Russian language skills lead Fulbright recipient Elizabeth Olguin to Kazakh classrooms

Russian has taken 2016 UW–Madison graduate Elizabeth Olguin everywhere from her ballet classes in the U.S. to development projects in Moldova. Thanks to a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Award for 2021-2022, her next destination will be a classroom in Kazakhstan.

Olguin began taking Russian in her freshman year of college at Ohio State University and continued learning the language at UW–Madison when she transferred between her sophomore and junior year. She found the classmates and faculty in the Russian Department to be passionate and driven by the language.

“There is this really deep desire to achieve fluency at Madison,” Olguin said. “A lot of the people that I was in class with are now working in D.C. or with Eastern Europe.”

After graduating from UW–Madison, Olguin volunteered at the Peace Corps in Moldova. Though Russian speakers are a minority in the country, her volunteer site was alm

Elizabeth Olguin (left)

ost exclusively Russian speaking. Her host family in the Corps had lived in Kazakhstan for 26 years and introduced her to Kazakh culture in her time there, recommending Olguin visit the country one day.

That day came when one of Olguin’s fellow Peace Corps volunteers urged her to consider Fulbright after successfully applying to one in Spain himself. Olguin was pleasantly surprised to discover a paid Fulbright English Teaching Program (ETA) for in Kazakhstan and applied right away.

The Fulbright ETA program places American students in classrooms abroad to provide assistance to local English teachers. ETAs then help teach English while serving as cultural ambassadors for the United States.

As with many others applying to Fulbright, Olguin hopes to use her time abroad to hone her language skills and gain cultural competency. Many Fulbright ETA students pursue a project in their host country, but Olguin sees her role more as fostering community and seeing what opportunities are already present in education—her hope is that she can break through the mechanical memorization that is standard for most post-Soviet educational systems and introduce more engaging and rewarding forms of teaching.

“I’ve seen projects…literature, film, debate clubs—all those things are important, and I’ve seen so many successful projects from other Fulbrighters in that sphere,” Olguin said. “I hope that my students will get the opportunity to learn English from a native English speaker and help them open up opportunities for them to work collaboratively with people abroad.”

After returning from her Fulbright ETA, Olguin plans to go to graduate school and study international development or international affairs, along with public policy. Her main focus is on cooperative work between the United States and Eastern Europe and Central Asia.