My journey as an ETA: from Argenteuil to Berlin

Parisa Sadeghi, Fulbright ETA
Lycée Julie-Victoire Daubié, Argenteuil

The Paris ETAs are a lively bunch, and whenever we get together, a correspondingly lively discussion/debate inevitably ensues. But there is one thing someone seems to mention every time and on which we always agree: our time here has absolutely flown by. With our teaching responsibilities and our personal projects and the most beautiful city in the world constantly tempting us with endless things to do, it isn’t surprising that these seven months haven’t felt like seven months at all. Indeed, in Paris, I often find myself caught up in what is happening day-to-day and what is going on tomorrow; I forget, sometimes, to look back on/think about my experience so far. For this reason, I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to attend the Fulbright Berlin Seminar, where I was given the time and the space to pause–to reflect on what has been (and I say this at the risk of sounding overly dramatic, but it is sincere!) a life-changing journey.

Incidentally, the theme of the 2017 Berlin Conference was “Journey.” The conference had over 500 attendees, most of whom were ETAs (and the majority of that group was based in Germany). The four-day seminar was designed to facilitate as many exchanges–both in formal and informal settings–between attendees as possible. We heard presentations from researchers on their projects, we participated in smaller workshops about a range of topics, and we attended a reception at the beautiful Berlin City Hall.

Despite all that we did, the conference organizers maintained a great balance between planned activities and free time, and the unstructured hours gave us an opportunity to form lasting connections as we toured the city of Berlin together. But whether it was in walking from monument to museum, or in sitting in a lecture room, we were always bouncing ideas off of each other and asking and answering questions about our experiences so far.

I met ETAs from all over Europe, from Andorra to Finland; I met German students who received grants to study in the United States; I met researchers asking fascinating questions and exploring them in creative ways; and I met former Fulbright grantees who had chosen to stay at their respective schools for a second year. A large portion of what I learned from this experience, I learned from the other grantees that I met. We discussed everything from hilarious experiences during the search for housing, to the place of religion in the classroom in our respective countries. I learned about how the size of the Spanish ETA program–around 100, as opposed to the 10 in France–affected the ETAs teaching experience. I heard, from someone who was involved in the effort himself, about how German schools are handling the rising cohort of students who are refugees, and I was able to listen to a German ETA and a Finnish ETA discuss how their schools dealt with this issue differently.

And of course, in asking others about their experiences and in being asked questions about my own, I had the chance to reflect on my time in Paris. I was reminded, for example, to think about my initial expectations when I began my role as an ETA and the ways those have changed. I was pushed to consider what impact I wanted to have in my last few weeks at the Lycée Julie-Victoire Daubié. I thought about the significance of my role as a cultural ambassador, particularly during this time in history. I reflected on what impressed me about the French education system, and what did not.

Berlin is an incredible city, and the conference itself was enriching and educational. But for me, the most valuable part of the experience was the opportunity to meet so many interesting, curious individuals, and the chance to reflect on our year together. Until Berlin, I don’t think I realized how vast the Fulbright network is, nor did I understand how much I could get from the people that form it. In Germany, I met people with whom I know I will continue to exchange ideas and reflections long past our Fulbright time is over. I came away with a deeper appreciation for the Fulbright community. And, even as I reach the end of my Fulbright year, I look back on this conference as a reminder to still reflect and think critically about what this year has meant, and about how I might bring my Fulbright experience back to the United States with me in whatever way I can.

Thank you very much to the French Fulbright Commission for giving me the opportunity to attend the conference, to the conference organizers for a wonderful event, and to all of the people I met in Berlin who shared their experiences with me.

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