Off to Spain: Willie wins Fulbright to study foreign language education

When it comes to culture, Rowan University's Christine Willie believes in total immersion. So imagine her excitement when she found out she has received a Fulbright scholarship to study teaching te
When it comes to culture, Rowan University's Christine Willie believes in total immersion.

So imagine her excitement when she found out she has received a Fulbright scholarship to study teaching techniques in Madrid, Spain, for 10 months beginning this summer.

Willie earned her bachelor's degree magna cum laude in Spanish with a concentration in international studies and certification in secondary education from Rowan in December. On May 12, at Rowan's undergraduate Commencement ceremonies, she'll accept the Foreign Language and Literature Department's Medallion, emblematic of being a top-ranked foreign language major at Rowan in 2005-06.

Willie, who is fluent in or learning three languages, is the fifth Rowan student in six years to receive a Fulbright. The highly competitive international exchange program provides talented students with grants to study abroad. Willie was one of only nine students, from 179 applicants, to receive a teaching assistantship to Spain through the prestigious Fulbright program.

"The ratio of applicants to grantees for the Fulbright in this particular program is almost 20-to-1," says Corinne L. Blake, who serves as advisor for Rowan's Fulbright program. "Christine's Fulbright testifies to her outstanding background, academic record, and proposal."

Besides improving her own Spanish through immersing herself in Madrid's culture, Willie will use her Fulbright to conduct research on techniques teachers in Spain are using to teach young children second languages. She'll also have a teaching assistantship to teach English as a foreign language in Spain.

"When students leave high school in Spain, they're fluent in a second language," says Willie, who lives and grew up in Hamilton Square and graduated from Steinert High School in 2000.

"My main goal is to look at the techniques they use. How do they motivate students at such a young age? And what are the pedagogical theories behind it?"

Currently in her first semester as a Spanish teacher at Burlington Township High School, Willie has never had a problem with motivation. A soccer star at Steinert who also was an all-star at Mercer County College and Bethel College in Tennessee, which she attended for a time before transferring to Rowan, Willie has been surrounded by different languages and cultures throughout her life.

She spent school years with her mother, who is Italian. She spent summers on a Navajo Reservation with her grandparents, listening to her father's Navajo language and learning about the culture.

"Growing up, I was always exposed to different cultures," Willie says. "My family has been and remains today the main force in my understanding of cultural diversity. They have taught me tolerance and the value of seeing the world from other perspectives. I believe teaching languages is a doorway to cultural understanding."

Willie is fluent in English and Spanish, and has proficiency in Italian. She's taking Italian classes now and is planning to study French and the Navajo language. But, for now, her focus is Spanish and Spain, a country she's visited twice in the past two years, staying once in Sevilla and once in Salamanca. Also, she spent time in Mexico this past summer. She's developing a real ear for different Spanish dialects.

"I'm a big promoter of actual immersion into a culture and into a language. I'm intrigued by the distinct differences in pronunciation, vocabulary and colloquial uses of Spanish, as well as by the diversity and traditions of the Spaniards," says Willie, who will use her knowledge of teaching language to benefit American children and teachers.

"I want to share my research, help other educators and promote and motivate second language education in the United States," she says. "Having studied and practices the ideas and requirements for a teacher certification program in the United States, I'm very excited about building on my knowledge and learning about the education system of Spain."

While she credits her family with exposing her to different cultures, Willie says Rowan faculty members in the foreign language and secondary education departments share in her Fulbright. At Rowan, Willie has been a member of Phi Beta Delta, the international studies honor society, the Golden Key Society, the Spanish club, National Education Association and Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority. She received Rowan's Erika Freiberger Memorial Scholarship, which helped fund her other visits to Spain.

"I definitely couldn't have done this without my Rowan professors," said Willie, noting that she received tremendous support from Blake and other faculty members. "They just pushed and pushed to get the most out of me."