Carnegie Mellon University

image of Apeksha

September 20, 2018

Atal Awarded Fulbright To Teach English in Thailand

By Emily Payne

Emily Payne
  • Mellon College of Science

Recent biological sciences and English graduate Apeksha Atal has been awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship. In just a few weeks, the Carnegie Mellon University alumna will begin her year of service teaching English in the Thailand province of Nakhon Si Thammarat.

After graduation in May, Atal returned home to India, where she has lived since she was 10 years old. She settled in to her first post-graduate job, working as a marketing and communications associate for the financial tech startup NiYO in Bangalore. The company is helping to digitize payroll and employee benefits for India's salaried employees.

During her senior year, Atal had applied to the Fulbright ETA program and was named an alternate. Exactly one month and one day after starting at NiYO, Atal received an email she said she never thought would come.

"Being selected as a Fulbright Scholar is absolutely surreal," Atal said. "To think that everything I worked toward is actually happening is beyond amazing. I'm mostly proud to make the people in my life proud. So many people believed in me when I doubted myself, and I'm so glad to have proved them right."

Atal is most looking forward to learning from and connecting with Thai people and her students.

"My dad grew up in Thailand, and I've been traveling there my entire life," Atal said. "Thai culture is so warm and rich, and I've never had a chance to immerse myself in another culture the way this program allows one to."

She also plans to learn more about educational policy and reform. In addition to her teaching duties, Atal will undertake an internship during the program, and has her sights set on working with education-centric NGOs or other programs that help improve schools in Thailand.

Atal is ready to bring her own experiences to her students. At Carnegie Mellon, Atal was a dedicated leader and mentor as an Andrew Carnegie Society Scholar, an editor for the Tartan, a head orientation counselor, an EXCEL leader and Student Supervisor and a teaching assistant for Eureka! and biological sciences' lab classes.

"My education at Carnegie Mellon, although a little unconventional, helped me develop key skills that I will be carrying with me to Thailand," Atal said. "My biology major has given me the ability to think critically, objectively and to be able to break down complex concepts into their molecular components. My English major has given me the ability to read beyond the surface and present ideas in more concise, clear and relatable ways."

This will come in handy, Atal said, in figuring out how to make English more accessible and interesting to her students.

"In Thailand, they use a lot of rote memorization techniques, and I feel that, as a native speaker, bringing in conversation to break that monotony will be incredibly helpful to students," she said.

Throughout the process, Atal worked closely with Carnegie Mellon's Fellowships and Scholarship Office, which provides support to students who are interested in applying for nationally competitive fellowships and scholarships.

"Apeksha is a person who has taken full advantage of every opportunity at Carnegie Mellon, participating in the Undergraduate Research Office's SURG (Small Undergraduate Research Grant) program and serving as a leader in Academic Development, Student Senate and the Tartan," said Stephanie Wallach, assistant vice provost for undergraduate education.

"She is well poised to go to Thailand and make important contributions through the Fulbright ETA. It is an exciting next step for Apeksha, and she will be an excellent representative of Carnegie Mellon."

The U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs sponsors the Fulbright U.S. Student Program to "increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries."