Maria Chioni

Scholar’s Institute on Contemporary American Literature at Seattle University, Washington
2017 Fulbright SUSI participant

It was an honor to be selected to participate in the SUSI 2017 Fulbright program. This was an opportunity of a lifetime to experience the American culture, diversity and customs, through the study of post-modern literature at Seattle University. The tour also included visiting San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington DC and attending lectures at UC Berkeley, Loyola Marymount University and Georgetown University.

The curriculum covered literary works from the post-modern period. The works chosen really gave us a deeper understanding of the U.S., society, institutions, culture and values. I particularly enjoyed the literature written by authors of minority groups.

It was a demanding program but rewarding. We had a variety of lecturers who were specialists in the texts we covered. Most lectures were interactive and we were permitted to contribute our knowledge and also ask questions. Two lectures that stand out in my mind are the one with Professor Robert Patterson who is the chair of African American Studies at Georgetown University and Professor Judith Roof, Shakespeare Chair of English at Rice University. Both were superb at explaining Morrison’s Beloved and Park’s Venus repectively. I find that having this experience with such innovative professors has changed my perspective on how to teach literature in the classroom.

The highlight of the program was meeting some authors. For exmple, Percival Everett (The Appropriation of Cultures) was one of our guest speakers. His literary works deal with the theme of the African American experience. After his presentation, I felt that his stories took on a different dimension. There was a story behind the story, and we got a better insight into the American culture. Alexie Sherman was another author we met. Amazing experience! What a wonderful and humurous human being! We learned so much about the lives of Native American people, not only by reading his works, but by speaking to him about his personal experience of living on a reserve.

Apart from literary texts, modern art was introduced to us. This was done through lectures by Professor Ken Allen from Seattle University, and visiting museums with him as a guide. This helped to broaden our horizons on art and moving away from the traditional artwork we were used to seeing. For example, we learned about Jasper Johns who is best known for his painting Flag.

The extra activities relating to the program gave us just as much insight into American way of life as the literary texts we studied. Such activities involved visiting museums such as the Seattle Art Museum and the National portrait gallery in Washington D.C. to name a few. My favorite though, was the Smithsonian African American History Museum. I spent endless hours in this museum absorbing knowledge in order to bring back to Greece and be able to enrich the lesson plans built around the literary texts.

Touring each city was also an enriching experience. The tours were guided and this helped to get a better understanding of American history. I really enjoyed visiting the areas where minority groups lived. We even had an excursion to Tillicum Village in Seattle to learn more about Native American history.

Washington DC was the best place to see memorials. We took a tour of the Lincoln and Vietnam memorials, the Martin Luther king one as well and the National monument, just to name a few.

We aslo had the opportunity to watch a broadway play in Seattle. It was called Fun Home. Generally, the most enjoyable activities were the ones that helped my colleagues and I bond. These also included going out for meals and going on picnics.

What I benefitted most from the program, was meeting colleagues from 17 other countries. I do not think I would have had this cultural interchange anywhere else. We have made plans for future collaboration such as publishing articles in journals which they edit, skype sessions to introduce our students to each other and even travelling to their countries.

Since returning from the states, I have already begun transferring knowledge gained through the program, not only to my students but my colleagues as well. I was invited to Chios by school advisor, Agapios Oikonomides, to give a workshop entitled From Social Exclusion to Inclusion: How to Use Literary Texts to Teach English. The workshop was based on the book The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. The next day, I presented Teaching Tolerance through Literature in which I tried to persuade teachers to teach English and tolerance through the use of literature.

In the Second Experimental School I am preparing the foundation to teach literature from minority writers by teaching about implicit bias first. This is done using a lesson plan from the University of Washington. I want to initially raise awareness that we are all to a certain extent biased. My goal is to then use literary texts to teach tolerance in the classroom. With the influx of refugees to Greece we have to prepare our students to become tolerant.

To conclude, The Fulbright Foundation gave me the opportunity to enrich my knowledge and become a better International educator. Last but not least, the friendships established among my other colleagues from 17 countries will aid in cultivating tolerance in the classroom.

CHIONI Maria

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