Teachers are superstars. Yes, they teach — but more importantly, they inspire and empower people at their institutions and in their communities.
During Teacher Appreciation Week, we celebrate teachers from the United States who are making an impact around the world. Hundreds of thousands have offered their service through U.S. foreign assistance and exchange programs like the Peace Corps and the Fulbright Program.
Some live in villages with generous host families, teaching English and other subjects to people of all ages. Others partner with local and national educational institutions to train teachers in new methods and curriculums for teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
In Taiwan, American teacher Tara Wu is hosted by a public elementary school as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA). In line with Taiwan’s goal to see residents become bilingual in English and Mandarin by 2030, Wu offers classroom instruction and extracurricular activities to help her students enhance their English skills.
“Forming connections with them and watching them grow has been one of the most meaningful parts of my time here,” Wu said.
Dominic Balestrieri-Fox, a Fulbright ETA in Turkey, values the lifelong friendships he made while teaching university students in Trabzon. Having studied Turkish as an undergraduate student at Northwestern University in Illinois and as an exchange student in Istanbul, he was thrilled to become a Fulbright ETA and continue building cross-cultural connections.
“I would make lesson plans and come up with speaking activities with an emphasis on fun, interesting and real-world topics,” he said. “We talked about animals and fables, favorite dishes and current events.”
Reflecting on his teaching experience in Turkey, Balestrieri-Fox admits that he was also a student — of Turkish culture. “It was the small yet extremely impactful acts of kindness from my friends that made my time there so meaningful.” The people who helped him navigate the immigration office, those who spent evenings drinking tea or playing video games with him, and the ones who even cared for him when he was sick, he said, “communicate what I feel is the spirit of the Fulbright Program.”
Kristen Grauer-Gray, a Peace Corps volunteer in Liberia and Tanzania, dedicated her service to training other teachers. “I wanted to do more than teach students — I wanted to train teachers who would continue to reach students after I left.”
Her goal, as a science teacher, was to introduce more interactive activities in classrooms. Improvising with local supplies, she created hands-on science experiments that could be easily replicated. Toothpicks, rubber sandals, empty bottles, “where others saw trash, I saw science experiments waiting to happen.”
Reflecting on her service in Africa, Grauer-Gray remembers the teachers she trained and how “their eyes would light up with excitement … it was always rewarding to know that my work was reaching students I would never meet.”