Lilly Wilcox has been interested in international volunteer opportunities since learning about her aunt’s experience in the Peace Corps. But after digging deeper into the colonialist ethos of the Peace Corps’ history for a research paper, she realized she disagreed with the premise of American superiority that is so often promoted during international service programs.
“Going abroad to volunteer shouldn’t be about centering ourselves as Americans,” says Wilcox, who will travel to Slovakia in September to teach English as part of the U.S. Fulbright Student Program. “It’s about empowering those we have the privilege of working with.”
As a teaching assistant at a Slovakian high school, Wilcox hopes to help students develop their language skills without eschewing the national language or pushing the idea that English is the most important language to speak, she says.
“The idea of exchange is very important to me,” says Wilcox, who will graduate from Northeastern with a degree in English and communication studies in May. “I hope to learn as much from them as they learn from me in terms of language skills.”
Wilcox, whose father’s family is Slovakian, has never traveled to the country, but she hopes that her experience will reconnect her with her heritage and honor the members of her family who emigrated, she says. All living and travel expenses for the nine-month teaching position will be covered through the Fulbright grant.
During her undergraduate experience at Northeastern, Wilcox developed language teaching skills through a class called The Practice and Theory of Teaching Writing. As part of the class, students participated in a writing tutoring program for teenagers in the Boston Public Schools.
“The work was really fulfilling for me personally,” says Wilcox, who is considering a career in education. “And I think it made me a better writer, too.”
In her experience, Wilcox says that student enthusiasm is a necessary factor in whether the students will retain the language skills being taught.
“It’s important for the students to determine their own reasons why they want to learn English,” she says. “Otherwise, the experience isn’t fun for the student, and more importantly, it pushes this dangerous idea that English is the best or only language worth learning.”
As part of the Fulbright grant, Wilcox will also be required to work on a community service program while in Slovakia. She plans to open an English writing center for students to develop their writing skills beyond just the classroom language assignments.
“I want it to be a place where students feel comfortable receiving feedback, and it doesn’t just have to be academic writing,” she says. “I want to help them with their personal writing as well.”
Wilcox believes she received this grant because of her thoughtful approach to the concept of international volunteer opportunities, especially those that focus on teaching English. “I made it clear in my application that I plan to immerse myself in the culture,” she says. “It’s important when we go abroad to show that we value other cultures.”