Over a cup of homemade chai, Aadil Zeffer and UNC associate professor John Caldwell discuss teaching Hindi-Urdu. As a Fulbright scholar, Zeffer brings his educational and professional experiences, as well as his culture, to the University — such as making his colleagues Indian chai.
Originally from northern India, Zeffer will spend the year as a lecturer in the UNC Department of Asian and Middle Eastern studies, teaching Hindi-Urdu. His international educational background includes studying in seven different countries, along with teaching in India, the U.S., the U.K. and Saudi Arabia.
"In other words, the Fulbright scholarship gives us the opportunity to be a part of something bigger while we can learn about others. The world is always better if we willingly jump at every opportunity to improve our knowledge," Zeffer said.
The Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) program is a government-sponsored program that gives educators from various countries the opportunity to become teaching assistants at a university in the U.S.
Zeffer is a part of the third round of Fulbright FLTA scholars to come to UNC, Caldwell said. Starting in 2019, the University welcomed teaching assistants from other countries. He teaches in the South Asian language section of the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies.
After specifying what both the University and the scholar needs, the Fulbright program matches UNC with a scholar from another country who can teach in a specific department. This year, the department of Asian and Middle Eastern studies was short staffed and needed someone to help teach Hindi-Urdu, giving Zeffer the opportunity to gain teaching experience in the U.S.
Caldwell emphasized the importance of having a teaching assistant that is fully knowledgeable of language and culture.
“In the classroom, it's great to have someone who's a native speaker,” Caldwell said. “When we teach language — we don't just teach grammar, we teach lots of other things, including culture, sociolinguistics and how language and culture interact. He'll be good at sort of explaining some of the traditions behind how the language works in the classroom.”
Caldwell's academic areas of focus include postmodernism, gothic fiction and poetry.
Zeffer arrived at UNC in early August to join the language faculty and said that he is very excited to be here. In addition to teaching, he is also taking audit courses in philosophy and American Literature.
He will be teaching Elementary Hindi-Urdu I (HNUR 101), and works closely with Caldwell to emulate Caldwell’s teaching practices. Next semester, he will be teaching independently, allowing more creative freedom with the curriculum.
First-year Vansh Gogoi started taking Elementary Hindi-Urdu with Zeffer at the beginning of the semester, and said that it's beneficial and more authentic to have a native speaker instructing the class.
“He’s always helpful, he’s always making clear what to do and he makes sure that students aren’t nervous when there’s a dictation or something” Gogoi said.
The purpose of the FLTA program is to both expose international educators to new learning environments and to bring in different cultural perspectives to college students in the classroom.
“I personally enjoy teaching as a Fulbright FLTA because I am working with students and their personal development and making improvement," he said. "It became an opportunity for me to engage in new ideas and learn useful interpersonal skills.”
Zeffer said he was fascinated with UNC and the University community before coming to Chapel Hill and has enjoyed the warm and hospitable welcome he has received. He also appreciates how many students from different countries attend the University.
Zeffer looks forward to being exposed to American culture on campus, and hopes to attend events and potentially become an advisor to some student clubs.
The Fulbright program allows scholars from other countries to share elements of their own culture with American students and the UNC community more broadly as well as gain teaching experience in a new environment, Caldwell said.
“The Fulbright program itself is basically designed as a kind of cultural diplomacy,” he said. “People to people diplomacy, which is an important aspect of the diplomatic process for lots of countries.”
Being a part of the Fulbright program means that Zeffer feels he is a part of something bigger than himself while learning about others from all around the world.
“For the Fulbright experience, I can develop a mutual understanding and respect for different people’s cultures and traditions,” Zeffer said. “Meeting people from different backgrounds and cultures is always a gift that comes with the Fulbright experience.”
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