Astrid Sierra is earning a master’s degree in applied linguistics through the Fulbright program.
When Astrid Sierra applied for the Fulbright scholarship program, she did so because she wanted to continue studying and felt a need to expand beyond her career and culture. She was an English teacher in Honduras. But to make her dream a reality, she had to leave her 8-year-old daughter behind.
“I miss my daughter, definitely. She's been the reason why I endeavor to do the best I can in my life,” Sierra said. “I gave birth to my daughter when I was really young, just 21, and I decided to apply to the Fulbright program because everybody thinks when you're a young mother and unmarried, you're done.”
Sierra is in her first year of the two-year Fulbright program and plans to bring her daughter to Texas next year. In the three months she's been in Lubbock at Texas Tech University, she's only been able to talk to her daughter and help her with assignments via Skype, but she hopes to go to Honduras for Christmas.
Since Sierra was a little girl she said she had always dreamed of studying abroad, but didn't start thinking about the possibility of applying for a study abroad scholarship until she was earning her undergraduate degree in teaching English as a foreign language at the National University of Honduras.
“One of my professors and mentor, Marcia Torres, encouraged me to strive for a better academic opportunity and she taught me about the Fulbright program,” she said. “She is a former Fulbright scholar and persuaded me to apply.”
The application process took Sierra about a year in order for her requirements to
be completed. She had to wait three months to hear back from the Fulbright commission.
After hearing, she took the required exams, and waited another two months to find
out if she had been selected. At first, she thought she wouldn't be selected because
of the amount of people applying, but she heard back from the commission, had an interview
with representatives from the Washington, D.C. Fulbright Commission, took a couple
proficiency exams and eventually was awarded the scholarship.
“I wanted to become a scholar, first, because I have always been very ambitious,” Sierra said. “I've always wanted more once I got something I really fought for. When I finished my undergraduate studies, I knew it was not enough for me to work, go home and go back and forth. I needed to go beyond my career and culture. I knew I needed to continue studying.”
With her Fulbright scholarship, Sierra said she plans to conduct research and improve how English is taught in Honduras. She also would like to earn a doctoral degree in second languages studies.
Sierra taught English in Honduras for five years and said she needed to understand how the language itself worked.
“It's not the same to speak English in your country where everybody speaks Spanish then to speak English in a country where everything is in English,” Sierra said. “I needed to take my profession to a new level to be able to improve my language skills.”
Sierra chose Texas Tech because of its faculty members and programs. She said she was impressed with the information she received from two women: one who would eventually become her adviser, Greta Gorsuch, an associate professor of applied linguistics, and Carla Burrus, an adviser in the Department of Classical & Modern Languages & Literatures. She also found the core courses to be interesting, knowing that those courses were what she was looking for to advance her academic and professional life.
When Sierra first applied she had chosen a master's program about teaching English to people who are not native English speakers. When she arrived at Texas Tech, she learned about the applied linguistics program and said she identified with the program, so she made the switch.
But that wasn't the only thing that changed since her arrival.
Sierra also has learned about herself, something Marcia Torres agrees with. Torres, who has known Sierra for seven years, said Sierra gained self-confidence, self-assurance and more resilience, especially since she had to leave her daughter behind.
“Being alone in a country that isn't yours, but that eventually you love as yours is a new life,” Sierra said. “I have learned to love other cultures regardless of the differences. I have learned to be tolerant and let other speak their minds. I have learned life isn't that different in humankind. All of us have the same feelings, emotions and problems.”
Torres said she hopes Sierra is able to develop her knowledge of the profession so when she comes back to Honduras she can work with other teachers to help launch the Language Center at the National University of Honduras. She also hopes Sierra will learn about the U.S. culture and have the opportunity to hone her English skills.
“I really wanted Astrid to have this experience. I knew if she applied the commission would be able to see her potential the way I had seen it when she was just a student,” Torres said. “A master's degree was the next step in her education. This is a person who will do wonderful things for our university when she comes back. The experience of living in the U.S. will give her not only a degree, a great achievement by itself, but also a vision of the world, other cultures, people and knowledge she didn't have before.”