Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
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Teaching in Venezuela

Ninth Wheatie wins Fulbright award

Since applying for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in October, Bailey McWilliams ’14 has been closely following the news in her intended host country of Venezuela. After years of social and economic instability, tensions mounted in February when a series of anti-government protests turned deadly.

Despite these troubles, the Baltimore, Md. native hasn’t backed away from her goal of teaching English in Venezuela, and she was excited to learn this spring that her application had been approved.

“Although things are perhaps a bit more stable at the moment, the issues that fueled the violence early this year are far from resolved. With all of this in mind, I still look forward to living in the country and fulfilling my duties as a Fulbright Scholar to help who I can in the best way that I know how,” McWilliams said. “At the same time, I look forward to living and learning from those around me during a period that will undoubtedly mark a point in history for many Venezuelans."

The Wheaton alumna chose to apply to the program in Venezuelain part because she could work at the Binational Center affiliated with the U.S. Embassy rather than a school or university.

“While I will still teach English, I will also act as a cultural ambassador, leading programs to enhance mutual understanding between Americans and the groups of young Venezuelan students,” she said.

Along with American culture and history, McWilliams hopes to share with her students her love of music. She was a member of the a capella group The Wheatones and has played Appalachian fiddle music for 14 years. She also hopes to volunteer in the local community with a public health or youth organization.

McWilliams first became interested in Latin America as a Spanish language student in high school. Once at Wheaton, she chose to double major in international relations and Hispanic studies.

“At the time I knew very little about world issues or politics,” she said in her Fulbright essay. “However, I saw my liberal arts education as an opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and build upon my preexisting knowledge. I also felt it was my right and obligation as an educated citizen of this world to be well versed in its past and current events.”

With a growing interest in South America, McWilliams spent six months during her junior year studying at the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina.

Her interest in teaching began as a peer educator in the Quaker school she attended as a youth, and she continued to educate as a camp counselor and drama director at Camp Wohelo in Raymond, Maine, where she has spent 10 summers, and as a swim instructor at the YMCA in Attleboro, Mass. At Wheaton, McWilliams worked as a Spanish teaching assistant and tutor.

“Whether in the swimming pool or the classroom, I tell my students and peers to keep their chins up and not be discouraged, that they can do anything if they put their minds to it,” McWilliams wrote in her Fulbright essay. “It has been incredibly rewarding to see their progress and how incredibly proud they are when they overcome a challenge, be it learning a language or bettering themselves.”

After returning from Venezuela, McWilliams is considering applying to the Peace Corps and is also looking into graduate programs in law and public health. She is interested in exploring public health from a policy perspective, specifically as it relates to communities in Latin America.

“I understand that this year and those to come will be full of growth and personal discovery, and I plan to keep heading in a steady direction with an open mind to welcome new opportunities,” she said.