Fulbright Think Tank Workshop: “U.S. Culture & Society in the English Class”

The Romanian-U.S. Fulbright Commission organized the second edition of the Fulbright Think Tank workshop, which took place on February 19, 2015, bringing together high school teachers of English from all over Romania. The Fulbright Think Tank initiative was launched in 2013, when American Studies experts and academics came together to discuss the strong and the weak points of the discipline in terms of its future in Romanian universities. In 2015, the Fulbright Think Tank project continued with a workshop dedicated to improving the ways in which American culture and social values are acknowledged and integrated in the teaching of English as a foreign language to high school students, as well as to better informing Romanian teachers about the process of admission to U.S. universities. 31 Romanian teachers, 4 Fulbright English Teaching Assistants, two Fulbright Educational Advising Center - EducationUSA advisers, several Fulbright grantees, as well as distinguished representatives of the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest and the Ministry of Education and Scientific Research, participated in a long-awaited event, meant as the stepping stone for future cooperation between the Romanian-U.S. Fulbright Commission, EducationUSA and Romanian teachers of English. The event was made possible by a generous grant from the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest.

The workshop titled "U.S. Culture & Society in the English Class" opened with welcome addresses by Marjorie Stern, Cultural Affairs Officer, U.S. Embassy in Romania, dr. Anca-Mariana Pegulescu, Inspector General for English with the Ministry of Education and Scientific Research, dr. Luisa Maria Rosu, U.S. Fulbright Scholar, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Prof. Rodica Mihăilă, Executive Director of the Fulbright Commission, who underlined the timeliness and relevance of the workshop, as well the need to create a wider network of specialists in American cultural studies at the high school level. Ms. Jane Thompson, Early Interventionist and Child Development Specialist, delivered a highly-appreciated and engaging keynote lecture, pointing out some of the best-known features of American cultural identity as they stand out in the global context.

To further engage the interest of Romanian teachers, Ms. Cornelia Vlaicu, Cultural Affairs Assistant, U.S. Embassy, shared valuable information on training opportunities for teachers of English, including specialization courses and online classes. Ms. Monica Drăgan, Director of the Information Resource Center (IRC) and American Corner Program Coordinator, spoke about the many events that IRC and American Corners around the country regularly organize to promote American culture, further providing the participants with an impressive list of resources and suggestions for database access.

Fulbright ETAs Jamie Beth Weaver, Logan Woods, Kaylee Roupas and Erika Schultes put together a highly informative and thought-provoking panel, “Best Practices in Introducing U.S. Culture & Society in the English Class”. They shared teaching methodologies, discussed their own constantly evolving syllabi and proposed creative ways of introducing American culture into the foreign language class. The discussions that were initiated during this panel continued in the next session, “Addressing U.S. Culture in the English Class: Romanian Case Studies,” which explored teaching suggestions, dilemmas and feedback from Romanian teachers of English and one American instructor with extensive experience in Romanian high schools. Dana Postolache (“Petru Rareş” National College, Suceava), Florina Ruse (“George Coşbuc” National College, Bucharest), Constanţa Bordea (“A. Şaguna” National College, Braşov) and Jessica Wozniak (National Theoretical High School, Bucharest) challenged the audience by raising topical questions pertaining to English certification papers, the teaching of U.S. literature and the use of current events to promote class discussions, leading to pertinent observations and enthusiastic contributions to post-panel discussions in the Q&A section.

Last, but not least, the educational advisers of the Romanian-U.S. Fulbright Commission and the EducationUSA Center at the Fulbright Commission delivered a presentation outlining the Commission's plans for future cooperation with high school teachers. In particular, the presentation addressed the question of facilitating access to better preparation in view of admission to U.S. universities by hosting webinars and in-center events, as well as carrying out frequent outreach sessions. The plans outlined by the EducationUSA/Fulbright advisers focused on reaching out to underserved students throughout the country and starting its first program of cohort advising while fully cooperating with Romanian teachers in Bucharest and 13 other cities.

The scheduled interventions at the end of the workshop added new dimensions to the comments and suggestions that had been made so far. Thus, Sanda Gabor (“Gh. Șincai” High School, Cluj-Napoca), Dacian Bărbosu (“Preparandia -D. Țichindeal“  National College, Arad), Cosmina Almăşan (“O. Goga” National College, Sibiu) and Radu Sergiu Ruba (Romanian Association of the Blind) offered their own perspectives on how to address American topics in the English class, while simultaneously keeping in mind the need to provide students with disabilities with access to quality teaching material.
The Fulbright Think Tank workshop concluded with a reception held at Casa Oamenilor de Ştiinţă, honoring the participants and celebrating what may become the first in a series of events aimed at strengthening the bond between the Fulbright Commission and Romanian teachers of English.  

The full program of the workshop is available here. More pictures on the Commission's Facebook Page.