Kyle Whitaker '14.English Major Concentration: Literature
Current Position: Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Malaysia

I was awarded the Fulbright grant in the spring of my senior year at Elon. The grant itself did not start until January 2015, however, so I spent the months between graduation and departure working a part-time job at home in Georgia. I left for Malaysia on January 2, 2015, and I will be here working as an English Teaching Assistant until November of this year.

Did your degree in English with a concentration in literature prepare you for your professional career?

I spent the first two and a half years of my time as an English major in the Teaching Licensure Concentration (TLC); the coursework that I enrolled in for this concentration has helped me tremendously in my work as an English teacher in Malaysia. This coursework included TESOL, Teaching Diverse Learners, Educational Assessment, and Teaching Literature, all of which prepared me to enter a classroom of non-native English speakers and teach from a variety of approaches.

I made the decision to switch to the Literature concentration during my third year at Elon. While this concentration is not as explicitly linked to my role as a teacher, I think that the kinds of critical thinking skills it fostered have been extremely influential in my process of cultural adaptation and adjustment. I was exposed to many kinds of texts from a variety of voices and perspectives, from twentieth century avant garde theater to feudal Japanese war epics. This kind of exposure allowed me to analyze the impact of setting and culture on a story and its characters; here in Malaysia, I am constantly applying these skills as I encounter people and places whose values and norms differ fundamentally from my own. I look to literature and other cultural artifacts to help me understand the world I’m living in, the world of my students and fellow teachers. These kind of skills must be taught and practiced, and I am convinced that the Literature concentration did an excellent job of allowing me to do just that.

Is there value in an English degree?

I believe that a degree in English is one of the most versatile degrees you’ll find, especially at Elon. As an English major, I took courses in three of the four concentrations, meaning that I was able to study the history and application of composition theory, the development of American literature from its foundation, and the pedagogical soundness of teaching slam poetry–all at the same time. I never felt confined to my concentration; in fact, I was encouraged to branch out and try courses beyond my comfort zone. This versatility and emphasis on variety fostered my own sense of creativity and intellectual curiosity about the world.

What was your best experience as an English major?

As an English major, I had two opportunities to engage in meaningful undergraduate research projects. The smaller of these was my Senior Seminar work, which applied an ecocritical lens to T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and asserted a distinctly Modernist perspective on the environment and urbanization. This experience gave me the opportunity to work closely with critical theory in ways I had never done before; more importantly, it helped me understand the process of literary study and gave me an outlet to think creatively and critically about topics that I am passionate about.

The second of these projects was my Honors thesis, a two year endeavor that studied the various types of writing high school students compose on a daily basis and how they assign value to these types. While this study was important and exciting to me for its potential application in the writing classroom, it was also one of the most defining experiences of my Elon career. Engaging in undergraduate research on this scale was challenging in ways I never expected, but I left the project feeling like I had truly accomplished something meaningful. I had the support of English department faculty and staff at every stage of the process, especially with the help of my incredible mentor, Dr. Paula Rosinski. Looking back, I cannot imagine my time at Elon without these research experiences and the skills and values they instilled in me.

Any advice for English majors?

Get involved! One of the best benefits of being an English major at Elon is the size of the department: it’s large enough to provide you with a variety of faculty, perspectives, and resources that will enhance your experiences, but it’s small enough to make you feel like you’re part of a family. I met the majority of my favorite professors at Elon through the English department, either in classes or at social gatherings. So, the best way to take advantage of these perks is to get involved: hang out in The Fishbowl between classes and drink a cup of (free) coffee; attend department parties and functions (which usually also have free food); take a variety of classes with professors from different concentrations, the list goes on. There are definitely many more ways that I could have engaged with the department, including on campus jobs in the office or getting more involved with STD, the English honors society. Find whatever it is in the department that you enjoy and just go for it–you won’t regret it.

“I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I would not be where I am if it were not for the individuals sitting in Alamance (and across campus) who helped guide me here. There’s not enough space in these pages to express my gratitude.”

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