“If it’s important to you, do that,” says Kendra Reiser ’15. “That’s what matters to Notre Dame: you are becoming your own person. I was provided with these amazing resources, these amazing professors and staff that really allowed me to pursue opportunities that were in line with my beliefs, my thinking, and my passions.”
In summer 2014, the psychology major received a Kellogg Summer Internship to teach English with WorldTeach at a community center in Casablanca, Morocco. She cites the experience as “the summer I found my vocation: teaching English as a new language to foreign students.”
Now, Reiser is living out that vocation after being awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) in Indonesia.
"The best part of the Fulbright grant is that it offers you the opportunity to get to know a culture in a very intimate way,” she says. “The English Teaching Assistantship allows you to connect very directly with a community and have a very important, significant, and immediate impact on the people.”
During her junior and senior years at Notre Dame, Reiser worked extensively with the Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement (CUSE) to prepare her application to the Fulbright US Student Program. While writing a senior thesis on English as a New Language, she imagined what it would be like to serve as a cultural ambassador abroad through the Fulbright program, which aims to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and other countries through exchange of persons, knowledge, and skills.
After months of writing, editing, and waiting, Reiser received the good news of her acceptance while on a training trip with the men’s rowing team, for which she was coxswain and president during her senior year.
“Coach! Coach! I’m a Fulbright! I actually got it!” she remembers telling her coach. “It was one of the best weeks of my life.”
After listening to podcasts for language practice and reading every blog ever written by an ETA in Indonesia, Reiser left her hometown in Seattle for Yogyakarta—“Jogja” for short. She arrived in late August and spent her first week observing teachers and meeting students before heading to two weeks of orientation.
“Smiles, passion, family”
“The whole first week was kind of a blur. But in that blur, I could see smiles, and I could see passion, and I could see family. Those were three things that I knew would make my year great,” she says.
Reiser’s school, SMK Negeri 6 Yogyakarta, is a hospitality school for high school students learning about culinary and pastry arts, hotel management and travel industries, sewing and design, and beauty and cosmetics. She partners with other instructors, teaching English every day to tenth and eleventh graders.
“My students are really driven. I really value the fact that I’m at a vocational high school. All the things they are learning are very useful to them in their lives and their livelihood. So they’re super engaged students.”
When she’s not in the classroom, Reiser enjoys traveling to new places as well as seeking out opportunities to explore her surroundings in Jogja, a big city of about half a million people.
“I like going to find very local things to do. I like to try new foods. I like finding places to buy fruit. I like to practice my Bahasa Indonesia [the national language],” she says.
She’s also been to parades and concerts, has visited other high schools in the area, and attends language class on Wednesdays and Thursdays. She’s even given informal presentations at universities about teaching English. Her favorite part of the experience, however, has been becoming a friend and a trusted member of her school community.
“Getting to the point with my fellow teachers here where they’re my family and I can go to their homes, meet their children—that’s been absolutely incredible. If I left here without having traveled one foot outside of Jogja, I still would be happy with the fact that it meant that I could become part of their community, speak their language.”
Reiser’s best advice for undergrads thinking about applying for a Fulbright grant is to work closely with CUSE.
“CUSE is why I got this grant. CUSE allowed me to figure out how to communicate my story—when I was doing that alone, it didn’t come out well. The application process for the Fulbright is worth it in and of itself, just so that you learn certain things about yourself that you never put together before.
“Even if I didn’t get to go to Indonesia this year, the process of applying allowed me to critically think about who I am, what I want, my story, my narrative, and my passions. That was worth it, because that was never something that an application had asked me to do as thoroughly as the Fulbright application. I’m very happy.”
This is an abridged version of a longer article by Kathleen Schuler that you can read here. Reiser was one of a record 14 Notre Dame students undertaking Fulbrights in 2015–16—including 6 undergraduates and 2 graduate students affiliated with Kellogg.
For more information about how to apply for the Fulbright, undergraduates and undergraduate alumni can visit the CUSE Fulbright page and graduate students and graduate alumni can visit the Graduate School Office of Grants and Fellowships.
To learn more about Reiser's time in Indonesia, visit her blog.