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Christy Hall in a garden setting

Fulbright honoree embraces new life overseas

Christy Hall has spent most of her life just a few miles from home. Except for the four years she spent at University of Idaho, the elementary education alumna has been in the Boise area. But now she is spending nearly a year in Scotland teaching.

“I was a wreck all day long after saying goodbye to my family,” she said.

The 1996 graduate been awarded a spot Fulbright Classroom Teacher Exchange Program for the 2012-13 academic year. She received her master’s in early childhood education from Boise State University.

Hall will be taking a leave from her position as a first-grade teacher at Reed Elementary School in the Kuna School District, where she has been for 14 years, to teach primary students (4- and 5-year-olds) in Bathgate, Scotland, at Boghall Primary School.

In turn, her exchange partner, Lee Buchanan, will take over Hall’s classroom. Not only, will the pair be trading classrooms — they will be trading lives. They will be living in each other’s homes, driving each other’s cars and will be welcomed into their families’ homes.

“My parents will be her parents for the year,” Hall said.

The journey to get to the point of an exchange is a long one. Fulbright applicants first fill out a 27-page application, submit recommendations, an essay and evidence of permission to enter the program from the superintendent and principal of their school district. Teachers who qualify will remain on contract with their home school districts, and maintain their salary and benefits while on leave.

If an applicant passes the first stage, they are then interviewed. If selected, the commission goes through an extensive matching process to find a suitable exchange partner that takes three months. The team looks at personalities, subjects taught, a school’s size and demographics as well as teaching philosophy. The applicants’ cities, style of living and family environment also are evaluated.

“It is harder to find a Fulbright match than it is to find your soul mate,” Hall said.

Hall was accepted into the Fulbright program the second time she applied. The first time, she made it through the initial screening, but a match was not made.

When Buchanan and Hall learned of their match in the spring, they started talking via Skype weekly for months. They shared details about their lives, schools, professions and families.

“We can not believe how perfect a match we are,” Hall said.

Both women are single, about the same age and neither have pets. It was a good time for each to go on such a journey. They also worked through a lot of details on how to open their homes to each other for a year. As many in the program have, they created legal agreements similar to renal agreements as well as added each other to their insurance plans.

“We feel like we have trusted each other and feel comfortable doing that.”

While the women may have found a kindred spirit in each other, they still will have a great deal of adjustment in their new classrooms. Months before leaving, the commission offers those selected for the program online training with their international counterparts which includes videos, papers and homework as well as on-site training in Denver and a mentor teacher, which each participant is required to have. Each teacher will need to adapt their education styles and learn the culture in their host countries.

Hall will be teaching music, physical education and computers in addition to core classes.

“They tell us, ‘You are experienced confident teachers, and that is why you were selected. But you will be a brand new teacher.’ ”

Even so, Hall will have a great deal of support. Eighteen teachers from the United States selected for the program are in the United Kingdom including several from the Northwest. She met many of them during a weeklong stay in Washington, D.C., for initiation the week prior to leaving for Scotland on Aug. 7, and they will try to connect while living abroad.

“This is coming at a really good time at my life. I needed some excitement.” She added, “I want to thank the University of Idaho and the faculty of the College of Education for giving me the foundation for this amazing career and life.”