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Alyssa Marchetti

College: Hunter College
Awards: Fulbright U.S. Student Program, 2014

Learning American

Born in the People’s Republic of China, raised from age 11 in the United States, Alyssa Marchetti (Hunter College, M.S. Ed., 2014) has explored the boundaries of race, ethnicity and identity through her fraught experience of an English language learner. Now in Taiwan on a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship, she brings a profound understanding of the difficulties that students can face when learning the language that gave her so much trouble.

She came to the United States in 2001, not knowing any English. Taunted by classmates and embarrassed at her initial difficulty in mastering this difficult language, she says she became “selectively mute.”

“I would have stayed silent if not for the patient support of my new stepfather, who designed the ultimate curriculum in Americanism: a diet of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, daily readings from the Macmillan/McGraw-Hill U.S. history textbook, and nightly viewings of ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘The Simpsons,'” she wrote in her Fulbright application. “Pretty soon I was reading on grade level and my speech became peppered with pop culture references.”

Those experiences “had tremendous impact on the trajectory of my career and identity.” But as she assimilated, the local Asian-American community saw her as “too ‘Westernized,’ too ‘white.’ I had arrived at a critical juncture in the first generation immigrant experience: hold on to your cultural roots or become Americanized?”

The answer, she found, lay not in choosing between those alternatives, but in blending her experiences and contributing to society. She tutored in college, such as in writing seminars for international students. After college, she signed on for a two-year stint with Teach for America and headed to Hunter for her master’s degree, specializing in adolescent special education.

“Although there are aspects of American society I do not like, such as the educational inequity in this country, teaching allows me to channel my frustration into something productive – a commitment to be part of the solution. I believe education is a tool of empowerment and a way to affect change.”

She emailed that she applied for the Fulbright in Taiwan because the island republic – so close physically to mainland China, but so far away politically – had “always been a sort of forbidden place for me. I was exposed to Taiwanese culture in the form of imported food and television. I was interested in how I would be perceived in Taiwan. I now feel really connected to my year in Taiwan and feel it is the best possible country I could have picked for myself.”

When she returns, she intends to teach English-language learners, especially students with gaps in their formal education, and eventually to pursue a Ph.D. in education.