Anna Sheik makes no secret of her love of languages, teaching, and culture.
Born in Philadelphia, she spent a transformative year in Cuernavaca, Mexico, prior to beginning studies at Oberlin. The gap year presented immense challenges: After all, she had studied German—not Spanish—throughout middle school and high school. Yet Sheik immersed herself in the culture: enrolling in a local school, living with a host family, and forging enduring bonds.
“When I first arrived in Mexico, I didn’t speak any Spanish,” she says. “But by the end of the year, I had gained a new language and formed lifelong friendships. I also developed a deep appreciation for Mexican culture and realized that I love traveling and exploring new places and communities. I’ve wanted to return to Mexico ever since.”
In May, Sheik graduated from Oberlin with majors in history and Latin American studies and a minor in Hispanic studies. A former resident advisor in Oberlin’s Spanish House residence hall, she’s now set to return to the country that originally sparked her fascination for Latin American culture and teaching: This summer, she embarks on a year-long adventure as an English Teaching Assistant in Mexico, an opportunity made possible through the U.S. Fulbright Program.
Throughout her four years at Oberlin, Sheik worked with America Reads, serving as a literacy tutor at the local elementary school. The experience allowed her to witness the transformational power of education: From guiding young minds as a tutor to her tenure as a student-leader, she found that teaching became a rewarding facet of her college experience.
It’s a feeling she also sensed during her gap year, when she volunteered to teach the string section of an elementary school orchestra. With her own limited Spanish proficiency at the time and her students knowing little English, she used a combination of languages, hand gestures, sounds—and above all, music—to fashion an effective means of teaching. The experience cemented her belief in the value of music as a language-teaching tool, a skill she looks forward to utilizing once again in the year ahead.
I’ve had so many incredible professors at Oberlin, but I’m especially grateful to these two for believing in me from the beginning.”
—Anna Sheik, on professors Encalada and Mitchell
Sheik returned to Mexico in 2022 for research made possible through an Artz Grant earned through Oberlin’s History Department. “My honors project, on representations of La Malinche—the infamous Mexican translator for Cortés—in Mexico and the Borderlands from 1960-1980, led me deep into histories of Mexico and U.S.-Mexico relations that I hope to observe further in my year abroad,” she says. She credits a longtime Oberlin mentor, Professor of History and Comparative American Studies Pablo Mitchell, for guiding her development in research throughout her time at Oberlin. “This past year, he advised my honors project, which I could not have completed without his wisdom and encouragement,” she says.
Sheik also credits Hispanic studies professor Yorki Encalada Egúsquiza for nurturing her interests in Spanish language and teaching. By her senior year, she served as his teaching assistant for two intermediate Spanish courses—an experience she calls “instrumental in my role as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant."
“I’ve had so many incredible professors at Oberlin,” she says, “but I’m especially grateful to these two for believing in me from the beginning.”
As she steps into the next chapter of her life as a Fulbrighter, Sheik is filled with anticipation to return to a part of the world she loves so deeply.
“I’m hoping my upcoming year will shed some light onto what I want to pursue next, whether that is teaching and education, foreign relations or immigration work, or going back to school for history or Latin American studies.
“I’m really excited to explore more of Mexico,” she says: “See old friends, make new ones, and to soak up more Mexican history wherever I go.”
The Fulbright Program was established in 1946 to increase mutual understanding between Americans and people of other countries by sponsoring students and scholars to study, teach English, and conduct research overseas. The U.S. government’s flagship international academic exchange program, Fulbright supports exchanges between the U.S. and more than 150 countries around the world. In February, Oberlin was named a top producer of Fulbright students for the 14th consecutive year. It ranks third among U.S. colleges and universities on the all-time list, with more than 260 Fulbright recipients.
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