To Be a Fulbright ETA

I’m getting real sick and tired of this “adjustment” period.

Seriously. When will it end?

Actually, maybe I should ask the question, “When did I start to feel out of it?” I mentioned in my first post written from Baku that I felt surprisingly at home. But lately I haven’t. What happened?

The job started. My role as an ETA (English Teaching Assistant) went into full-swing about a week after I arrived and since then it’s been a crazy ride. I’m aware that I haven’t delved into much detail yet concerning my role as a Fulbright ETA. Part of the reason is that my role is being redefined or altered almost on a daily basis. I want to know 100% what I’m doing, what I’m responsible for, and what people need from me. That way I can tie this concept of “Fulbright ETA” into a neat little package and present it to myself (and you back home) as a tidy idea.

However, that has not the case. And I’m begrudgingly realizing that that might never be the case during my time here.

Because of this, I’ve had some intense periods of frustration and angst, and some days I’ve felt downright weary (just being completely honest, not seeking sympathy). I sincerely thank friends and family (both in Azerbaijan and back home) who have practiced great patience with my venting emails, texts, comments, and Skype dates (especially since you all have your own crazy lives to deal with!). Additionally, I’ve had an on-going dialogue with myself concerning the amount of detail of those struggles I should write on this blog. I don’t want this forum to be a flurry of daily frustration but a resource for future Fulbrighters, especially those considering going to Azerbaijan. But explaining some struggles will doubtlessly be helpful, and I want to be honest about my experience here…

What to do? What do to?

Well here, let’s discuss my role, in general, as an ETA. I’ll list most of the projects that are either fully-functioning or in development that I have been asked to do:

At Azerbaijan State Economic University (ASEU)

  • Lead weekly conversation classes for 3 groups of Honors College students (at my university they’re referred to as “Special Talent Groups/STG”)
  • Lead weekly 2 conversation clubs for university students (still in development at the time of this post)
  • Lead weekly 1 conversation club for university staff (This is slowly catching on…)
  • Assist English department staff at 3 weekly meetings (at the time of this post, this has been hit-or-miss)
  • Help in various first-year business English courses (I’ve had a few days where I visited or co-taught classes, otherwise this is so up in the air)

Other Commitments

  • Facilitate a MOOC (online) course entitled “College Writing 2.1” and meet with participants weekly at the American Center
  • Lead clubs at the American Center (I keep putting this off, partly because my schedule keeps changing but also because, seriously, look at how much of my time is taken up already!)

Personal Goals

  • Intensive language study (I’ve concluded that I need survival Russian skills and I want to develop my Turkish/Azeri to an Intermediate level)
  • Side project I promised Fulbright I would do (still not sure what this will entail; maybe I can make this blog be my side project? lol)

All this on top of maintaining/forming lasting friendships, getting to know Baku as my residence, exploring Azerbaijan, and traveling. Plus having enough alone time to prevent me from going crazy. Oh, and I’m applying to grad schools and fellowships right now. Where’s my American coffee? Or should I ask for a bottle of wine?

I’ve been here a month-and-a-half, and seeing my list of things that are still “in development” or “up in the air” makes me squirm. I’m learning that I find too much comfort in having a consistent schedule. I would say Americans tend to like consistency, but I’m attached to it to the next level. I can be flexible and understanding initially, but I expect my kindness to be returned with consistency in a timely manner. I also like to commit to a select number of things and devote a lot of time to them, versus having responsibility for a dozen ideas/projects that I can’t dedicate time to. Quality versus quantity.

However, I have to stop and remind myself that I haven’t been here that long. This is both comforting and terrifying. If things get better and more consistent, then great. If everything remains as hectic as it is now, my time here will seem never-ending. Ultimately, I take comfort in the fact that I will adapt.

Indeed, I will adapt.

It might take some time, but I’ll be alright. A lot of people have affirmed this and I’m slowly realizing it now. I adapted to crazy Turkey, and that country occupies a special place in my heart. So even though I’m overall uneasy about my role as a Fulbrighter at the moment, some things will fall into place and make sense.

So, dear fellow Fulbrighters or hopeful applicants, let’s explore a challenge I’ve been repeatedly facing lately, and see how it illustrates (in my opinion) what it means to be a Fulbright ETA, especially during the initial months:

  • Develop extreme levels of flexibility. So I get all dressed up for the day and arrive at the school only to learn that some of my classes I just started are cancelled/delayed indefinitely due to scheduling changes. Wait, what, how long will it take before the schedule is figured out? Can the school really change the schedule 5 weeks into the semester? Oh yes, it can….if anything, expect the worst case scenario to occur – brace yourself.
  • Practice self control. Great, my classes are delayed for God knows how long; that’s not the most pleasant news to be presented after spending time preparing materials, brainstorming ideas, and worrying myself sick because I want to do a good job. With such news, I react by first becoming distressed and wanting to shut down, and then I’m consumed by anger and want to swear like a sailor, or lash out with ethnocentric comments. Of course, I can’t control internal dialogue, but I can (and must) control how I conduct my words and actions aimed at my peers.
  • Take initiative and be persistent. In essence, I have a free day now. I’ve gotten good at going to other faculty members and asking, “Would you mind if I joined you for a bit and observed your class?” Some people have taken me under their wing and I can discreetly hop into their classes whenever I want. Not only am I there as an English resource to potentially help others, but I’m learning too. Learning the topic they are teaching about (I’m at a university that emphasizes economics, marketing, and business, so a lot of this is new territory for me), and I’m learning new teaching methods and ideas. So even if I can’t teach for a day, I can at least learn!
  • You are part of the team. If anything goes wrong, I know that I am not the only one hindered or disrupted – everyone is affected. For instance, when I asked about the kinds of technology available to me, I was assured that having a projector and internet would be “no problem.” It turns out, it is a problem – hardly any piece of technology in the classrooms is up to the task. I was promised these things, I will demand to have them! Nuh-uh, not so fast! Everyone has to work through the bureaucracy and fill out forms to explain what is broken and why they want it to work. Everyone? Even me? Oh yes, no one gets special treatment and everyone suffers. But one gets creative when challenges arise; and if I’m plugging myself into a community, I’m committed to it for better or for worse – as part of the team.

To conclude, I’m sorry that this post was a snore but, some of you back home have asked about my “job” here. It’s a bit of a mess, but I’m navigating my way….perhaps this is what the “real world” is all about?

Until next time….  : )

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