Samantha Welsher '22 has never stepped foot inside of an airport, but there's a plane leaving for Spain next year, and she desperately wants to be on it.
Carlos and his mom, Herminia, lived down the street from Welsher growing up. Their two families were a few blocks from each other in the same Amsterdam, New York neighborhood where Welsher had always lived, though Herminia moved to the area from Mexico. Welsher and Carlos are about the same age, so they used to hang out a lot as kids, and Welsher eventually developed a friendship with Herminia as well. But, they didn't talk a lot in person. Instead they'd send messages back and forth over Facebook, with a necessary step in between. Welsher would take the message and then immediately run it through Google translate.
Welsher grew up with a lot of friends who spoke Spanish as their first, and sometimes primary, language. In some ways, it was fun when friends would teach her words in Spanish in the fifth grade. But, it was also frustrating. There were some friendships that fizzled or never got off the ground because of the language barrier, and it was also frustrating for Welsher to watch some friends struggle in school because of language, particularly during math class.
Math is its own language, and it can be spoken fluently by anyone regardless of their spoken language. However, if a student can't understand the math teacher because of a language barrier, that student is unfairly set up to fail.
"I was good at math, so I became a math tutor. That's when I realized I wanted to go to school to teach math. I love teaching the true purpose of math. I get frustrated with math teachers who don't allow students to think creatively and come back from their mistakes. Also, I was the only student in my AP Spanish class in high school who took it seriously."
Welsher took Spanish so she could hold a conversation, face-to-face, with friends like Herminia. She had already decided to pursue math education. That's when her whole world post college clicked into place - she decided to teach math in an ENL (English as a New Language) classroom. The math education and Spanish dual major wants to teach math to middle school students who are still learning English, perhaps in her hometown of Amsterdam. But first, she needs to stress test her Spanish fluency. She also wants a deeper understanding of the Spanish culture, and she needs to practice her craft in a classroom of Spanish-speaking students. It seemed impossible, until she got a "random email from someone at Siena" asking, "Are you interested in teaching abroad?"
Welsher's never been abroad. In fact, she's never been on an airplane or traveled beyond the east coast. She wanted the international experience, but had never been able to afford it. The "random email" mentioned that the entire cost of the trip would be covered. That's when Welsher decided to spend six months applying for a Fulbright grant.
The English Teaching Assistant programs place Fulbright award winners in classrooms abroad to provide assistance to the local English teachers. The program is incredibly competitive. In fact, Fulbright generally awards grants to only 20 percent of applicants to the U.S. Student Program. This year, Siena is offering support services, like never before, to encourage and assist Fulbright aspirants like Welsher. Welsher will officially submit her application on Monday, just before the October 12 deadline. She won't hear back until the spring.
"As someone who has never been abroad, getting the Fulbright award would be a life changing experience for me. Although it will be exciting to travel to Spain for the first time, Fulbright is more than just traveling. Receiving this grant will provide me with lifelong skills in the context of cultural diplomacy and education. Through the English Teaching Assistant grant, I will enhance my teaching abilities and experience the complexities of education from a global perspective."
Samantha Welsher '22
Four Saints will officially "Hit Submit" on their Fulbright application in the next few days
Each Fulbright hopeful has been engaged in the process for six months and participated in a new six-week online workshop this summer meant to give Siena students an edge in the application process. Since 2011, nine Siena students/alumni, out of 31 applicants, have earned Fulbright grants.
Meet the other applicants:
Daniela Diaz '22 - Spanish education major; applying for an English Teaching Assistant grant to Uruguay
Shelby Doren '22 - Political science major; applying for an English Teaching Assistant grant to Russia
Kiera Mitru '21 - English degree; applying for a Study/Research grant to Italy to fund a masters' gastronomy program in Pollenzo, Italy
"Working with the four Fulbright applicants over the last six months has been an immense pleasure, and the College is incredibly proud, supportive and hopeful for successful results on their hard-earned applications. Personally, it is wonderful to see these three students and one alumna put their heart and soul into their applications, diving deep into their personal values and examining their academic and professional goals in life. Fulbright would be blessed to have any of these students participate in their program, but no matter where Daniela, Kiera, Sam and Shelby go in life, there is no limit to their possibilities."
Matt Schiesel '15, assistant director for study abroad