Nina Harris ’20 Awarded Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Guatemala

May 28, 2020

Hillary Hempstead

headshot of Nina Harris smiling with city in background.
Nina Harris’ ’20 interest in Guatemala began at age 15, when she lived in the country with a host family.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Nina Harris

Nina Harris ’20, a Latin American studies and gender, sexuality, and feminist studies major and Saratoga, California, native has been awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Guatemala. 

Harris’ interest in Guatemala began at 15 years old, when she lived and worked in the town of San Lucas Toliman with a host family. Since that first visit, she returned numerous times to stay with the family and also work in a variety of roles, including as an English teacher, for a mobile medical clinic and nutrition program, and in a women’s safe house. 

She recalls that her connection to the country and with the host family fostered meaningful experiences. “I took weaving classes from a woman who became a dear friend of mine, and I went on many long hikes with my host father who shared with me about his experience during the Civil War,” she says. “My time in Guatemala sparked my interest in Latin America, inspired me to continue to learn Spanish, and developed my interest in U.S. involvement in Latin America.”

For Harris, these experiences helped inform her decision to apply for a Fulbright opportunity in Guatemala, but her passion for teaching, including her work in the Oberlin Spanish in the Elementary Schools (SITES) Program, in which students teach introductory Spanish to children in grades K-2, and working with El Centro Volunteer Initiative, cemented her decision to pursue an English teaching assistantship. 

“Many of the most significant memories of my time at Oberlin are teaching experiences,” says Harris. Through these opportunities, Harris says she “became even more certain of her love and commitment to teaching.” 

In addition to her involvement in various teaching initiatives, Harris was instrumental in co-creating the curriculum for the El Centro Volunteer Initiative ExCo, and she participated in teaching opportunities at Oberlin’s Langston Middle School. She also worked for the Department of Dance as a student publicist and was part of a hip hop dance company And What?!. She was involved with the Chabad student group, where she served as the cochair, and was a member of the Kosher Halal Co-op. Harris also co-created the student organization Advocates for Reproductive Justice. During her senior year, she worked in the Office of Fellowships and Awards

Harris credits the course Gender and Migration, taught by former Visiting Assistant Professor Kathryn Miller, for her interest in the politics behind migration—specifically asylum rights for women following gender-based violence. Harris remained interested in immigration studies and during the summer of 2019, she worked at the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies where she conducted in-depth research about conditions in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, known as the Northern Triangle, and worked on asylum cases. These academic and work experiences culminated in her undergraduate thesis which examines asylum cases for Guatemalan women seeking safety in the U.S. 

Through her Fulbright experience, Harris hopes to learn more about the history and culture of Guatemala, along with improving her teaching skills. “While I have studied the country in depth from an academic perspective, there is so much still to discover by living in a new country,” says Harris. “The Fulbright is such an incredible opportunity, and I plan to spend the ten months learning and teaching as much as possible.”

In addition to teaching English in Guatemala, Harris also intends to work for a nonprofit connected to immigration rights. After her Fulbright opportunity concludes, she plans to attend law school to pursue a career as an asylum attorney. 

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