Fulbright Think Tank Workshop: “Promoting American Values: Diversity in the English Class”

The Romanian-U.S. Fulbright Commission organized the third edition of the Fulbright Think Tank workshop, which took place on February 18, 2016, bringing together high school teachers of English from across the country. 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.

This year’s Fulbright Think Tank workshop was aimed at improving the ways in which American values are acknowledged and integrated in the teaching of English as a foreign language to high school students, as a path to embracing diversity and navigating the challenges of globalization.  

33 Romanian teachers, 4 Fulbright English Teaching Assistants, several Fulbright grantees, as well as distinguished representatives of the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest and the Ministry of National Education and Scientific Research, participated in this event, which has become a fixture in our yearly calendar. The event was made possible by a generous grant from the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest.

The workshop, titled "Promoting American Values: Diversity in the English Class", opened with welcome addresses by Ronald E. Hawkins, Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Embassy in Romania, dr. Anca-Mariana Pegulescu, Inspector General for English with the Ministry of National Education and Scientific Research, 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 a high school level.

Special presentations were given by our guest speakers: Ms. Jane Thompson, Early Interventionist and Child Development Specialist, who addressed the topic of neurodiversity and children with special needs, Fulbright ETA and celebrated poet Tara Skurtu, who delivered an engaging presentation on creativity in the English class, and Dr. Anca-Mariana Pegulescu, who spoke about different cultural approaches, as reflected through proverbs.

Dr. Tunde Adeleke, Senior Fulbright Grantee and Director of the African and African American Studies Program at the Iowa State University of Science and Technology, kindly agreed to give a highly informative keynote lecture, titled “The Black Experience as Mirror into the Challenges of Diversity in the United States: An Historical Analysis”.

The “meat” of this intellectual feast was provided, as usual, by the panel discussions. The first panel session, dedicated to ways of addressing American culture in the English class through the lens of Romanian case studies, explored teaching methodologies, dilemmas and challenges that Romanian teachers of English are faced with.

Elena Sticlea (“Gheorghe Lazăr” National College, Bucharest), Anca Popa (“Andrei Şaguna” National College, Sibiu), Oana Andone (“M. Eminescu” National College, Iaşi), Ioana Hanchevici (“Gh. Şincai” High School, Cluj-Napoca) and Monica Ionescu (“B.P. Haşdeu” National College, Buzău) shared their time-tested interactive teaching methods, strategies for promoting values through U.S. literature and popular culture, 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.

In the next panel session, Fulbright ETAs Lindsey Appell, Rebecca Bosshart and Shannon Foss, joined by U.S. Fulbright-Hays grantee Walker Frahm, provided, in turn, their own take on “Best Practices in Promoting American Culture in the English Class”. They shared innovative approaches to teaching and teaching methodologies, discussed their own constantly evolving syllabi, and proposed creative ways of introducing American culture into the foreign language class.

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.

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. The plans outlined by the EducationUSA/Fulbright advisers focused on reaching out to underserved students throughout the country and on our newly launched Opportunity Funds program, aimed at providing financial support in the application process to deserving students from underprivileged backgrounds.

The Fulbright Think Tank workshop concluded with a reception held at Casa Universitarilor, honoring the participants and celebrating yet another successful event, meant to nurture future cooperation between the Romanian-U.S. Fulbright Commission, EducationUSA and Romanian teachers of English.

More pictures on the Commission's Facebook Page.