University of Iowa

Coming into the 'real' Greek culture

June 20th, 2016
Abby Grilli

Abigail Grilli, a UI graduate with a B.A. in elementary education, is the winner of a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship grant to Greece for 2016-17

By Zach Weigel, The Daily Iowan

For University of Iowa graduate Abby Grilli, teaching runs in the family.

Now, she’s taking what she has learned from her mother to teach English to Greek students for a year.

As a recipient of a Fulbright grant, Grilli has the opportunity to live in Greece for a year, teaching English and learning about Greek culture.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is an international educational exchange program in which students are sponsored by the U.S. government to teach, study, or conduct research abroad. Recipients are chosen based on their professional and academic achievement, as well as their level of leadership potential in their chosen fields.

Grilli will depart for Greece this fall and will start teaching English to Greek students at an American-sponsored school through the end of the Greek school year in May.

Grilli said having a mother who was a substitute teacher and tutor played an role in who she is today.

“I loved seeing kids develop … [and] I always played school as a kid,” she said. 

Currently, Grilli is a middle-school math teacher at St. Vincent-Ferrer in River Forest, Illinois, in addition to coaching swimming and diving for Wheaton Swim and Dive Club.

Swimming and diving are passions of Grilli’s and allow her to carry on her drive for helping others. As a former captain of the Hawkeye swimming and diving team, she said the pressure of competing as well as learning good time management are skills she honed that she thinks will help her prepare for teaching abroad.

Todd Waikel, the Hawk diving coach, said he wasn’t surprised to learn that Grilli had been selected as a Fulbright scholar.

“She’s such a positive person with a great outlook on life, and that positivity couples with her work ethic to create a never-give-up attitude,” he said.

Grilli said devoting 20 hours a week to the rigors of being a college athlete, with two practices a day, also shaped her dedication and commitment.

Hilary Masterton, who works will Grilli, said she expects her to do well working with new people in Greece.

“She just gets along with everybody that she meets,” Masterton said.

This past year, Grilli and Masterton teamed up to work on collaborative lessons, fusing social studies and math to encompass Greek culture.

Grilli said she is looking forward to learning more about Greece because she has a tie to the culture.

“I had two Greek friends growing up, and I liked their family traditions,” she said.

This interest led her to volunteer at the National Hellenic Museum in Chicago for a summer, where she taught kids of Greek heritage more about their culture.

“[Grilli] is the student who combines excellence in her professional goal to be a teacher with the dedication that made her a successful diver at the UI,” said Karen Wachsmuth, a Fulbright program adviser.

She noted that Grilli’s internship at the National Hellenic Museum demonstrated her passion for the country.

“[Grilli] will make a great representative of the UI and of America in the Fulbright program in Greece,” she said.

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