Recent graduate Raavi Asdar is part of a cohort that will spend 10 months in Tajikistan providing free English language instruction to Tajiki residents through the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) program.
Unlike most Fulbright ETA programs which place teaching assistants in schools, Asdar’s cohort will be posted in an American Space, one of several cultural centers throughout the country funded by the United States government. Sponsored jointly by a U.S. embassy and a host country organization, an American Space serves as an information outpost similar to a public library. In Tajikistan, American Spaces function to provide free-of-cost English language instruction in after-school clubs.
A history major with minors in Russian and Eastern European studies and Middle East and North African studies, Asdar explored courses focusing on South Asian, Middle East, and American History in an attempt to understand his own identity and family history. For his first Winter Term experience, he challenged himself to take the Russian language intensive, which led to two years of learning Russian.
“Over time, these two academic trajectories coalesced into an interest in Central Asian history,” says Asdar, a resident of Austin, Texas, who graduated in September 2021. “In my last semester, I took a private reading with Visiting Assistant Professor Nicholas Bujalski on Central Asian history, and I left with an intense desire to learn more about the region.”
Asdar will draw on his experiences in language acquisition, teaching, and learning abroad. A study away program in Edinburgh, Scotland, was cut short due to the pandemic in spring 2020, but Asdar says he had enough time to learn about establishing himself in a new context and cultivating community. For his last two years of high school, he received a scholarship to attend a boarding school in rural Norway, where he was joined by peers from more than 100 different countries.
“I was one of four Americans on campus, and it was my first exposure to being a minority as an American. I also developed many meaningful friendships with peers from all over the world, including my friend Amina from Tajikistan,” Asdar says. “When I was deciding to apply to be an ETA, I reached out to Amina and she shared with me that she would go to the American Space in Dushanbe to practice her English growing up, which cemented my desire to go forward with my Fulbright application.”
At Oberlin, Asdar was involved in the Pottery Co-op and taught an Ex-Co on beginner pottery. “Through teaching an Ex-Co, I began learning how to adapt to different learning styles and student expectations. Some of my students wanted a lot of individual attention and affirmation, while other students desired a more hands-off approach and would seek me out for help. I hope to continue developing these sorts of classroom management skills while in Tajikistan.”
While in Tajikistan, Asdar says he intends to work on his Russian skills while learning Tajiki. “I am really looking forward to getting to know the students I will be working with and developing relationships in a new, to me, cultural context. Tajikistan is known for its mountains and beautiful natural landscapes, which I am eager to explore.”
Asdar was awarded a Critical Language Scholarship to study Urdu in 2021, as well as a Humanity in Action Fellowship to Amsterdam in 2020.
At Oberlin, Asdar was a member of the Oberlin Student Cooperative Association, the South Asian Student Association, the Muslim Student Association, and the Pottery Co-op. He was also involved in Barefoot Dialogues as a participant, facilitator, and student leadership team member, and dedicated his time working on mental health advocacy on campus. After graduation, Asdar worked at Denison University in the Center for Global Programs (a combined international student support and study abroad office), where he gained experience advising and mentoring students, organizing programming, and managing student workers.
“I feel very grateful to be heading into a Fulbright after almost a year of working, which has allowed me to develop various professional skills and transition out of seeing myself as just a student,” Asdar says. “I hope to draw from all of these experiences and more as an ETA.
Asdar notes that he was accepted as an alternate when he applied for the Fulbright ETA the previous year, and he encourages other students to reapply.
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