Cover photo courtesy of Beylie Ivanhoe (C’24).
Claire Smith (C’22) was awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Morocco for the 2022-2023 academic year. Smith will be Sewanee’s 56 Fulbright recipient. An anthropology major, she chose Morocco as it intersected with her two focuses within anthropology, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and the American South.
“I was initially focused on the Middle East and took Arabic classes my first two years at Sewanee,” said Smith. “Unfortunately, the school didn’t continue offering Arabic, but around the same time, I realized that I was really drawn to studying the South and especially the University itself.”
With the Fulbright, she hopes to finally continue to explore her focus on the Middle East, which she has been unable to do because of outside setbacks, such as COVID and the Arabic program leaving.
“I loved learning Arabic at Sewanee, but never got to continue it or study abroad to really dedicate myself to learning the language fully,” said Smith.
Smith, a former editor-in-chief of The Sewanee Purple, was able to explore both focuses in her recent internship with Folklife, the magazine for the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. While working for the magazine, Smith researched and wrote two articles, one on the Kurdish community in Nashville, and the other on cultural organizing at Highlander Folk School.
“I was the editor of The Sewanee Purple for a year and I was able to explore the history and culture of the University more through that role,” said Smith. “Leading the paper also helped me improve my writing skills and develop a bit of a portfolio, which helped me get an internship at Folklife.”
While the article on the Highlander Folk School has yet to be published, the article focusing on the Kurdish community in Nashville has been published and can be read on Folklife’s website.
“Both of these articles, especially my piece where I got to research and speak with the Kurdish and Middle Eastern communities of Nashville, made me start thinking about the interconnections between the South and the Middle East and North Africa,” said Smith. “While [Morocco] is different from the South, I thought that there were connections and resonances between the two experiences worth learning more about.”
“Also, something that is kind of cool is that the name for Morocco in Arabic is Al-Magreb, which means the West because it’s kind of the western limit of the Arab Middle East and North Africa,” said Smith. “So, I’m going from “the South” to “the West.””
To really explore this interconnection, Smith hopes to embrace the second aspect of the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship, which is meant to encourage cross-cultural exchange.
“I’m hoping to keep writing and connect with other writers in Morocco, and I’m looking forward to learning about the writing, poetry, and song traditions of Morocco,” said Smith.
However, Smith also looks forward to the teaching that is involved with the Fulbright.
“So, this particular program, I was interested in it because it was a teaching fellowship,” said Smith. “I knew teaching was something I really liked, especially teaching English. So, it really just fits really well.”
Smith will most likely work at a public university in Morocco, teaching English language.
During the summer of her freshman year, Smith was an AmeriCorps VISTA at Coalmont Elementary. With AmeriCorps, she worked in Coalmont Elementary’s summer reading program for kids around 1st and 2nd grade who needed additional help with reading. The next summer, she worked at the Nashville International Center for Empowerment (NICE) as a teaching assistant in their ESL classes for adults.
“I loved working at NICE and being able to hear the stories of the people in my classes, who were immigrants and refugees that were resettled in Nashville,” said Smith. “They were often juggling jobs and childcare along with learning another language, and it was so impressive to see their commitment.”
Smith also works as a writing tutor and a writing fellow for Dr. Craighill’s English 101 class.
“I’m happy that I’ve been able to try a lot of different types of teaching during college,” said Smith.
Because of these experiences, Smith was able to fully embrace the Fulbright application and process. According to Smith, the application focused on two key things: a personal statement and a statement of grant purpose.
“You need to explain to your committee why you chose the particular country you’re applying for and what qualifications you have that would prepare you to teach English there,” said Smith. “It took a lot of research and revision to figure out what I really needed to get across to my committee.”
Sewanee helped Smith with the process, offering on-campus interviews for Fulbright applicants, and allowing applicants to present ideas and get feedback and critiques before submitting the application. Her committee consisted of Dr. Scott Wilson, Dr. Nicholas Roberts, and Dr. Lisa Burner. Smith also credits her mentors for mentoring her during her time at Sewanee and offering support during the Fulbright application: Dr. Richard O’Connor, Dr. Woody Register, Dr. Virginia Craighill, Dr. Diana Hatchett, and Prof. May Kamalick.
“My advice to rising seniors is to take some time over the summer to start thinking about what programs you want to apply to, and have a general plan by the time you reach campus.”