Karissa Jackson’s interest in Eurasia took her on multiple trips to Russia and Ukraine during her time at Centre College, and now the 2014 graduate will spend the upcoming academic year in the Republic of Moldova as the recipient of a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) grant.
The Fulbright ETA program is a government initiative that places awardees in English classrooms around the globe where they serve as teaching assistants and cultural ambassadors for the United States. Jackson is one of two grant recipients bound for the Eastern European nation, which lies northwest of the Black Sea and is bordered by Romania and Ukraine.
The self-designed international studies and Russian studies major had planned to apply for a Fulbright grant since first becoming aware of the program as a high school student.
“When the time came to apply,” she says, “I had already spent substantial time in Russia and Ukraine, so I thought it would be neat to pursue a program in another former Soviet country to give me a better, well-rounded experience in Eurasia.”
Jackson’s interest in the region began when she entered college on an ROTC scholarship that mandated study of a “critical language,” one of international importance that is not commonly studied in the United States. In Jackson’s case, this was Russian, and she studied the language in college and on summer study-abroad terms in Kazan, Russia and Kiev, Ukraine. She was also the recipient of a prestigious Boren Scholarship, which allowed her to spend her junior year studying in Moscow.
Fulbright ETA recipients serve English learners ranging from the elementary schoolchildren to university students. Jackson has not yet learned the specifics of her assignment, but she hopes to apply some of the experience she gained as a conversation partner at the American Center in Moscow, where she helped young Russians improve their grasp of English.
“As a teacher of English, my largest goal is to give my students confidence,” says Jackson. “It’s hard to advance in language acquisition if you are self-conscious.”
Jackson will depart for Moldova in September in the wake of a significant political milestone for the country. At the end of this month, the Moldovan government is set to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union (EU) that will allow greater economic integration. This move is opposed by Russia, a country to which Moldova has strong historical, economic, cultural and linguistic ties.
Jackson is cautiously excited for the country as it forges stronger bonds with the EU, and thus far the geopolitical struggles in the region have not impacted her assignment. “I’ll be affiliated with the embassy, and I’m confident they’ll do their best to take care of the Fulbright scholars,” she says.
Nonetheless, Jackson wonders how her Russian language skill will be perceived in a country where the official language is Romanian, but which is also home to a sizeable Russian-speaking population. “I don’t have any experience in Romanian, and it’s not guaranteed that I’ll be placed in a Russian-speaking region,” she explains. “With all the drama in Ukraine and Transnistria, I’m worried that maybe my Russian would not be as welcomed as before.”
Overall, however, she is excited about what the next year holds. “Moldova will be a new experience,” she says. “I look forward to it because I think people grow the most when they’re outside of their comfort zone and in new situations.”
After completing her term in Moldova, Jackson plans to pursue graduate studies at the Russian and East European Institute at Indiana University, where she is currently enrolled in a summer course in advanced Russian.
by Laurie Pierce