Putting aside her work in the United States, Michigan State University 2021 graduate Emily Keller set her sights on Spain where she is now working as a Teaching Assistant helping students learn English as a recipient of a Fulbright U.S. Student Program grant.
After receiving her bachelor’s degree in Spanish and Secondary Education, with a minor in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), Keller was selected among a 9,300-applicant pool to travel abroad through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. She is one of the six College of Arts & Letters graduates who are studying and working abroad during the 2022-2023 academic year as recipients of Fulbright grants.
“This has been the goal for me since I knew I wanted to study education,” she said. “I always knew I wanted to be abroad and learn abroad for a little while. So now that it’s finally here, it’s really great to be doing it.”
The Fulbright program seeks out those who are pursuing graduate study, conducting research, or want to teach abroad to expand perspectives and create life-long connections. It is the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program, providing unparalleled opportunities in all academic disciplines to graduating college seniors, graduate students, and young professionals from all backgrounds.
“I always knew I wanted to be abroad and learn abroad for a little while. So now that it’s finally here, it’s really great to be doing it.”
Supported in more than 140 countries, the options are extensive for Fulbright recipients. During their grants, they meet, work, live with, and learn from the people of the host country, sharing daily experiences. The program facilitates cultural exchange through direct interaction on an individual basis in the classroom, field, home, and in routine tasks, allowing grantees to gain an appreciation of others’ viewpoints and beliefs, the way they do things, and the way they think. Students are selected based on their leadership potential, academic and/or professional achievement, and record of service.
Showcasing these qualities in her own work, Keller now works at Colegio Decroly, a private secondary bilingual school in Madrid, Spain, where she serves as a Language Assistant four days a week.
“I work with the teachers in their classrooms and collaborate with them, working on different English activities and cultural aspects, talking about my experience in the U.S.,” Keller said. “So, it’s pretty fun.”
Keller said she cherishes her students’ open-mindedness and hard work.
“Their levels of English are really impressive, and they’re really hard workers,” she said. “It’s been great working with them. They’re very interested in what I bring to the table, and I’m very interested in what they bring to the table. We have a lot of fun.”
It was the influence of her parents, who are both teachers, that Keller credits for her love and passion for teaching.
“They both love their jobs,” Keller said. “I went to the same school where my mom is a teacher, so I got to witness her teach, and she loved it.”
“I had an amazing Spanish teacher when I was in high school…Through her, I fell in love with Spain, the culture, and the language…Everything she taught me about the language and the culture, I wanted to do for other people.”
Keller’s high school Spanish teacher also had an impact on her wanting to teach and pursue Spanish as a major in college.
“I had an amazing Spanish teacher when I was in high school. She was super passionate about teaching, but also super passionate about the Spanish culture,” Keller said. “Through her, I fell in love with Spain, the culture, and the language. I wanted to continue learning it, so I studied it in college at MSU. Everything she taught me about the language and the culture, I wanted to do for other people.”
Keller originally planned to teach in the United States after graduating from MSU and earning her teaching certificate, but when the Fulbright opportunity arose, she jumped on it.
“It’s always been appealing to me to learn more about not only teaching,” Keller said, “but also the culture and language of which I will be teaching, which is Spanish.”
Keller first traveled to Spain during her senior year at MSU when she went on a study abroad trip to Valencia, Spain, in Spring 2020. She spent three months there before having to return home when the COVID-19 pandemic shut most things down.
“As the world was shutting down, I was getting phone calls from my family saying I had to come home immediately. So that was a little scary, but I made it home,” she said. “Then someone from the Fulbright team at Michigan State reached out and said, ‘we see that you were on study abroad, here’s an alternate way that can get you back to Spain.’ I thought, ‘what a great opportunity. It would get me back in Spain, and it would give me the opportunity that I didn’t really get to fulfill during my study abroad.’ So, I applied and now here we are.”
Keller credits her MSU education with helping her prepare to teach in Spain.
“I had some of the best professors. I loved their support, backgrounds, and everything that they were able to share about their love for teaching.”
“I had some of the best professors,” she said. “I loved their support, backgrounds, and everything that they were able to share about their love for teaching.”
The Fulbright program also helped Keller prepare for her time abroad by offering a lot of support, including several meetings and conferences to guide students and coordinators.
“They prep you and tell you everything you need to know,” she said. “The coordinators here in Spain also are super helpful. We have a ton of support on the ground over here. We all have one advisor based on where you’re placed or what region you’re in, so you have someone even more specific that not only you can reach out to, but they’re also going to reach out to you when they check in with you. It’s really great.”
As she finishes up her time with her Fulbright assignment, Keller reflects on her experience in Spain and hopes to explore more options within the Fulbright program. She also offers this advice to others who may be considering a Fulbright assignment: “If you’re thinking, at any point, about wanting to live abroad or teach in a different setting, and you’re not sure if this is what you want to study, this is a great opportunity to learn. Fulbright is a really great program to do those things with and MSU has wonderful staff that is super helpful.”