From Bellingham to Galicia: WWU alumna wins Fulbright to teach English in Spain

by Jacob O'Donnell
Office of University Communications intern

Imagine doing what you love in one place and then getting the opportunity to do it half a world away. That’s Lindsay Little’s reality as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) to Spain. 

Little graduated from Western’s Master in Teaching, Secondary Education program in 2021. She has taught Spanish, math, and history at middle and high school levels, and was an Instructional Technology TA during her studies, all the while dreaming of going to a Spanish-speaking country. 

She spoke with Western Today before she left about her adventure to Spain, the starting point of the language she loves, and the importance of mentors and trusting yourself to try something that might seem out of reach. These responses have been edited for clarity. 

What was your reaction when you found out that you were selected as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Spain? 

I was kind of in disbelief, to be honest, because I applied the year before and I was an alternate. So I was like, “I'll apply again, make some changes to my application and get some work experience. And if it happens, it happens.” So I was in disbelief for a long time, and then just really excited. This is like a dream come true for me that's really important to me and my family. Getting back to Spanish is really exciting.

Why did you choose Spain? 

I knew I wanted to go to a Spanish-speaking country because I wanted to refine my Spanish so that maybe I could teach it in the United States when I get back. That was really important to me because I'm someone who spoke Spanish as a child and then went to school and learned English, and now my Spanish is like, iffy. 

Obviously, there's dozens of countries that speak Spanish, and I decided on Spain because to teach Spanish in the state of Washington, you have to pass a test based on Castilian Spanish. I've studied in Puerto Rico, and my family's from Mexico, and they're just different styles of Spanish. And so I thought, if I want to make sure I pass this test, then it would be really wise for me to go to the place to practice the Spanish I need to pass the test. And I thought, this is different from what I know – let's just go for a new cultural experience.

What will you be doing as the ETA to Spain? 

I will be teaching English classes at a vocational school called the Universidade Laboral in a small town near Coruña, Galicia. It has programs in electronics, and some marine sciences. 

Some things are interestingly connected to people in my life. My dad was an electronic technician, and I live in a fishing community in Kitsap County. I taught as a guest of the Suquamish Tribe at their tribal compact school. So there's just, like, a cool connection there.

Part of being an ETA is also planning a project on a passion of your own. I'll be doing a poetry project with students in the United States and in Spain. 

I also really just want to take some time and learn about Spanish culture, so I'll be taking Spanish classes. The region I’m in has another language in addition to Spanish so maybe I can learn Galician (a mixture of Spanish and Portuguese spoken in the Northwest corner of Spain) and take cooking classes. Fulbright wants you to get to know the country you're in so that when you go back to the United States, you can bring that back with you. It's like being an ambassador-slash-teacher.

How did your time at WWU prepare you for this award and its associated roles? 

You can get different endorsements to teach additional subjects in the state of Washington. One of the endorsements that got me started at Western was teaching English; they call it the ELL (English Language Learner) endorsement.

I took classes on how to teach English to people and do it in a way that's not like how my mom was taught, which is basically like, “Forget Spanish. We're speaking English here.”

I want to teach in a way that's very supportive of students’ culture and their heritage languages. So all those classes were incredibly helpful. 

I also got to be a graduate assistant and teach university classes at Western.

How long are you going to be in Spain, and what are your plans going forward? 

My grant goes from September to June. Then I'll come back sometime next summer. There's this really famous hike from Spain to France, Camino de Santiago, so there's a chance that I’ll come back in July and try and get a little bit of that hike in. 

Once I come back, I'm going to take the things I learned from really talented teachers in Spain that I'm working with and try that stuff out in the United States. But the thing I think is really cool is there are people who are planning on coming back and going to law school. And so they're going to Spain to practice their Spanish. I know someone who wants to come back and go to medical school, and they want to get experience working in an elementary school so they can work on being a good doctor for kids, because that's very different from being a good doctor for an adult. So I just like that they've come up with these connections that are really cool.

What advice do you have for other students/graduates thinking about pursuing this kind of opportunity? 

There are two big things.

The first one is, there are lots of wonderful mentors at Western and out in our community. I have a few really wonderful mentors and other people I asked to write my recommendations because they know me really well: Associate Professor of Secondary Education Molly Ware, Associate Professor of Elementary Education Beth Dillard, and Professor of Elementary Education Paula Dagnon. They were like, “Do it! Let's talk about ways you can do it. You can do this program. You can try this out.” They were so supportive. Any crazy idea I came up with, they'd say, “I don't really see what you're talking about yet. But go for it, and then we'll figure it out as we go.” So, find some wonderful mentors, because there are definitely lots of people who are willing to be that person for you. 

The other big one is that anyone in a higher education setting looking at these kinds of programs will have moments of self doubt. Sometimes I can't really believe that I'm moving to Spain for a year – my brain doesn't comprehend it. I think that a big part of that is probably a little bit of impostor syndrome. And so I just have to keep telling myself that the State Department and Spain said, “We want you to go.” Which means that I'm good to go.

I'm the first person in my family to do any kind of study abroad or anything like that. I'm not the first person in my family to go to college, but I'm the first generation in my family that went for graduate studies, so you kind of get these ideas that, like, maybe these aren't things that are available to me. It is difficult sometimes to get into some of these programs, but you're capable of doing it, so apply and ask for help when you need it.

I taught high school last year in Kitsap County, and I have some students going to Western this fall, and I really want them to know when they get to Western, there are people who will help you. And if you want to do stuff like this, you can apply and the worst thing that's gonna happen is they'll say “next year.” And that's okay because then you get an opportunity to apply again next year and keep working through some things. I know it’s a privilege to be able to go and it’s one that not everyone has access to — but I want my students to know that they are deserving, capable and brilliant, and there’s a community at WWU that can support their goals.


Thursday, October 13, 2022
Lindsay Little wears a shirt that says “A Woman’s Place is in the House and the Senate” as she leans against a tree.

WWU Master in Teaching graduate Lindsay Little wearing a shirt that says “A Woman’s Place is in the House and the Senate.” She uses this photo on the door of her student teaching classrooms. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Little