Alex Olson, a 2011 alumnus of California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), has been selected for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) Scholarship that will send him to Russia for the 2013-14 academic year.
Part of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, the ETA program is designed to improve foreign students’ English language abilities and knowledge of the United States. Participants are placed in schools or universities outside of capital cities in more than 20 countries and are fully integrated into the host community, increasing their own language skills and knowledge of the host country.
The award covers round-trip airfare and a monthly stipend for serving as a secondary school assistant English teacher. In addition to teaching, Olson plans to continue researching the “Russian soul, a cultural phenomenon that he has been looking into nearly as long as he has been studying the Russian language.
“I’m still somewhat shocked, to be honest,” Olson said of his selection for the Fulbright award. “A Fulbright grant is one of those things that I heard about frequently enough, but I always thought of it as a long shot. I’m beyond ecstatic to have received the grant, though. “One of my career goals is to spend several years teaching English abroad, and a Fulbright grant seemed like the perfect opportunity to kick-start that process.”
The 24-year-old Seal Beach resident and 2006 graduate of Los Alamitos High School described himself as an enthusiastic traveler with a passion for teaching who is eager to begin his career as a formal educator. He will be placed at Tomsk State Polytechnic University in Siberia during his Fulbright experience.
“I recently spent two months studying in Russia and saw a growing need for teachers of English as well as the Russians’ astounding eagerness to learn,” pointed out Olson, a President’s Scholar who earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish from CSULB in 2011. “With my experience as a tutor, future TEFL (Teaching English certification, and knowledge of both Russian and American history, politics and culture, I hope to be able to make a positive impact during my time in Russia.”
While he already has a solid grasp of the fundamentals of the Russian language, Olson hopes to hone his language skills through three to six months of intensive study of literature, grammar, and if possible, legal and/or technical terminology. Instruction will be conducted concurrently with his Fulbright grant, as per the Critical Language Enhancement Award guidelines for Russia. He will take courses entirely in Russian at the college level, which will allow him to complete this study at nearly any institution of higher learning in Russia.
“Though my Russian language skills are certainly passable for just three years of study, I often struggle with comprehension of complex texts and fail to grasp nuance,” he noted. “Further study of Russian also is necessary for my future career in interpretation. As a judicial interpreter, full fluency at all registers of speech is necessary in order to ensure due process of law and to avoid mistrials. Linguistic training in Russia would be invaluable in advancing my knowledge of such specialized terminology and preparing me for this career.”
His proposed research project during his Fulbright experience concerns the contemporary understanding of the “Russian soul,” a key concept in the Russian people’s sense of identity on both a national and cultural plane. Much of the writing concerning Russians’ self-definition, especially in post-Soviet Russia, has not been translated into English, Olson noted. With additional linguistic training in Russian, he hopes to be able to understand fully the dense philosophical texts, scholarly journals and other sources of information regarding Russians’ evolving sense of self and nationality.
Olson’s eventual goal is to return to the United States and become certified as a court interpreter at the state and federal level for both Russian and Spanish.
The U.S. Congress created the Fulbright Program in 1946, immediately after World War II, to foster mutual understanding among nations through educational and cultural exchanges. Senator J. William Fulbright, sponsor of the legislation, saw it as a step toward building an alternative to armed conflict.
Today, the Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s premier scholarship program. It is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and the primary source of funding for the program is through an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the Department of State. Since the Fulbright Program's inception, approximately 294,000 participants have been chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential.