For Dorothy M. Stone, an Illinois State University graduate student completing her M.A. in English, receiving a prestigious Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Award to Cambodia means more than becoming part of an elite group of scholars supported by the U.S. Department of State. For her, it provides the opportunity to connect with a heritage that was nearly extinguished when her family fled Cambodia a generation ago to escape genocide.

Stone’s mother was raised in a multiethnic family with a Chinese father who spoke Teochew and a Cambodian mother who spoke Khmer. As refugees fleeing the Khmer Rouge, they spent many years on the move, traveling throughout Asia. In addition to their languages of origin, they had to learn Thai and Vietnamese along the way to survive. In 1980, when her mother was 14, the family finally arrived in California where Dorothy would grow up.

Throughout her childhood, Stone says that even though the older generation mostly spoke the Cambodian language among themselves, they sought to raise their children as Americans. “They didn’t think it was worthwhile or beneficial to teach the next generation Teochew or Khmer. The adults in the family cooked Asian food for each other, not the kids.” Although her father was white, her parents’ divorce further complicated her sense of self. She reflects, “I remember times in my life when I wondered, ‘Am I white? Asian? Both? Neither?’ I grew up wanting to learn more about what makes me Asian, and specifically Asian American.”

Meanwhile, she recalls a particular grammar lesson in sixth grade that sparked her interest in becoming a language teacher. “I was having a lot of fun with it, but my peers were having trouble. I wanted to put my love of grammar together with my desire to help people around me.” Her Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Award will allow her to combine this passion for teaching with the opportunity to connect with her Asian heritage.

As a student herself, Stone has had the opportunity to study German, Japanese, and Arabic, as well as work with non-native speakers and emergent bilinguals of different ages and backgrounds. Through these experiences, she has come to recognize the importance of social interactions, classroom communities, and meeting students where they are. As a teacher, she wants to create an empowering classroom community where students are “vulnerable, brave, and willing to make mistakes.”

At the same time, her graduate program at Illinois State University has a strong emphasis on social justice approaches, so she recognizes the historical usage of English as a tool for colonization and its current position as a language of opportunity. Though she is excited to teach English in Cambodia, her pedagogy is shaped by the question, “What is the work I am doing, and how does it either deconstruct or reinscribe this system of colonization?”

Stone’s 10-month Fulbright program will start in October 2022. Although she does not know yet where she will be placed, or what age students she will teach, she looks forward to the opportunity to “learn a different language, engage with another culture, and get to know many of the people I share a history with.”

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. The primary source of funding for the Fulbright Program is an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Participating governments and host institutions, corporations, and foundations in foreign countries and the United States also provide direct and indirect support. Recipients of Fulbright grants are selected based on academic or professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields. The program operates in over 160 countries worldwide.

The grants, administered by the Institute of International Education, are competitive and extremely difficult to obtain. For more information on the Fulbright program at Illinois State visit Fulbright | International Studies and Programs–Illinois State or contact Illinois State University Fulbright Scholar Liaison Dr. Erin Mikulec, or Fulbright Program Advisors Dr. Lea Cline and Jason Reblando.