Holly Wheeler was the third Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) that Tanya, a senior at Shyama Prasad Vidyalaya secondary school in New Delhi, India, had encountered. Though she had never left Delhi in her life, her exposure to three American teachers at school instilled in Tanya a keen interest in studying abroad. In the spring of her senior year, Tanya approached Wheeler and asked for help with an application for a scholarship to study in Hungary. Over the course of the next few months, Wheeler worked with Tanya — an aspiring astronaut — on the application, developing her personal statement, rehearsing for interviews, and taking part in candid discussions about the benefits and challenges she might experience while studying internationally.
In August 2017, Tanya (right, with Wheeler) received word that she had received the full-tuition scholarship. Wheeler describes Tanya’s success as her proudest Fulbright moment. “[Tanya] took her first plane ride to Debrecen, Hungary, and started her B.Sc. in Physics where she is now at the top of her class and has made friends from around the world. To know that I had some role to play in helping her achieve her ambitious goals is something that might have never happened had she not crossed paths with three Fulbrighters.”
Wheeler was a graduate student in the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver before embarking on her Fulbright. During her studies, she took on a remote graphic design internship with the Fulbright Outreach Team. Through her design work on marketing materials and online content for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, Wheeler gained a foundational understanding of the Fulbright Program’s mission and global impact, and kept it in mind as a potential postgraduate opportunity.
Those Fulbright aspirations solidified after she took part in a faculty-led study abroad and service learning experience in Dharamsala, India, which offered Wheeler her first exposure to the country and her first experience teaching English. A short-term guest teaching position at the Gamru Village School taught Wheeler a great deal about the educational challenges facing Indian children from low-income backgrounds, and her experience there motivated her to apply to the ETA program in India with the hopes of having a greater impact.
As a Fulbright-Nehru English Teaching Assistant, Wheeler taught conversational English to over 300 students in grades 6-8 at Shyama Prasad Vidyalaya, a government-aided school in New Delhi. Many of her students came from low-income households and were the children of auto-rickshaw drivers and shopkeepers. Using the Content-Language Integrated Learning technique, Wheeler developed a nine-month curriculum that incorporated interdisciplinary topics and cross-cultural content into language lessons. “We learned about world leaders, analyzed the lyrics of a song, and practiced the future tense through a lesson on International Peace Day. Another class focused on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, where we contrasted American and Indian histories of racism and nonviolence, and practiced speaking and writing about our current societies and dreams for the future,” she explains.
Outside the classroom, Wheeler also sought out opportunities to be involved with the local community in New Delhi. She volunteered with EducationUSA as a guest presenter and adviser for Indian secondary school students interested in study abroad; created teacher training materials for the education non-profit Commotion India; and collaborated with Indians and fellow Americans to combat air pollution in New Delhi as a volunteer for the organization Care for Air.
For Wheeler, the ETA experience also opened a new career interest in language education and study abroad advising. She now works at Northern Arizona University’s Center for International Education where she supports a study abroad initiative called Interdisciplinary Global Programs, a five-year program through which students can earn dual degrees in STEM or business fields and a foreign language, and spend a full academic year abroad immersed in their language of study. “My ETA experience has guided me in this direction, and I am grateful that my Fulbright helped me realize this specific interest,” Wheeler shares. “It also provided me with one of the biggest missing pieces of my resume — long-term international work experience.”
Now living in Flagstaff, Wheeler has also taken on a leadership role with the Fulbright Association’s Arizona Chapter. “While our Fulbright grants have an end date, our time being Fulbrighters never does. The relationships that we build abroad and the skills we develop help our professional work after Fulbright and shape the way we see the world. I joined the Fulbright Association to keep that perspective strong in my own work, to stay connected with other alumni that are doing incredible things in their fields, and to ensure that the Fulbright Program continues to provide opportunities like this to more Americans and internationals in the future.”