News

Emily Hadfield (’19) Fulbright in Estonia

College of Arts & Letters Fulbrighter


 
fulbright-hadfield-lead.jpg

SUMMARY: Emily Hadfield is currently in Estonia doing an English Teaching Assistantship through The Fulbright Program. She graduated from JMU with a degree in modern foreign languages - French, a minor in honors interdisciplinary studies and her TESOL licensure.


By Emily Hadfield ('19)

I have officially completed my first full week in Estonia! My life in this first week is about as predictable as the Estonian weather - one moment I am soaking up the sunshine from the window of my new favorite coffee shop, the next moment I am outside sprinting to shelter from the sudden deluge of gargantuan hail stones. Thankfully my umbrella is constructed with the fortitude of a Nordic viking.

Before I go on: what pops into your mind when you hear someone mention Estonia? Chances are, not much, because people actually rarely mention Estonia. (Though some of you have done even more research about it than I have, @dad).

tallinn2-310.jpg
Sights around the capital of Estonia, Tallinn.

As it turns out, Estonia has an interesting, little-known education system. Nearly one-third of the country’s highest academic performers are their students with the lowest socioeconomic statuses. Additionally, Estonia scores within the top 10 nations in math and reading and is third in the world in science, yet prides itself on teacher autonomy and limited state exams, an admirable feat to say the least. My goal throughout my grant will be to learn about this system and how I can effectively apply aspects of it in my next teaching environment.

For me, becoming a teacher was never a question, it was a given. When I was 8, I sat in my 2nd grade math class doing problems on a little whiteboard while the kids around me talked about what they wanted to be when they grew up. I thought for a moment and said, “I’m going to be a teacher,” and went back to my math.

For me, becoming a teacher was never a question, it was a given.

Estonians are culturally linked to their Finnish neighbors to the north, meaning they do not interact with strangers. I didn’t realize how often I have conversations with strangers in the US, how often Americans smile and greet each other, until I got here and have to suppress my American instinct to smile at everyone I see.

I know how to say very few things in Estonian, but I successfully managed, “Ma ei räägi eesti keelt. Kas sa räägid inglise keelt?” in my new favorite coffee shop. (I don’t speak Estonian. Do you speak English?). The barista did not speak English, but she found a sweet older lady who did. It wasn’t much, but I said something and was understood.

talinn-coffee-310.jpg
My new favorite coffee shop.

It wasn’t much, but I said something and was understood.

After sitting in the shop surrounded by chatting, laughing people, sipping tea, and eating chocolate cake, my mood certainly lifted! I enjoyed it so much I accidentally sat there for 30 minutes past closing and snuck out when no one was looking, oops.

As part of my grant, I will be working four hours a week with the Access English program, a US Embassy-run program for underprivileged youth to improve their English. The ladies who run it are incredibly warm-hearted and open. In my first English class, they asked me to do a short introduction lesson telling the students about myself and then learning their names. I am pleased to say that this was not a small success but a large one. The students seemed a bit amused by my American-ness at first, but they were funny, talkative, engaged, and motivated. They are sweet kids, and I’m excited to spend more time with them!

The students seemed a bit amused by my American-ness at first, but they were funny, talkative, engaged, and motivated.

talinn-oj-310.jpg
Drinking orange juice in Tallin, Estonia.

Overall, this week has been difficult in ways I hadn’t foreseen and easier in others. The language is incomprehensible, but people are kind. As this adjustment progresses, I’m looking forward to making friends and forging deeper relationships with those I’ve already met. Later this week, I will be receiving a schedule with times to meet with the local English teachers, and I’m excited to meet the teachers and get teaching!

Here goes nothing.

Apply for Fulbright

Back to Top

Published: Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Last Updated: Monday, December 16, 2019

Related Articles