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Student receives Fulbright English teaching assistantship in South Africa

May 8, 2014
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Fulbright U.S. Student grant recipient Samantha Kobs

EAU CLAIRE — University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire senior Samantha Kobs has been awarded a Fulbright U.S. Student grant for an English teaching assistantship in South Africa from January through September 2015.

Kobs, an education major from Deer Park, will depart for Washington, D.C., to engage in pre-departure orientation following her last day of student teaching with her eighth-grade students at Eau Claire's South Middle School in June.

Upon arrival in South Africa, Kobs will work with college professors or secondary school English teachers for 20 hours per week, providing assistance in the classroom as well as individual tutoring and mentoring in English reading and writing.

In one segment of the application process, candidates were required to outline a specific project proposal that would allow them to connect with the community outside the classroom. The project Kobs hopes to carry out targets children from low-income homes while also supporting students and community health.

"I understand the hardships associated with being a low-income student because I, myself, have lived through it," Kobs said. "School isn't always a first priority if there's a lack of food at home or the bills can't be paid on time. These home environments can be stressful and sometimes lack sufficient support for schoolchildren. I will be creating an after-school program that provides a safe and welcoming environment for students who may not have a safe space otherwise. I also wanted this program to emphasize physical fitness and personal well-being. If all goes as planned, the program will focus on group fitness and sports, including soccer, rugby, volleyball, running and an array of 'energizer' activities that will allow students to get to know each other on a personal level."

Cheryl Lochner-Wright, UW-Eau Claire's Fulbright program adviser and a study abroad coordinator in the Center for International Education, also is an advocate of the education major's proposal.

"Samantha's supplemental project that gets her and her students out of the classroom and interacting in the local community is exactly the type of direct engagement that the Fulbright program encourages," Lochner-Wright said.

During her residency abroad, Kobs will be completely immersed in the South African culture. A primary goal of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program is to facilitate an exchange in which the student can learn and share in the daily experiences of the host country while also acquiring an appreciation of the community's cultural practices and beliefs.

Becoming a part of that community is what Kobs looks forward to most.

"I want to take every opportunity I possibly can to learn from the South African people — about their culture, their history and their stories," Kobs said. I love hearing the stories of others, and I'm particularly interested in South Africa's history of apartheid and its struggle for racial equality. I'm hoping that I can get to know community members well enough that they share their personal stories with me."

This will not be Kobs' first time in South Africa, however. In the summer of 2012 she spent six weeks abroad after receiving the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. Since that experience, Kobs' feelings for South Africa and her interest in its rich and exotic history have grown even stronger.

"I've always been a huge advocate for human rights and equality for all," Kobs said. "Knowing a bit about South Africa's history of apartheid, I chose to study abroad there. It was a nontraditional study-abroad country, but that's exactly what I wanted. I love how racially and culturally diverse the country is. There are so many languages spoken and cultures represented in such a small area — it's incredible. My passion for diversity drove me to South Africa in the first place and is what makes me so excited to return in January!"

The Fulbright program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between U.S. citizens and those of other countries. Recipients of Fulbright grants are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields.

The Fulbright program operates in more than 155 countries worldwide and is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

For more information, contact Cheryl Lochner-Wright in UW-Eau Claire's Center for International Education, at lochnecb@uwec.edu.

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