News

A Fulbright Family: Natalie Kass Follows in Mother’s Footsteps

Natalie Kass teachingNatalie Kass teaches a lesson to her students at Macau Polytechnic Institute. 

The Fulbright experience runs deep in Natalie Kass’ family. From 1985-1986, Natalie’s mother Lydia studied piano in Munich, Germany on a Fulbright Scholarship. She traveled to the region in a time when the Berlin Wall still stood between two German countries, effects of WWII still weighed on the lives of European citizens and letters were the main form of communication.

Kass’s journey toward a Fulbright was very different from her mom’s. Her mother’s trip was a bit less spontaneous, as she brushed up on her German for eight weeks in Staufen im Breisgau before going to Munich. On the other hand, for Kass, it was an email blast from Ms. Lauren Chambers, USF’s Fulbright Program Adviser, that grabbed her attention to applying for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) for the 2017-2018 cycle.

“This piqued my interest because teaching abroad was one of my goals before I entered a graduate program, and since the program in Rhetoric and Composition at USF helped me to become a better teacher, I decided the Fulbright ETA was the perfect way to teach abroad through a reputable program,” said Kass.

For Kass, the application process was very cyclical. She’d draft an essay, have people read over it, throw it away, and start again by researching Macau in the library.

“They were difficult because I would write draft after draft and still there would be no story, no meaning as to ‘why’ I needed Fulbright or ‘why’ this particular country of Macau,” said Kass.

 Natalie Kass and TeachersKass, holding her dragon boat paddle, smiles with teachers from Xinjiang, China who came to watch her practice Dragon Boat at Nam Van Lake in Macau.

It wasn’t until she wrote straight from the heart and fully explored her personal reasons for wanting to live and teach in Asia that she completed her final draft. From this year-long battle, Kass has two pieces of advice for applicants:

“Think about what you truly want as a person and how Fulbright is going to help you achieve that,” said Kass. “Think about why the country you’re applying to is the only place you can accomplish what you want.”

From immunizations and saying goodbyes to filling out mountains of paperwork and packing accordingly, Kass prepared meticulously before going abroad. She also attended the pre-departure orientation that Fulbright holds before recipients leave, and there she met other teachers being placed in Macau and alum from the host school, Macau Polytechnic Institute.

“I think you could probably do all the preparation you want and still be surprised, though,” said Kass. “The most important preparation is to find out what the weather and culture are like and dress accordingly!”

In Macau, Kass taught English to university-level students at the Macau Polytechnic Institute. While helping her students learn, she learned different ways to communicate, such as doing games and team and role-playing activities, in order to minimize lecturing and be inclusive of the varying levels of language understanding.

 Natalie Kass and Dragon Boat teamKass poses with the Macau Polytechnic Institute Dragon Boat team at the Macau airport. The team was headed to South Korea for the Changwon International Dragon Boat Festival, a two day competition in which Kass served as the team’s drummer.

Her most memorable experiences branch from the exchange program the school had with teachers from Xinjiang, China. These teachers, who took classes at the school and lived in the student dormitories with Kass for three months of each semester, taught her about mainland China.

Macau is distinctly different from China, since it is a Special Administrative Region and not a part of the People’s Republic. It was once a colony of Portugal and remained under Portuguese control until it was returned to China in 1999. It has become a major resort city and the top destination for gambling tourism. It is the ninth-highest recipient of tourism revenue, and its gaming industry is seven times larger than that of Las Vegas.

Why this was her most memorable experience is no surprise. The reason Kass chose Macau was to learn more about her Chinese ancestry.

“Before teaching in Macau, I didn’t feel connected to my half-Chinese side growing up in Florida,” said Kass. “Now, I have a much greater understanding of Chinese culture and history.”

Tin Hau TempleThe Tin Hau Temple is located in Coloane, the third, southernmost island of Macau. The temple, which reveals what traditional Macau used to look like, was closed when Kass visited due to damaged inflicted during Typhoon Hato.

Kass currently works as a technical writer for Mize, a software company in Tampa, FL, where she serves customers from all over the world. Technical writers create documents, such as journal articles and manuals, that help communicate complex technical information. Her experience in Macau taught her how to write for international audiences, noting the importance of avoiding slang and idioms.

In her free time, you can find Kass writing for her blog “Journey to the East,” spending time with friends or looking for new places to eat in Tampa and St. Petersburg. She is also a member of the dragon boat team the Suncoast Asian Cultural Association Golden Dragons.

Spending time in Macau also solidified her love for teaching. After spending many years with university students, she decided she wanted to teach elementary students and influence them from a young age. She now hopes to get a master’s degree in teaching in order to fulfill this goal.