My first Fulbright Scholar teaching experience was to Malaysia and its Ministry of Education with the assignment of designing and teaching a four-day workshop to be delivered to university English language faculties in five locations around the country. Malaysia was going through a major educational change. The Ministry of Education wanted schools and teachers to move away from lecturing and student memorization for tests and move to developing their critical thinking skills. My workshop, “Developing Critical Thinking Skills Through Effective Questioning,” was then to be taught by the English language faculty members who had attended my workshop to the rest of their non-English speaking faculty members when they returned to their respective universities.
I accomplished this ambitious goal over a 3-month period during my one-year sabbatical from Kent State University. While my primary effort was to be granted a Fulbright Scholarship to teach abroad, I realized that I needed to apply to other universities just in case I was not granted a Fulbright. My wife, Kathy, and I decided that this was a great opportunity to live and learn outside the U.S.
Fortunately, I had some other possibilities in mind. Our daughter, Leslie, who graduated from Kent State had moved to Pueblo, Mexico, and was teaching English in a public school. Since she had just started taking courses for her MBA at the Universidad de las Americas, I asked if she could meet with the education department chairperson to see if she could use a visiting teacher education professor for a semester. I also made contact with a faculty member from the University of Western Sydney in Australia whom I met while participating on a Keizai Koho Fellowship to Japan in 1991. I also asked if she could use a visiting professor.
Much to our surprise, all three contacts came through with a “yes!” and we decided to accept all the invitations. We had both just turned 50 years of age and thought this would be the way to celebrate getting over this big hump in a very dramatic way. Teaching undergraduate and graduate semester courses in Mexico and Australia were wonderful experiences, especially learning about their different cultures through contact with fellow faculty and my students. The Fulbright teaching experience in Malaysia was just as rewarding but a little more challenging primarily because of extensive traveling throughout the country and adapting to the secular Islamic culture. For example, holding the workshop during Ramadan was slightly problematic. As a Fulbrighter, I was treated extremely well.
Our visit to Sabah, on the island of Borneo, to conduct the third workshop was most memorable in our travels because we toured through a rain forest and traveled up Mr. Kinabalu.
William Wilen – Fulbright to Malaysia 1994