice. Mongolia being the odd card out only intensified these days. While they were giving us advice on packing lots of shorts and warm weather clothes and the benefits of bug nets. The Mongolian table was discussing how to not freeze to death in -30 degree winters. Furthermore, during the desk officer meeting, the desk officer filling in for the actual officer did really know anything about Mongolia that we didn't already know. We were starting to feel like the black sheep of the flock. However, that changed with a surprise visit from the US Ambassador to Mongolia, Jennifer Z. Galt. She was very kind and informed us of the US Embassy's goals with diplomatic relations and how we can help support their programs. It was a great surprise opportunity, which we all greatly appreciated.
The rest of the orientation went back to being mostly unimportant and uninteresting, except for Saruul, Will and Adrien giving us more and more practical advice and information. As the week ended we all were ready to get back to our states and start preparing to leave the country. We couldn't even pay attention to most of the health and safety lecture because we were all preparing information to get our visas and work permits. We had a little over a month, before our departure, so we were in crunch time. Nevertheless, the Fulbright organization gave us a fun and informative orientation that would hopefully prepare us for our country placements.
WHAT I TOOK AWAY
The most important part of this experience was getting to know my fellow Fulbright face-to-face. We were able to make friendships before we got in country. Mongolia has one of the smaller ETA programs, with only 6 ETAs, so it is important that we all can work together. This orientation allowed us to lay the foundation for what will hopefully be productive friendships. Furthermore, this conference gave us valuable advice from people that were in our situation. I'm glad that I went, but it could be better. If they arranged TEFL training by K-Higher Education, moved Mongolia out of the EAP region to be with Russia, and allowed more opportunities to speak about future opportunities after Fulbright, I would say this was the perfect Pre-Departure Orientation. Nevertheless, even with all of its faults, I wouldn't have wanted to miss this awesome week.