Oleander Reagan-Artemis can count on two hands the number of times traveled outside of the state of Tennessee—and has never been out of the country.
It’s time to get a passport.
Reagan-Artemis, a May 2022 graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, has won a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) to Romania. Participants in the ETA program help teach English while representing the U.S. as cultural ambassadors.
Reagan-Artemis is the third UTC student in recent years selected for the prestigious Fulbright award. In spring 2019, political science major Simone Edwards became the University’s first Fulbright recipient since 1965, traveling to Guatemala for her study abroad experience. The following year, political science major Hannah Horton was selected as a Fulbright Scholar to South Korea.
“I like to share I’m a first-generation college student, so this is the biggest of deals to me,” said Reagan-Artemis, who majored in modern and classical languages and literatures: Latin, and was a UTC Brock Scholar, graduating summa cum laude. “Going to college at all was a big deal, but now I’m going to go teach at a university in a whole other country. That’s pretty cool.”
Reagan-Artemis is one of seven UTC students or recent graduates who advanced to the semifinal level during the current Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program award cycle, the highest total in the University’s history. None of the others has learned their fate, with decisions historically announced in April.
The Fulbright Program, according to its website, is the flagship international academic exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government, providing awards to approximately 8,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists and professionals each year. Founded in 1946, the prestigious program has partnerships with more than 140 countries worldwide.
Eligible applicants were initially reviewed in the U.S. by the National Screening Committee before being recommended to the in-country administering agency—either a Fulbright Commission or U.S. Embassy.
As an English teaching assistant, Reagan-Artemis will partner with a local English language teacher at a Romanian university. That location and other program specifics will be forwarded to Reagan-Artemis in a few weeks.
“We help in the classroom with actual language development and conversation skills,” Reagan-Artemis said. “Outside of that, serving as cultural ambassadors for the U.S. can take the view of many things. Past Fulbright ETAs have done cooking classes, conversation clubs, tea parties. My specific additional project is a poetry pen pal club.”
To accomplish that, before traveling to Romania, Reagan-Artemis will speak with English teachers who want to work on poetry and writing with their students.
“What we would do is explore popular styles of poetry from the U.S. and Romania, send poems back and forth to each other and just learn about each other’s holiday traditions, food, local histories,” Reagan-Artemis said. “Anything that a kid would normally journal about, I’m interested in writing a poem about.”
Leslie Pusey, director of the Office of National Scholarships for UTC, lauded Reagan-Artemis’ “interest in deep learning” as an honors student.
“Olly is the sort of person that probably defies some expectations, being not just interested in—but a scholar on—the Latin side,” Pusey said. “Very detailed-oriented, always thinking ahead and thinking of every possibility.”
Being a scholar on the Latin side begs the question, why Romania?
“My first response is actually, ‘Of course, Romania,’ but I understand that it can seem a little unconventional for a Latin teacher to say, ‘Of course, Romania,’” Reagan-Artemis said with a laugh. “For me, it makes complete sense.
“Romania has me hooked from history. The great Roman poet, Ovid, was exiled there in 8 AD or so. The educational reforms from the revolution in 1989 to the current work being done to preserve Roman ruins in Romania piques my interest.”
One of the tenets of the program, which takes place from October 2023-June 2024, is that previous teaching experience is strongly recommended.
“I was a teaching assistant at UTC, and then I taught where I went to high school for a semester with my former Latin teacher,” said Reagan-Artemis, a 2018 graduate of Sevier County High School in Sevierville, Tennessee. “I want to give a huge shout-out to Miss Lauren McCarty, my high school Latin teacher. She’s always been an amazing mentor, a great friend, and is definitely the best Latin teacher on this planet.”
While Romanian proficiency is not a requirement, having a passport is. Traveling to Bucharest for orientation in September will be Reagan-Artemis’ first time out of the U.S.
“This experience will help me be a little less of a scaredy-cat,” Reagan-Artemis said. “I’m famously a little nervous, anxious person, and I have to get over the fear of going somewhere else.
“I can count on two hands the number of times I’ve left Tennessee in my life. Being removed from my comfort zone, exposed to these new situations and not only having to learn—but also to lead in these new places—is going to give me that push to go to grad school, to teach in a classroom, to be somewhere I’ve never been before with way more confidence.”
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How do you tell your family you’re heading to Romania for an extended period?
Over a restaurant lunch, of course—while filming it for posterity.
“I had the idea around January when I got my semi-finalist notification,” Reagan-Artemis said. “Every month, the women of my family come together in a restaurant—we all have families, we cook a lot and we want to share our company over a meal that we don’t have to make.
“Once I found out, I thought, ‘I don’t even have to call them all; I can just do it all at once.’”
Video courtesy of Oleander Reagan-Artemis