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Professor Hellman Wins Fulbright Award to University of Antwerp
A Fulbright grant has taken Caroline Hellman from the English department at City Tech to the University of Antwerp, Belgium, where she is getting as much of an education as giving one to her students.
In winning the Fulbright, Hellman, who has a BA from Wellesley and a PhD from the CUNY Graduate Center, explains that “Considering American literature in a foreign setting has provided me with new perspectives, combating the isolation that can limit the field. I now have a greater understanding of American literature and American education, as well as the culture(s) that challenge and sustain them.”
At the University of Antwerp, Hellman is teaching a graduate course on geography, archive, and memory in the 20th and 21st Century ethnic American novel. Along with the readings in contemporary ethnic American literature for the course, her students are also responsible for making presentations on local ethnic enclaves in Belgium or a neighboring country, comparing and contrasting them with the American counterparts in their readings.
"Although Antwerp is an ethnically diverse, international city, the majority of my students are of Belgian or Dutch heritage,” Hellman says. “It's been fascinating for them and for me to explore the spaces of ethnicity in their own backyards and to uncover some of the politics of marginalization, with regard to asylum and refugee housing, religious and red light districts."
Hellman also is teaching an undergraduate course on alternative domestic constructions in 19th Century American literature, examining issues of race, class and gender. The course is entitled "Upstairs, Downstairs," alluding to the British television series, and they've gone far downstairs this semester, with a class trip to the city's sewer system.
"I piloted the same course at City Tech, so I've been interested to see which texts resonate with students regardless of nationality, and which texts don't translate as easily across cultures,” Hellman says. “Discussing various concepts of nationalism is especially illuminating, since the Belgian identity is far more regional – Flemish or Wallonian – rather than national."
Hellman believes that “teaching abroad will enhance my ability to reach the multilingual, multinational student body at City Tech, as the experience is exposing me to some of the challenges of communicating with college students in a foreign country.”
A passion for teaching developed in Hellman from a young age. Growing up in Grand View-on-Hudson, NY, she was inspired by her grandfather and mother, both of whom were academics. As she describes it, “as a child I would sometimes sit in my mother’s art history classroom and watch her teach. In high school and college, I coached swimming and I really enjoyed encouraging the kids to strive for both individual and team goals.”
The importance of individual and group learning carries through in her work as a college professor. “I value individual mentoring as well as the interaction of a class,” she says. “I believe very strongly that for all students, whether of traditional age or a grandparent, a soldier or a pacifist, a native, immigrant, exile or a special needs student, knowledge must be accessible and aptitude is achieved in a variety of ways. As a teacher, it is essential to me to facilitate this access.”
In referring to her City Tech teaching experience, Hellman described herself as reveling “in teaching students with a multitude of backgrounds, histories and competencies, often very different from my own.” She praised her students as having “enormous intellectual capacity and drive, along with an inspiring willingness to be in step with you on the intellectual journey of a text or class.”
Hellman encourages students to assess, question and draw their own conclusions, as these critical thinking skills “will aid them far beyond their college experience.” She considers her work with students “to be constantly reciprocal; I learn from my students at least as much as they learn from me, in the classroom and in other activities at the college.”