Fantastic Fulbright

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June 4, 2014

Dr. Cecile Arquette’s search for a Fulbright teaching destination took her to one of the places she hadn’t yet visited — South America. Arquette and her family are in the midst of a five-month teaching experience at Chile’s Pontifical Catholic University of Valparaíso (PUCV).

Arquette, a veteran traveler with time in Africa, Central America and all over the U.S., brought her husband Steve and son Joel along for a family experience in cultural immersion.

“Having the support of Steve and being able to see how much Joel is enjoying his time in a Spanish-speaking school has enhanced my time here,” Arquette said. “One thing I know about traveling and living abroad is when you are alone, it isn't as much fun.”

She quickly adapted to structural differences in Chilean higher education. For example, students take upwards of 24 credit hours a semester, with courses sometimes in session seven hours a week. This is the case for her Advanced English class for pre-service teachers, which meets 5 times a week for 90 minutes each class session. 

One difference she noticed is how the early-semester frenzy to arrange classes was more chaotic than at home.

“Things at the beginning of the semester were much less organized then at Bradley,” she said. “The first week saw students stretched down the hall trying to get into classes, or get permission to take two that meet at the same time. This is normal here, when students need two different classes that are offered at the same time.”

Once she settled in, she found students and faculty to be eager to help her learn about their culture, and wanted to know more about the US.

“I have such a lovely group of students,” Arquette said. “Something I appreciate is that they are really happy to have a native English speaker teaching them English.”

Faculty colleagues have given her some new ideas for her teaching and opened the door for future research collaboration.  “It has been fascinating working with the English teachers here,” Arquette said. “I've picked up different classroom methods, assessments and grading ideas that I could use at BU.”

One of the ideas she got from a colleague at PUCV was to begin an online exchange between her Chilean students and a class led by Dr. Helja Antola-Crowe at Bradley. Arquette is hoping to be able to replicate this when she gets back, with her own BU students talking with PUCV students in the future.

Outside of the office, Arquette has found that daily life has many cultural lessons to teach her. She and her family have taken advantage of learning in museums, at markets and even the local transportation system. Recently, they were able to tour the president´s home in Viña del Mar on Heritage Day, a yearly event in which access to buildings that are usually closed to the general public is allowed.

“Culture to me is mostly about learning from other people — those I work with, my students and people on the street or in a market or in a taxi,” Arquette said. “Discussions and chance encounters have helped me understand so much more than if I had only read about Chile.” 

The family also has had brushes with some national disasters that have been in the international news this spring, including the terrible fire in Valparaíso and a tsunami warning in the aftermath of an 8.2 earthquake that occurred in the north of Chile. When the warning was issued, Arquette, her family and neighbors on the lower floors for her 25-story high-rise, moved to the top of their apartment building until authorities determined the tsunami swell wouldn’t go inland. 

“One of the things we have learned about life in Chile is that this is a country where people pull together,” she said. “Here, earthquakes are common, and because of the five-year drought, fire is also common. During the fire in Valparaíso, smoke was visible from our apartment, and PUCV closed for a week so the students could help in recovery efforts.”

To follow the family’s experience, look at Dr. Arquette’s blog, A Year With Two Summers and her husband Steve’s blog, Peoria Tech Blog.

Arquette’s venture is one of several recent Fulbright awards for faculty and students. The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked Bradley sixth nationally among universities of its type for producing Fulbright students in 2013-14. 

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. The Program operates in over 155 countries worldwide.