Alumna Annelene Timmermans participated in the Study of the U.S. Institute for Secondary Educators in 2010. In autumn 2018, she reconnected with the Fulbright Commission in Brussels when she was selected to attend an Alumni TIES (Thematic International Exchange Seminar) in Kyiv. Below, Annelene talks about her experience in the SUSI Program, the impact that her Fulbright grant has had on her career, and her experience at the 2018 seminar.

When did you go to the United States, and on which program? 

In the summer of 2010 I received a Fulbright grant to participate in the six-week program Summer Seminar in American Studies for Secondary School Educators, organized by the Institute for Training and Development at Amherst College in Amherst, MA. There I met with twenty-nine secondary school educators from all over the world, thus creating a strong global network of colleagues. The program consisted of five weeks of studying all aspects of United States culture, society and history, and a one-week study tour.  

What is the most important way in which your participation in the Fulbright Program (Study of the U.S. Institute for Secondary Educators) impacted your life on a professional and personal level since your return to Belgium? 

On a professional level, this enriching and life-changing experience led me to participate in other international programs for teachers, such as European English Teachers’ Seminar (2011, London, UK), English Teachers’ Training Course (2012, Cambridge, UK), e-Twinning Professional Development Workshop (2015, Luxembourg), and now this year’s Alumni TIES on Media Literacy and Critical Thinking in the Digital Age (2018, Kyiv, Ukraine). I truly enjoy comparing educational systems and learning about new teaching methods from international colleagues. Moreover, in the eight years since I participated in the program, I have met several of the participants in their home country: I have travelled to Brazil, Argentina, Scotland, Norway, Italy, France, the USA and Israel to catch up with my friends. This shows that the program has opened my world and network of friends and colleagues. On a personal level, I dare even say that I have made best friends for life.  

You participated in an Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminar on “Alumni Educators in Action: Media Literacy and Critical Thinking in the Digital Age” organized in Kyiv in October 2018. How did you hear about this opportunity, and what made you want to participate? 

This program was advertised on Fulbright Belgium’s Facebook page. I saw the call for participants and immediately responded: I am an alumna of a United States sponsored program and a teacher in a Belgian secondary school, interested in the seminar’s topic of media literacy and critical thinking. I was looking forward to learning about the newest methodology and getting practical classroom ideas to integrate media literacy and critical thinking easily in my Dutch and English lessons.   

What lessons, ideas, or best practices did you take away from your time at the seminar? 

The seminar introduced me to many interesting resources to improve pupils’ media literacy skills.  These include: 

  • NEWSEUM (link)
  • ALLSIDES.COM (link)

The seminar was also an opportunity for you to explore a new city and country. What did you think about Kiev and Ukraine? 

Prior to visiting Kiev, I had never been to a country from the former Soviet Republic, so it was an interesting introduction to Slavic culture. The Alumni TIES Seminar also included a cultural tour of Saint Sophia’s Cathedral, which golden interior I found particularly stunning. My personal highlights of Kyiv are the golden domed Lavra monastery, the impressive Motherland Monument, and Andrew’s Descent which reminded me of Montmartre in Paris. We also had the opportunity to explore the local cuisine in excellent restaurants. Ukranians are very friendly and welcoming, but speaking Russian is still quite helpful. I have already recommended a visit to Kiev to my friends and colleagues, as I liked it so much.  

What advice would you give to a grantee who is about to leave to the United States to start their international exchange program? 

Be open to everyone about yourself and your culture, and try to engage in as many conversations with people as possible and participate in as many activities as possible. You will not just go there to learn about the United States but also about the rest of the world. Be prepared to have the time of your life and make friends for life. Also be ready to explain what Belgium is like, be proud of your country and bring lots of chocolate!