BETHANY, W.Va. – The 2021-2022 Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistants recently presented on their cultures and shared experiences on the Bethany College campus during a Bethany Connect Speaker Series lecture.

Shaymaa Kullab, of Gaza, Palestinian Territories, Océane Harger, of Rebais, Ile-de-France, and Mariela Zayas, of Corrientes, Argentina, are teaching language courses this year at Bethany.

Video of their presentation

Kullab, who teaches Arabic language and culture and assists in a religion course on inter-religious dialogue and social justice, delivered on the status of women in Gaza. Palestinian women in Gaza Strip live in difficult conditions under occupation, prevailing culture and laws that leave women open to violence and discrimination, particularly within their family unit, she said.

Gender discrimination is widespread in the social and economic sectors. Many women finish higher education programs, but that does not translate into the job market, Kullab said, noting that women in the Gaza labor force are among the lowest in the world. She said it is not because of a lack of desire rather a lack of opportunity.

Kullab’s Fulbright experience is unique in that she is teaching at Bethany for a second academic year. When visa issues prevented her from traveling to the United States in 2019-2021, she taught Bethanians virtually from Gaza.

When she received an extension from Fulbright, she said it felt as though she already had friends on campus and was excited to see them in person.

She shared that professors and Dr. Harald Menz, who supervises the Fulbright FLTAs at Bethany, sent her regular messages expressing concern for her during the May violence in Gaza.

“When I arrived at Bethany, people and the students, when I started to work across campus, people started to call my name and say, ‘Hi, Shaymaa.’ … I felt so happy that they remembered me and came to say, ‘Hi.’ You can’t imagine the impact that Bethany and Bethany College had on me, how the experience expanded my horizons and my way of thinking. Everyone is really so friendly. When I tell my friends how my life here in Bethany is, the other Fulbrighters in the U.S., they envy me for this community.”

Harger, who teaches French language and civilization courses, spoke of the challenges of teaching a gender-based language with inclusivity. One of the questions students ask, she said, is why certain words are considered male and others female. Those decisions are made by the L’Academie Francaise, which unifies and governs the French language.

The body is composed of mostly men, which ultimately chooses masculine over feminine. However, over the years, efforts have been made to adopt feminine forms of words, such as those describing jobs. Inclusive writing, however, is banned from classrooms.

“What I want my students to do is communicate effectively,” Harger said. “I also want them to get enough cultural background to get more understanding about the word to use. … Teaching French here this year has allowed me to reflect on my own language as I always ask myself if it is OK for my student to say that in French.”

Zayas, who teaches Spanish courses, presented on family, culture and music in her hometown of Corrientes. When people think of Argentina, Buenos Aires comes to mind, but there are other cities in the country, she said. For her presentation, she dressed for Chamame, an Argentinian folk dance, which is celebrated with a festival in her hometown.

She agreed with Harger in that teaching Spanish at Bethany allows time to reflect on her native language and develop awareness of the linguistic structure. She also learned from her students in English and their opinions on other things.

“I think living abroad is the best way to learn about other points of view,” Zayas said. “Living with Océane and Shaymaa, I learned about other cultures and meeting other international friends and meeting you here, I think we can have different perspectives. We’re all different and that is OK. We’re going to be different. The point is to respect each other.”

Bethany College has hosted at least one Fulbright FLTA annually since 2011. Over the years, FLTAs have taught Arabic, Chinese, French, German and Spanish courses at Bethany.

“Together with the other 50-plus international students and faculty, they are Bethany’s window to the world, and that is something that is sorely needed in a time of international conflict and in forced isolation,” said Menz, professor of world languages and cultures and director of international studies.

The Bethany Connect Speaker Series features faculty members, distinguished Bethany alumni from many fields of study, accomplished professionals in the community, and student researchers.


Bethany College, founded in 1840, is the oldest private college in West Virginia. The Bethany experience focuses on academic excellence in the area of liberal arts and prepares students for a lifetime of work and a life of significance.