Building a Relationship with a Different Culture

Nagy Hakim ‘17

Nagy Hakim was a Mechanical Engineering Major who graduated a year ago from Olin.  He had terrific internship experiences at GE Aviation, MarkForged, and NASA Ames Research Center.  You may remember his blog from 2016 about his incredible summer adventure hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.  Nagy is currently in Colombia on a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship.




Why an English Teaching Assistantship?

I’ve always been interested in living abroad, and languages were always a big part of my life growing up. My mother was my inspiration to apply for the ETA position since she built her career as a foreign language teacher. From a young age, I’ve seen the opportunities gained from learning new languages and it was something I felt I could contribute to Colombian students. This has been an ideal way for me to marry my engineering background with my interests in languages/education and my love for travelling.


Why did you apply to the Fulbright Scholarship?

I saw the Fulbright Scholarship as an opportunity not only to discover another part of the world that I was interested in, but also to get some experience in a classroom and teach. Being on Fulbright has been more than just being in a different country as well. It’s fully integrating into a country. I wanted to live abroad and build a relationship with a different culture. I applied to the scholarship for the cultural experience and for the opportunity to share the gift of languages.


What is your day to day like?

I work full-time throughout the week and my day to day is mostly based around my job. I plan my academic activities and teach English class every day. After class I’m either helping students work on their research papers or theses in English or have other activities such as conversation clubs for students/research groups. I also tend to lead a pretty busy life outside of work. Medellin is a very dynamic city where there are always events going on. There are concerts, events, talks, cultural activities, and other things every day of the week. I try to attend as much of these as I can, especially when it comes to music and salsa. Other than work, my day to day is a pretty normal life where I hang out with friends (local Colombians, Fulbrighters, or other expats), do exercise, cook, and engage in my hobbies. I’m mostly just living a regular life in another beautiful country. Weekends are focused on taking advantage of the city, travelling around the country, and hanging out with friends. Being able to engage in these cultural activities and be a part of the day to day life here is one of the best parts of the Fulbright for me.


What courses are your teaching? Class demographics?

I’ve been teaching an Intensive Intermediate English class for Colombian engineering students at La Universidad Nactional de Colombia, sede Medellin. Last semester I taught at the graduate and postgraduate level. This semester, I am teaching undergrads, which is a lot of fun and a great dynamic since my students and I are very close in age. I’ve had to develop my own curriculum which gives me the opportunity to tailor topics to my students’ needs and interests. We cover language topics as well as cultural and engineering topics. Building my curriculum also allowed me to integrate Olinesque elements into the class.


The students in my class come from all over the country and we get the chance to talk about diversity and many cultural differences through the country. They tend to be in their late teens or early twenties. The class is about a 70-30 female male split.


What is the best part of living in Colombia/your job?

Definitely the people and the culture. The most rewarding part of the Fulbright experience has been to participate in a cultural exchange, while also being a part of the daily life here. It’s not just travelling to a different country or studying abroad, but fully integrating into the life and being a part of the people. Colombia is an incredible place and has so much to offer, so being able to tap into that has been the best part.


Seeing my students improve their English is also very rewarding. Building a connection with them and seeing how much they improve is by far the best thing I’ve done here; feeling like I’m contributing and making an impact.



In Colombia, have you done anything outside of the Assistantship?

Every English Teaching Assistant is required to do a community engagement project outside of the classroom, which can be anything that engages local people. This has been my biggest involvement outside of my daily job, and it has taken various forms throughout the past year. I started by working with professors at Universidad de Antioquia helping them run their first semester of an Aerospace Engineering program, which is the first of its kind if Colombia. I was able to help them implement Olin style projects and work on updating their facilities for student projects.


I have explored a lot of the country and travelled a lot in Colombia, Ecuador, and Chile. Integrating myself into various communities was how I made a lot of friends, whether it be through salsa dancing, Ultimate Frisbee, or music. I’ve done a ton outside of the assistantship, and I would say that those things were the best parts of the Fulbright experience. I came here to teach, but was able to discover life here in many other ways.


Has the Olin curriculum affected how you teach?

The Olin curriculum has radically affected how I’ve approached this program, and also the teaching in my classroom. I arrived in a completely foreign country with no teaching experience and was immediately thrown into a classroom and told, “Here’s your class. Teach them English.” The formation I received from the Olin education helped me adapt to the life here, and also learn how to run a classroom on the spot. I tried to mimic the attitudes my professors had, where we would all learn together and communicate freely with active feedback. I wasn’t able to implement projects the way it’s done at Olin, but I tried to transplant the same attitudes and thought-processes I learned to love at Olin.


I have been proactive about spreading this mentality throughout my campus here and at another school, Universidad de Antioquia, by giving a presentation about my experience at Olin and what it was like to be a student there. That’s part of the community engagement project I’ve decided to do.


Would you recommend the Fulbright experience?  Why or Why not?

Yes, I would highly recommend a Fulbright year to any student who is even a little bit interested in living abroad. It’s a hugely formative experience and one that I will remember for the rest of my life. The friends I made here will be friends for life, and the connection I made with the people and the country is unforgettable. It’s hard to think that I have to leave in only three weeks, but I’ve started making peace with my departure. I fell in love with this country. All of these things led to a very large growth in a short amount of time.


I would highly recommend the Fulbright to students.

Posted in: Fulbright, Alumni Speak; Making a Difference; A Broader World View