Linguistics and Comparative Literature Major Receives Fulbright Award to Teach English in Germany
Carys Coates Martin
Majors: Linguistics and Comparative Literature
Minors: Global Studies and Italian
Hometown: Rochester, NY
Article Written By: JC Wu, Class of 2017
The Fulbright Program is a fully funded scholarship that gives students the opportunity to travel abroad to a foreign country to study various disciplines, conduct research or teach English. Binghamton University graduate Carys Coates Martin is a 2015 Fulbright recipient who is currently helping students in Germany learn English.
Carys Coates Martin has a unique background in linguistics and education that led to her interest in the Fulbright Program. She attended an elementary school “ran by hippies with a unique approach.” Students there were not evaluated by grades but through constant positive reinforcement of their work. “Elementary school gave experiences but not grades. We had assignments, core classes and even foreign languages in the first grade,” she said. At that time, she learned a little bit of French and Spanish. However, the eccentricity of the system wasn’t so good in hindsight because she realized it academically hindered her when she got to middle school and struggled with spelling. However, within a year, she pushed herself and was able to quickly catch up with the rest of her peers. She felt a sense of encouragement and was ready to challenge herself with another foreign language and so she chose to learn Italian. Then she she gave Latin a chance in high school which amplified her interest for the romance languages.
Before Binghamton, Carys went to a small college where she didn’t feel like she belonged. Classes there were not satisfying. “It wasn’t challenging enough so I wanted to transfer.” Finally she looked into what Binghamton University offered, completed an application, and was on her way here. “There is a lot more variety. I felt secure and can see myself here because I find room for growth.” She took a German class her first year and fell in love with the it. The more classes she took, the more she realized her passion for foreign languages. She continued taking courses in other languages.
Carys has always had a desire to be a role model and work with students and children. Many of her extracurricular involvements before and during Binghamton reflect her altruistic personality. Back home in Rochester, she worked at different nonprofit organizations where she helped physically and mentally disabled children. She finds joy in helping those in need. She recalls once encouraging a disabled three year old who had difficulty holding himself up. Although it was heartbreaking, the moment when he could do so filled them both with joy. At Binghamton, Carys was a Native Speaking Assistant. In this role, she helped teaching-assistants who are international students with sharpening their English skills so that they could more easily teach in front of a class. This experience was especially interesting to her because most of her students were graduate students. She had fun explaining American slang to them and learning about their own cultures.
“The world is so big and interesting, I want to be more fluent in foreign languages.” When Carys learned about the Fulbright Program, she knew it would be a great opportunity to combine her interest in linguistics and passion to be a role model. She also wanted to break from feeling like a student in the classroom, “I wanted to experience more than just being a student.” After learning the application process, she went to the Office of External Scholarships to make her application shine. The preparation paid off and she was exhilarated to be one of the 2015 winners.
Carys is currently teaching English in Germany under the Fulbright Program. She began the Program in August. She took part in a 3-day orientation where she and 150 other English teaching-assistants from around the world received training to teach in German schools. It was an exciting time meeting different kinds of people.
Carys works with 9th to 13th graders in a school an hour outside of Berlin. The academic culture in Germany is quite different. She notices that “students there actively talk back to their teachers a lot, but not disrespectfully. And they are encouraged to engage in the classroom that way.” The pace is quick, teachers are always on a “go go go” attitude, and that is a challenge. But it’s a lot of fun because students are very eager to converse with her in English. The schools there prefer to teach British English as opposed to American English and so she has been exposed to the many differences between the two dialects, and at times it is humorous when the two clash. She learned to say “rubbish” instead of “trash”, “biscuit” instead of “cookie”, and “going to the cinema” instead of “going to the movies.” “In a way, I also came to Germany to learn British English!” She said.
Assisting an English teacher in the classroom, Carys organizes conversation circles with the students, allowing them to practice their conversational skills in English. She hopes to make an impact on the students she interacts with, especially for the 10th graders who are preparing for their final exam where English is a foreign language being tested. The school she is working in is a Gesamtschule or comprehensive school, meaning students are admitted without requirements as opposed to a selective school. The end of the 10th grade is an important exam and upon completion some students will leave and others will continue toward the 13th grade. She is trying her best to push them to do well. “When I found out I was able to excel after elementary school, that served as a momentum for me.” Taking her past experience, she wanted to channel this motivational energy to inspire her students. Since day one, she finds mentorship very rewarding and plans to continue working with children in need after the Fulbright Program is over.
Since she only works Monday to Thursday, she has some free time reserved for exploring the German language and culture. Theatre has a cultural significance in Germany. She especially enjoys taking a train into Berlin to check out theatrical performances. However because of Berlin being a huge metropolitan area, there is a lot of English. “If you want to practice your German more, go explore the outside of Berlin.” During her break in the fall, she traveled for 10 days and visited Munich and Hamburg.
Overall, the Fulbright Program has been an enriching experience for Carys. Not only does she get to make a difference, she is also able to strengthen her foreign language skills in a foreign country. To undergraduate students who are interested in the the Program, she highly recommends taking advantage of Binghamton’s resources provided by the Office of External Scholarships. “Start early, it’s a great way to help other people, make an impact and even learn about yourself.” Article Written by: JC Wu, Class of 2017