Education alumnus William Pryor awarded Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Taiwan

William Pryor

William Pryor, a recent College of Education graduate and teacher at St. Louis Language Immersion School, will embark on a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Taiwan this month. He will serve as an English teaching assistant for a year in the capital city of Taipei. (Photo by August Jennewein)

William Pryor never really had the chance to travel growing up. Travel meant an annual vacation to Sunset Beach, North Carolina – four hours from Pryor’s small hometown of Eden, North Carolina.

Now it’s come to mean something much different.

As Pryor got older, he developed a sense of curiosity about the world beyond the Tar Heel State. It’s led him to study abroad in South Africa and join Teach For America, and next month he will embark on a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Taiwan.

Pryor, who recently finished his MEd in elementary education at the University of Missouri–St. Louis’ College of Education, will serve as an English teaching assistant for a year in the capital city of Taipei.

The selective assistantship is part of the broader Fulbright Scholarship U.S. Student Program, which provides grants to study, research or teach outside of the United States. The program aims to facilitate cultural exchange through interactions with locals in the classroom, field and home.

Pryor, an elementary teacher at St. Louis Language Immersion School, gravitated toward the destination because of the Taiwanese teachers he’s befriended in St. Louis. Though he teaches at SLLIS, an UMSL Charter School, which offers instruction in French, Mandarin and Spanish, Pryor is not bilingual.

However, he views the Fulbright ETA as another avenue to introduce cross-cultural education to his classrooms in the future.

“I’m not bilingual yet, but I need to find other ways to bring culture to wherever I’m teaching and bring that international, global mindset and build that social understanding for kids,” he said. “I’ve always been a big advocate of project-based learning, and that’s what I plan on doing while I’m there, doing experiential education with the students, getting outside, bringing things inside, talking with the community and getting it involved with the school. Any school that’s doing that, I want to be part of.”

A commitment to education runs deeply through Pryor’s family.

Pryor’s great grandfather and his father were members of the Rockingham County Schools Board of Education. His grandmother was a math teacher, and he still remembers the scores of students who stopped by her home for tutoring.

At Morehead High School, Pryor succeeded academically and athletically. He was a star wrestler, which attracted the attention of Campbell University’s well-regarded NCAA Division I wrestling program. He attended for a year and enjoyed wrestling, but the environment left him wanting more academically and socially.

It was a difficult decision, but he transferred to University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At first, he felt a bit lost, realizing he was the only undeclared student in his orientation group. But a career development course and several general education courses revealed an interest in geography.

“I landed in a geography course, ‘130: Development and Inequality,’ learning about international inequities that are derived from problems in our economy and colonialism – things of that nature,” Pryor said. “I took another course with the same professor the following semester called, ‘Geographies of Religion,’ and I noticed geography has a way of lifting the veil on huge systemic issues going on in the world but also everyday things that we often overlook.”

Pryor elected to major in geography and minor in education, creating a unique course of study that developed his social and political consciousness. As a senior, he gained real-world experience with the concepts he was learning about through a UNC Honors Study Abroad Program in Cape Town, South Africa.

“I realized, I’m about to graduate and go teach, but I’ve never been outside of the country,” he said. “I recognized that I needed global experience to build more of that social and political understanding of my place in the world.”

During the semester-long program, Pryor worked at Development Action Group, a nonprofit organization, Monday through Thursday and attended classes on Friday. In the position, he worked with emerging Black contractors in South Africa’s booming construction industry. The organization helped contractors by providing compliance training and advocating on their behalf for government contracts.

After graduating from UNC with honors in 2019, Teach For America took Pryor to St. Louis. He didn’t know much about the city before being placed at SLLIS but feels lucky to be part of a school with an emphasis on global education and a staff that includes teachers from 20 countries.

Teach For America’s partnership with the College of Education allowed Pryor to earn his teaching certificate and further his education with a master’s degree while teaching. He noted that UMSL faculty and staff members have been incredibly attentive during his graduate program and as he applied to be a Fulbright Scholar.

“I think completing a master’s degree during a pandemic is pretty unique,” he said. “I’ve found that UMSL has been super supportive and flexible. It’s given me the encouragement to be resilient and finish that degree program on time.”

His Fulbright application, however, didn’t exactly start on schedule.

Pryor approached Cassidy Thompson, manager of international partnerships, education abroad and programs with UMSL Global, about applying to the Fulbright program toward the end of September last year. She informed him that the deadline to start the process had passed by about a week, but Pryor was undeterred.

He reached out to her again expressed his commitment to go the extra mile for the opportunity. Thompson agreed to help him get on track and refine his application materials.

“She really took a risk on me,” Pryor said. “I think that’s what I’ve been most grateful for.”

The application for the Fulbright ETA requires two essays: a personal statement and a statement of grant purpose. Thompson and four other UMSL professors held a meeting with Pryor to give him advice on his essays, and in total, he estimates that he wrote eight drafts of each one.

In January, he found out that he’d made it past the first round and was in contention to receive the Fulbright ETA. He officially became a Fulbright Scholar in April – except he didn’t realize it at the time. The email with his official acceptance landed in his spam folder. A follow-up email several weeks later finally let him in on the news.

“I felt extremely grateful for everybody that had helped me get to that point, that supported me through all those drafts and that decision to make a big transition – not only out of my first job but also out of the United States,” Pryor said.

Pryor expects that his time in Taiwan will make him a more well-rounded educator capable of bringing an international perspective his classroom. Ideally, he would like to come back to SLLIS as a teacher or administrator when he returns to the U.S. Though he could also see pursuing a doctoral degree in international education or a position with the federal government.

He also wants to show others it’s possible to come from a small town and see the world.

“No matter where you’re from, if you make that effort to connect with people, things that you thought might be impossible could definitely be possible if you take time to put yourself out there,” he said. “I really want to try to be a support for people. I know how much support has been given to me to get where I am. No way could I have done it by myself.”

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