From teaching Vietnamese courses in the classroom to playing the piano in Cobb Residence Hall, Sunny Vo is making the most of her time at UNC as a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA).
“At UNC, I could be both an instructor, and could be both a student because I get to audit courses during the year and could be a resident student living here,” Vo said. “I think those three roles give me a wonderful opportunity to explore, to learn and to grow.”
Originally from Vietnam, Vo’s journey to UNC started with a passion for teaching linguistics. After obtaining her master’s degree in Chicago in 2018, she began teaching high school and college students in different regions of Vietnam.
After COVID-19-related lockdowns ended, Vo jumped on her opportunity to return to the United States to expand Americans’ knowledge of her language and culture.
That opportunity came through the Fulbright FLTA program, sponsored by the United States Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The program brings graduates of all levels from over 50 countries to teach foreign language courses and immerse themselves in American culture.
“This time, I’m actually not only the instructor, but also like a student,” she said. “Living with them and learning through them, but also teaching and working with them.”
The ability to both teach and learn is one of the program’s goals. Professor Morgan Pitelka, the chair of the UNC Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, said the program helps build bridges.
“The FLTAs spend this year teaching at UNC, and then they go back to their home countries," Pitelka said, "and that experience informs their sense of friendship and partnership with the United States, but also in particular, with Carolina.”
Through a collaboration between the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies and the Carolina Asia Center, Vo is teaching Intermediate Vietnamese I (VIET 203) this semester. Kevin Fogg, the associate director of the Carolina Asia Center, said the presence of Fulbright FLTAs gives students more options for their language education.