Trinity College Senior Awarded Fulbright U.S. Student English Teaching Assistantship

Alicia Abbaspour ’18 to Teach English in Malaysia in 2019

​Hartford, Connecticut, April 23, 2018—Alicia Abbaspour ’18 was recently awarded an English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Abbaspour will travel to Malaysia for 10 months to teach English to secondary school students from grades seven to twelve. The Fulbright ETA Program places U.S. students as English teaching assistants in schools or universities overseas, thus improving foreign students’ English language abilities and knowledge of the United States while increasing their own language skills and knowledge of the host country.

​Alicia Abbaspour ’18 at the Petit Palais in Paris.
Abbaspour will complete a double major in international studies and English literature and a minor in French studies at Trinity. She came to Hartford from Indiana, seeking as many new experiences as possible. During her college career, she served as an orientation chair and leader for new student orientation, has been involved with the Women and Gender Resource Action Center (WGRAC), was a peer mental health counselor for Project Let’s Erase the Stigma, and was a research assistant for Campaign for Community. She also served as president for the college chapter of Amnesty International, president of the Chapel Council, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Beacon Newsmagazine, and a mentor for the Kennelly Mentoring Program at Kennelly School, a Hartford public school close to campus.

Abbaspour also enjoyed many opportunities to study away. During her college career, she volunteered and interned in Ghana, South Africa, and France, often working with refugee populations. “[Being abroad] made me realize how much I like being out of my comfort zone, trying to navigate cultural, national, language, or religious barriers, and understanding and connecting with others,” she said.

In Pokuase, Ghana, Abbaspour worked as a teacher’s assistant in a primary school. In Cape Town, South Africa, she interned at the Cape Town Refugee Center to facilitate conversations regarding the experiences that refugee women faced. In Paris, she volunteered at a refugee camp and found that the underlying reason for most misunderstandings stem from the inability to speak the other’s language. “Language is more than just the words we use; language is connected to our world views, our experiences, and our environments,” she said.

These experiences led Abbaspour to apply for the Fulbright assistantship, which she felt was a perfect opportunity to combine her interests and give her the chance to look at English in a new way. “As an English major, I've spent the past four years trying to unpack meaning in stories and poems; to try to unpack my first language seemed like an exciting challenge,” she said.

After careful consideration, Abbaspour decided to apply to work in Malaysia, given the multiethnic nature of the country. “I’m always interested in the ways people construct identity across cultural or ethnic divisions—my senior thesis actually looks at identity construction within the Iranian-American community—so I am excited to see how different groups in Malaysia carve out their belonging and form a national identity,” she said. She was also attracted to the Malaysian program because of the large number of ETAs and the opportunity to work with younger-aged school children. Abbaspour noted that she is interested in immersing herself in Malaysian music and dance, as these are key elements to the identity of the country.

Abbaspour’s background as an Iranian-American also influenced her decision to apply for this assistantship. “My two countries have been at odds with one another my entire life. They have created false binaries about how they are polar opposites, how they represent the exact antithesis of the other. As an Iranian-American, I have always been stuck in the middle of this lack of understanding,” she said. “Being a cultural mediatory between the two worlds I identity with has given me the opportunity to build mutual understanding between Iran and the U.S., just as I hope to do between Malaysia and the U.S.”

She will begin her 10 months in Malaysia in January 2019. Abbaspour is eager to see how this experience might influence what she wants to do in the future. She hopes to work in the NGO or nonprofit sector before attending law school or attaining a master’s degree in social work. Abbaspour said that it is important to her to continue working with refugee and immigrant populations. “It’s the type of cross-cultural work that I love, and it's also incredibly personal to me, as my parents are both immigrants,” she said.

Trinity College Associate Professor of English Sarah Bilston, Assistant Professor of English Katherine L. Bergren, and Director for the Office of Community Service and Civic Engagement Joe Barber wrote recommendations for Abbaspour’s Fulbright application. Bilston said, “Alicia is incredibly hard-working and determined; she’s also extremely articulate and a fabulous writer. She’s going to be a wonderful ambassador and an inspiring teacher.”

Bergren said that Abbaspour always strives to capture complex and thorny concepts. “Remarkably, she does so while remaining eminently comprehensible and eloquent,” Bergren said. “Her genuine warmth and outgoing nature make her in many ways a natural teacher, and she seeks out opportunities to use this gift.”

Barber added that Abbaspour approaches all situations as an opportunity to learn. “Alicia endeavors to do right by all in whatever circumstance she finds herself,” Barber said. “She is also smart and competent, so she knows that she doesn’t know everything and can always learn from others. This has served her and others well in everything in which she has been involved.”

Abbaspour credits Trinity faculty and staff for her success. “I’ve never had such brilliant mentors as I have had here, and they truly have inspired me to continuously challenge myself and my way of thinking. Not only are they great educators, but they also have shown me unbelievable compassion and empathy. They’ve made Trinity home for me, and I only hope to take what they’ve taught me on my journey as a Fulbright ETA,” she said.

One other member of the Trinity College Class of 2018, Suzanne Del Rosario, was named as an alternate for a U.S. Student Fulbright research grant for Trinidad & Tobago. A Posse Scholar from New York City, with a double major in human rights and public policy & law, Del Rosario will research the impact of the recent economic crisis on gender roles in Trinidad, if she ultimately receives the grant.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is the largest U.S. exchange program offering opportunities for students and young professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and primary and secondary school teaching worldwide. The program currently awards approximately 1,900 grants annually in all fields of study, and operates in more than 140 countries worldwide.

The Fulbright Program was established by Congress in 1946 under legislation introduced by the late Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas and is sponsored by the United States Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). Its goal is to “enable the government of the United States to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.”

Written by Sophia Gourley ’19